MONTREAL -- Welcome back to hockey season.
No, the Sabres aren't on the ice at newly-named Key Bank Center and their rookies are still 11 days away from the Prospect Challenge at HarborCenter. But Jack Eichel is among those who will be on the ice today at the Bell Centre as Team North America -- the under-24 lads -- drops the puck on its training camp for the World Cup of hockey (Unsigned Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is at Finland's camp in Helsinki while newly acquired Dmitry Kulikov is with Russia in St. Petersburg).
The first of three days of Team North America practices starts at 11 a.m., leading up to Thursday night's exhibition opener against Team Europe in the Videotron Centre in Quebec City. Here are some of the key questions I have about Team NA heading into its camp, which is expected to rival Team Canada's gathering in Ottawa for the most scrutinized one in the tournament:
How will this group mesh so quickly? Many players on other teams have worked together in international events such as the Olympics and World Championships. Not so here, where the Americans have never played with the Canadians and vice versa. Eichel and Connor McDavid as teammates and not rivals will be a key storyline. But there's only seven practices and three exhibition games to become a team prior to the Sept. 17 tournament opener.
What will be the lines? Somebody, perhaps more than one player, might shift from center to wing. Could coach Todd McLellan go for a super line and put Eichel on the right side with McDavid? Winnipeg's Mark Scheifele might be a candidate for such a move too. These guys have all been stars in their young careers and a bunch of them will have to accept third- and fourth-line roles, as well as bench time when the team is on the power play. There will have to be some quick adjustment there.
How much will Auston Matthews contribute? This is the NHL coming-out party for the Leafs' No. 1 overall pick, the only player on the roster yet to make his debut. He didn't look out of place with Team USA at the World Championships and is likely expected to step right in and play a key role. Wild fact: Matthews' inclusion on the roster gives Team North America five of the last six No. 1 overall picks as he joins Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Nathan MacKinnon (2013), Aaron Ekblad (2014) and McDavid (2015).
How will the defense hold up? Check out the list: Ekblad, Shayne Gostisbehere, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Colton Parayko, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba. That's a who's-who of young blueline studs but you wonder how it will handle the superstar talent it will have to deal with it plays Finland, Russia and Sweden in its pool games.
Is this Matt Murray's team in goal? For most of the spring, the thinking was that Anaheim's John Gibson would be the starter after his terrific rookie season. But the unlikely Stanley Cup run of Pittsburgh's Murray probably changed that thinking and he may have the early leg up on the starter's role heading into the exhibition games.
Who will be named captain? Team North America hasn't decided on one yet, unlike several other teams in the tournament. It's leading to plenty of speculation that McLellan will go with his own guy and install McDavid in the role as a precursor to making No. 97 the youngest captain in NHL history when the season begins in Edmonton as well.