By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada will be the team to beat at this year's World Cup of Hockey after unveiling one of the most well-balanced preliminary rosters released on Wednesday by the eight teams competing in the tournament.
Twelve of the 16 players named to Canada's roster were on the squad that won gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, including forwards Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Carey Price.
Canada will bring plenty of scoring prowess, a shutdown defense and talented trio of goaltenders to the Sept. 17-Oct. 1 tournament in Toronto where they will be sure to draw off the home crowd and frustrate opponents.
Sweden, who lost to Canada in the gold medal game at the 2014 Olympics, also unveiled an impressive mix of veterans and youth that will be headlined by one of the world's top goalies in Henrik Lundqvist.
Like Canada, Sweden also boast a deep blue line and loads of talent at the forward position where playmaker Nicklas Backstrom will be among a slew of offensive threats including twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg and Alexander Steen.
Team USA's roster includes prolific goal scorer Patrick Kane, veteran defenseman Ryan Suter and standout goalie Jonathan Quick. The team did raise some eyebrows, however, by leaving off Phil Kessel, a high-scoring forward with Olympic experience.
Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk were among those named to a Russian team that will be looking to make a statement on the international stage given their disappointing quarter-finals loss on home soil at the 2014 Olympics.
Finland, who reached the podium at the last three Olympics, will have one of the top goaltending tandems of the tournament with Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne.
The Czech Republic opted to leave prolific scorer Jaromir Jagr off their preliminary roster as the five-times Olympian's playing future beyond the current National Hockey League season is in doubt.
The tournament, returning this year after a 12-year hiatus, will also include two teams that are not representing one country in particular.
Team Europe, which can draw on any nation on the continent besides Finland, Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic, unveiled a roster that includes towering defenseman Zdeno Chara and veteran marksman Marian Hossa.
Team Europe is comprised of players from Slovakia, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway.
Canadian Connor McDavid and American Jack Eichel, who were the top picks in last year's NHL Draft, led the list of players named to Team North America, which is restricted to players who are 23 or younger.
Final 23-man rosters are due by June 1.
(Editing by Steve Keating)