The 2016 World Cup of Hockey is rapidly approaching, with a game between Team USA and Team Europe officially beginning the tournament on September 17th. The eight team tournament, which will take place entirely in Toronto, was first played in 1996 before taking a 12-year hiatus following 2004’s contest. Of the 184 players selected to participate, three of them are Buffalo Sabres, and will be representing both their team and their country when the tournament rolls around this summer.
Perhaps the most unsurprising Sabre to make their country’s roster is 19 year old Jack Eichel, who will be playing for Team North America, a team made up of players from both the United States and Canada who are under the age of 23. The upcoming tournament will be the first time that Eichel will share a locker room with Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Connor McDavid, who was selected just one pick before him in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Eichel finished the 2015-16 season with 24 goals and 32 assists, good for second on the team in scoring.
Two Scandinavian Sabres were also able to make their respective country’s roster, the first of which being Rasmus Ristolainen. The Finnish defenseman will share the blue line with a number of young defensemen from around the hockey world, one of them being Olli Maata, a Penguins defenseman who will play in his first Stanley Cup Final shortly. Ristolainen had a break out year for the Sabres, playing in all 82 of the team’s games, and also finishing fifth in the NHL in ice time, playing well over 2,000 minutes throughout the season.
Robin Lehner also made his country’s roster, as he will be guarding Team Sweden’s net as a backup to Henrik Lundqvist. Despite being injured for the majority of the season, Lehner played well when healthy, finishing the year with a record of 5-9-5 and a save percentage of .924%. Although Lehner made Sweden’s roster, he likely won’t be seeing a lot of ice time, as the majority of the starts will most likely go to Lundqvist, with the rest of the games being split between Lehner and his backup, Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom.
Although three Sabres did make their country’s roster, perhaps the most surprising news to come out of Friday’s team announcements is the Sabres that didn’t make their country’s 23-man roster. Both Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart failed to make their respective team’s rosters despite winning the IIHF World Championship as members of Team Canada on May 22nd. O’Reilly, who finished the season as the Sabres’ leading scorer with 60 points, was left off of Canada’s roster along with other notable forwards such as Corey Perry and Taylor Hall.
Sam Reinhart, who was eligible to play for Team North America, was left off of the team made up of prospects despite having a strong rookie campaign. Reinhart, who finished eighth in NHL rookie scoring with 42 points, had an under appreciated rookie year, and continues to not receive the recognition he deserves.
Although two of the team’s fan favorites were left off of their country’s rosters, fans should be excited to see Eichel, Ristolainen, and Lehner play for their respective teams. The fact that three players were selected from a team that finished 23rd in the league proves that not only does the team have a bright future, but they have the potential to have a bright present, as well.