TEAM NORTH AMERICA vs. TEAM FINLAND
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Sunday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)
What's at stake: Positioning in Group B. A victory in the opening game puts the winning team in a commanding position in the sprint to the knockout phase. Only the top two teams in each group advance, so getting points as soon as possible will be crucial, especially for Team Finland, which faces a rivalry game against Team Sweden in the second game of group play.
Team North America: Now we find out what Team North America is all about. For the past two weeks, speculation was rampant about what this team of young stars would look like in game situations. What would their philosophy be? What would their lines look like? Would they develop a cohesive identity? "I think we're clear, but it's like going into the classroom," Team North America coach Todd McLellan said. "You study and then eventually you have to take the test. And that's where we are. We're going to take our first exam against a very good, well-prepared team, and I'd like to think we're far enough along that we can challenge and have success, pass that first test and then worry about the next one." Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, the hero of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, is likely to start; he was the first goalie off the ice at Team North America's morning skate Sunday. It appears forward J.T. Miller, defenseman Jacob Trouba and goalie Connor Hellebuyck will be the scratches. There is a strong possibility Auston Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and Connor McDavid, the No. 1 pick a year earlier, could play together on the top line, joined by Mark Scheifele.
Team Finland: The youth of Team North America is being countered by that of Team Finland, which has a top line featuring 18-year-old Patrick Laine, the No. 2 pick in 2016, Aleksander Barkov, 21, and Sebastian Aho, 19. Plus, five of the six defensemen likely to dress will be 25 or under. Goalie Pekka Rinne has won the two-week battle for the No. 1 position and will start Sunday. "The mindset is, it's finally here," Rinne said Saturday after practice. "It's been a long summer and it's been great to get together and have this short training camp. It's a new situation for everybody, almost the biggest games of the year and it's the first thing in the season. It's a different mindset, but nothing really changes. I'm just really excited to get going and trying to make sure we're ready." Forward Teuvo Teravainen, defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka and goalie Mikko Koskinen likely will be scratches.
Keep your eye on: The battle between Matthews of Team North America and Laine of Team Finland. They waged a season-long battle for the honor of being selected No. 1 in the 2016 NHL Draft. Mathews won that battle, selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, they go head-to-head for the first time as NHL players in the beginning of a rivalry that could help define the NHL for the next decade, and beyond.
They said it: "Of course everybody understands that he didn't play on this small rink, and his third exhibition game was his best and it means a lot, because everybody understands that sometimes players come here and it takes them years before they're used to playing on that kind of rink. But he's so talented and I trust him and he's going to play such a great tournament." - Team Finland coach Lauri Marjamaki on Patrick Laine, his first-line right wing.
Here are the projected lineups:
TEAM NORTH AMERICA
Auston Matthews -- Connor McDavid -- Mark Scheifele
Johnny Gaudreau -- Jack Eichel -- Dylan Larkin
Jonathan Drouin -- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- Nathan MacKinnon
Vincent Trocheck -- Sean Couturier -- Brandon Saad
Aaron Ekblad -- Morgan Reilly
Ryan Murray -- Seth Jones
Shayne Gostisbehere -- Colton Parayko
Patrik Laine - Aleksander Barkov - Sebastian Aho
Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - Joonas Donskoi
Jussi Jokinen - Valtteri Filppula - Leo Komarov
Jori Lehtera - Erik Haula - Lauri Korpikoski
Rasmus Ristolainen -- Esa Lindell
Sami Vatanen - Olli Maata
Sami Lepisto - Ville Pokka