MONTREAL -- On Tuesday, Florida's Aaron Ekblad was the lone wolf from the Team North America defense corps to quarterback the No. 1 power play. During Wednesday's practice in Bell Centre, that task was transferred to Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere.
Gostisbehere is the former Union College star who finished second in the Calder Trophy voting in June -- ahead of both Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. He started last season in the minors and ended it behind only Chicago's Artemi Panarin in the balloting for rookie of the year. Now he has the task of playing with a unit that includes McDavid, Eichel, Winnipeg’s Mark Schiefele and Columbus’ Brandon Saad.
"My goal is give them the puck. It makes it so much easier on breakouts with their speed," Gostisbehere said. "I'm just the distributor and you have the confidence something good will happen."
Coach Todd McLellan certainly agrees.
"He's got some poise and some ice in his veins when he's got the puck," said McLellan. "Great vision. Gostisbehere could man two power-play units. Ekblad is going to get a lot of minutes five-on-five and penalty killing and that's where Shayne can come in and almost man both a little while so we wanted to see him with both units."
Gostisbehere, who had 17 goals and 46 points in 64 games last season for the Flyers, said it was fascinating to watch plays unfold in front of him Wednesday. Eichel snapped a wrist shot home from the right circle on one attempt and was on his off wing on the left side for several other sequences.
"We're going to have a playmaker on one side who can shoot the puck in Connor and you got 'Eichs' on the other side who can just blast it through the net," Gostisbehere said. "It's the best of both worlds for me. If I get a chance to shoot, I will. But you want to be sure to get the puck around."
McLellan said the quarterback role on the power play is especially critical with the four-forward arrangement he plans to use in the tournament.
"He initiates the reads and what's coming at him," McLellan said. "In the offensive zone, he's got to be creative at the top but he also has to have some responsibility when there's four forwards on the ice. You can't always trust four forwards."
Team North America chartered a short flight to Quebec City for Thursday night's World Cup exhibition opener against Team Europe. The 8 p.m. game in the Videotron Centre will be televised on ESPN2.
Team Europe features players from outside Finland, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, which have their own teams. The coach is former Edmonton bench boss Ralph Krueger. The general manager is former Sabres sniper Miroslav Satan. Former Sabres defensemen Andrej Sekera and Christian Ehrhoff are on the roster, as is former Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek, who will be playing this season for the Detroit Red Wings.
"It's interesting because that's maybe the team we know the least about," McLellan said. "They've had a number of players participating in Olympic qualifying tournaments and I don't know if they've been together a lot as far as line combinations. That may be a good thing for us. It may just be us worrying about us. I would expect players will be really excited. It's hard to go from summer hockey to a ompetitive, detailed game and that's what we're trying to stress."
McLellan said he had not yet talked to the goaltenders about who is going to start but all signs point to Stanley Cup champion Matt Murray of Pittsburgh getting the call ahead of Anaheim's John Gibson and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck.
What did McLellan learn watching Murray's run to the Cup in June?
"I learned he could win and his team would play for him," McLellan said. "The really good teams draw the teammates him and they play for him, not necessarily with him. Pittsburgh did that. He seemed relatively unfazed if things went awry and had pretty good stamina as well. That's not an easy haul."
Asked if he was starting the game, Murray said, "I can't tell you that." Asked if he knew the coaches' decision, a smiling Murray simply said, "I can't tell you that either."
Eichel will be wearing his customary No. 15 for Team North America during the tournament. Fans watching Thursday's game, which will be televised on ESPN2, will notice players have a decal with the World Cup logo on the left rear of their helmets and a decal with the logo of their NHL team on the right rear.
McLellan said it's possible he could name Team America's captain on Thursday prior to the game, but also said he might wait until seeing a game and then do it prior to the rematch with Team Europe here on Sunday. Rumors continue to persist that McDavid will be getting the nod.
"He knows what the hockey world thinks and expects of him so he has a lot of qualities of a very good leader," McLellan said. "Does he need to have a 'C' on his jersey for that to happen? I don't think so but that may occur."
Meanwhile, other clubs in the tournament are finalizing their leadership groups.
Team USA named San Jose's Joe Pavelski as its captain with South Buffalo's Patrick Kane of Chicago and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter as alternates. Team Russia named Washington's Alex Ovechkin as its captain with Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk as alternates. Team Europe named Los Angeles Anze Kopitar as its captain and Sweden anointed Vancouver's Henrik Sedin.
After Team USA's practice in Columbus, Ohio, coach John Tortorella said of Kane: "I want him to take more responsibility now. I think he's ready for more responsibility."
Also at Russia's workout in St. Petersburg, the players gathered around the center circle for a moment of silence on the five-year anniversary of the plane crash that wiped out the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team in the KHL.