The NHL season is still a few weeks away, but hockey season is here a little early this year thanks to the World Cup of Hockey. The tournament begins on Saturday, as the U.S., Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic battle Team Europe and the young stars of Team North America, a battle that features six members of the Minnesota Wild.
Mikael Granlund (Team Finland)
Granlund has been representing Finland for seven years despite being his youth, medaling at the 2009 and 2010 U-18 World Championships, and was Finland's leading scorer at the 2010 WJC. He helped Finland to a gold medal at the World Championships in 2011, and silver in 2016. THE TEAM: Granlund joins a young Finnish core that also includes international sensation Patrik Laine and Blackhawks center Teuvo Teravainen, as well as Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen.
Erik Haula (Team Finland)
Haula doesn't have quite as much international experience as his peers, and is making just his third appearance for Finland. He competed for Finland at the 2011 WJC and was a member of the 2014 World Championships squad that won silver. THE TEAM: Haula is the only member of the team to play in the NCAA, and spent three seasons with the Minnesota Gophers, while many of his peers opted for the Finnish Liiga.
Mikko Koivu (Team Finland)
Parise's Finnish counterpart, Koivu's international resume is among the longest in the tournament. He won gold for Finland at the 2000 U18 World Championships, before competing at both the U18 tournament and the WJC the following year, medaling at both. The World Cup of Hockey is Koivu's 12th international appearance overall, a run that features 12 medals. THE TEAM: Koivu, forwards Jussi Jokinen and Valtteri Filppula, goaltender Pekka Rinne and defenseman Sami Lepisto are the old hands on this Finnish team, a group that has enjoyed plenty of success over the years. The Finland is in the midst of an international hockey renaissance, and has medaled in the last three Olympics.
Nino Niederreiter (Team Europe)
Niederreiter made his first appearance with a Swiss national team in 2008, and is preparing to represent Switzerland in an international tournament for the eighth time. The first Swiss player to score at least 20 goals in an NHL season, he captained his home country at the 2011 World Junior Championships, won silver at the 2013 World Championships and competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. THE TEAM: The clear underdog at this stage, Team Europe features a collection of players sourced from Germany, Slovakia, Denmark, Slovenia, Norway, France, Italy and Niederreiter's native Switzerland. They're bringing some solid offensive weapons to the tournament like Slovenian captain Anze Kopitar, German standout Leon Draisaitl and Slovakian scorer Marian Gaborik, but a questionable defense and an uninspiring group of goaltenders make them a long shot to do much damage.
Zach Parise (Team USA)
"Captain America" ceded his title to San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski for the World Cup of Hockey, but Parise's decorated international career has spanned more than a decade. He won gold with the U.S. at the 2002 World Under-18 Championship, his first appearance with the team, before leading Team USA to a gold medal at the 2004 World Junior Championships, its first-ever gold at that tournament. THE TEAM: The U.S. got out to a solid start in pretournament play, splitting two games against Canada, before beating Finland in their final tune-up game. Team USA kicks things off on Saturday against Team Europe, a matchup that shouldn't present many problems for a forward group that features Parise, Pavelski and Patrick Kane, but matching Canada on skill will be difficult.
Ryan Suter (Team USA)
Like Parise, Suter has a lengthy international resume, and was also a member of those gold medal-winning U-18 and WJC squads. Suter served as an alternate captain for Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 World Championships. THE TEAM: Suter, who grew up in Wisconsin, is the oldest member of a veteran defensive corps that features four Minnesota natives: Dustin Byfuglien (Roseau), Erik Johnson (Bloomington), Ryan McDonagh (St. Paul) and Matt Niskanen (Virginia). It's a group that seems to emphasize toughness over offensive upside, a philosophy that the high-scoring Canadians will put to the test.