Whether you call them the Young Guns, the U23s, the Kids, or by their actual name, while their time in the World Cup of Hockey is over, no one is ready to let go of Team North America. It’s understandable, given that they were easily the most fun team to watch because of their speed, lack of historical baggage and sheer skill level.
Even if the NHL decides to keep the Under-23 team format for the next World Cup, it won’t be the same batch of players. The preliminary game against Sweden was likely the last time we’ll see that specific group play together.
But what if it didn’t have to be?
The Under-23 team was, essentially, a gimmick within a gimmick. It was created as a way to get more of the young, skilled, talented players from the United States and Canada involved in order to draw in viewers.
It worked, and it can be harnessed again for another NHL gimmick event—the All-Star Game.
The NHL should bring in the Young Guns to face another team of All-Stars from around the league, and here’s why:
1) They’re the platonic ideal of a hockey team.
The general consensus from media, hockey folks, and fans alike seems to be that Team North America is the most exciting team since the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s. They play with speed and skill, and more importantly, they’re fun.
High-event, adrenaline rush hockey of the variety played by Team North America probably wouldn’t hold up in an 82-game season, but they can certainly do it for one more game.
2) When are we gonna see this group of players together again?
While we’ll only have to wait a few years to see McDavid and Matthews together when McDavid returns home and signs with Toronto, the United States and Canada divide — not to mention NHL teams owning these players’ rights — prevents us from seeing most of the rest of these players on the same side ever again.
That’s a travesty, especially when it comes to duos like McDavid and Gaudreau, Mackinnon and Drouin, and Parayko and Gostisbehere, just to name a few.
3) No one watches the All-Star Game.
Let’s face it, everyone tunes in for the fantasy draft (abolished last season — R.I.P.) and the skills competition. To a man, we all peace out when it comes time for the actual game. Bringing in a group of players fans so clearly enjoy watching is a way to get people invested. It’s a change to the typical All-Star Game format without resorting to playing the entire thing 3-on-3.
Perhaps most importantly, the thought of getting beaten by a team of kids, even in a gimmick event, might get the rest of the players engaged too.
4) Johnny Gaudreau might get to light his stick on fire this year.
Okay, probably not. Sorry. However, this is still a group that could bring the heat in the skills competition. Prime examples include:
Matthews stickhandling in warmups like he’s playing ball hockey, while his mind is clearly far away from the puck:
Mackinnon dekeing Lundqvist out of his pads in overtime:
And Johnny Gaudreau showing why he’s called Johnny Hockey:
5) The kids can hang.
Imagine a full game of the best in the league against the Young Guns, many of whom would’ve been decent contenders to attend the All-Star Game anyway. If both sides played to their full potential, the game could actually live up to what it’s meant to be — the most fun, skilled 60 minutes of hockey any of us will see all year.