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Which players would be in the NHL if it still only had 6 teams?

·9-min read

The NHL as we know it today certainly looks a lot different than the league that was in operation some 50 years ago.

Since the "Original 6 Era" of 1942 through 1967, the NHL has added 26 new franchises that are currently still part of the league, joining the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

But what if the NHL never expanded?

It's a question that gets the brain thinking and only creates more questions, with the main one being which current NHL players would still be in the league today?

Luckily for you, six members of the Yahoo Sports Canada team: Thomas Williams, Arun Srinivasan, Kyle Cantlon, Michael Hoad, Justin Cuthbert, and I acted as owners and general managers of teams and drafted squads to determine which current NHLers would make the cut of the Original 6 if it still existed today.

Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (91) battles for position with Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Maple Leafs forward John Tavares (91) battles for position with Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

The rules set out for the draft were as follows:

1. Snake draft type with Team 1 possessing the first pick in all odd-numbered rounds and Team 6 owning the first pick in all even-numbered rounds.

2. All teams must draft 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies.

3. Any player currently belonging to an NHL roster (including injured reserve) is part of the player pool.

4. The approach or strategy for each team's build was open-ended. Owners could decide whether they wanted to build for the future, or if they wanted to try and win right now.

The chart below shows the results of our draft and each team's roster.

For reference:

Team 1 belongs to Thomas Williams.

Team 2 belongs to Arun Srinivasan.

Team 3 belongs to Kyle Cantlon.

Team 4 belongs to Michael Hoad.

Team 5 belongs to Justin Cuthbert.

Team 6 belongs to Steven Psihogios.

Thomas's Lineup

Panarin-McDavid-Pastrnak

Pacioretty-Barzal-Nylander

Robertson-Couturier-Tarasenko

Hintz-Eriksson Ek-Teravainen

Josi-Ellis

Chabot-Seider

Brodin-Petry

Saros

Hart

My thoughts: Thomas built the scariest first line in the league. McDavid with anybody is simply terrifying, let alone with Panarin and Pastrnak on his wings. He definitely snagged some solid value by taking Josi as his first defenseman in Round 5, as he's arguably the best blueliner in the game. I would have gone with Shesterkin over Saros between the pipes, but it's hard to argue with the pick given how dominant Saros has been since midway through last season. I'm not in love with his middle-six forwards, but that fourth line is absolutely dangerous. Eriksson Ek in the role of a shutdown centre is a problem for the rest of the league.

Arun's Lineup

Raymond-Matthews-Bergeron

Palat-Point-Stamkos

Hyman-Tavares-Kyrou

Mangiapane-Kadri-Wheeler

Toews-Fox

Slavin-Heiskanen

McAvoy-Spurgeon

Shesterkin

Fleury

My thoughts: I love how deep Arun's team is down the middle of the ice. You know it's stacked at centre when Patrice Bergeron is posted up on the wing! I think his middle-six forwards have a nice balance of skill and toughness, and it's a deep enough forward group that likely won't have to rely on just one line. I like how mobile his defense corps is, and having McAvoy on a third defense pairing is just downright unfair. Considering I took Vasilevskiy in Round 1, he got great value on Shesterkin seven rounds later and as the fifth goalie off the board.

Kyle's Lineup

Connor-Zibanejad-Draisaitl

Zegras-Giroux-Kaprizov

Horvat-J. Hughes-Forsberg

M. Foligno-Getzlaf-Wilson

Hedman-Pietrangelo

Q. Hughes-Weegar

Hanifin-Trouba

Gibson

Demko

My thoughts: I can't start talking about Kyle's team without staring directly at that fourth line. Foligno, Getzlaf, and Wilson are going to be a problem in this league and the thought of that trio's forecheck is terrifying. Good luck trying to stop that. The creativity that we'd see from a line that features both Zegras and Kaprizov is mouth-watering, and it makes me sad knowing that we'll likely never see that tandem together. The Hughes-Weegar defense pairing seems like a great mix, as Hughes will be able to freely roam the offensive zone while Weegar has him covered on the back end. The all-American goaltending tandem is nice, too, and this would definitely be the best defense Gibson has ever played in front of.

Michael's Lineup

Rantanen-MacKinnon-Ovechkin

Svechnikov-Crosby-Kane

Kuznetsov-Malkin-M.Tkachuk

Terry-Kopitar-Meier

Carlson-Nurse

Letang-Dumba

Krug-Bouchard

Hellebuyck

Markstrom

My thoughts: It's hard to imagine upgrading the Avalanche's first line, but subbing in Ovechkin for Landeskog is certainly a way to do it. Having Malkin and M. Tkachuk on the same line is a nightmare for opponents, as those two will certainly find ways to agitate and get involved physically. Kopitar is the strongest fourth-line centre in the league, and that unit will be able to match up against almost any line in the league. His defense is a little thin, specifically that third pairing, but Bouchard should only continue to get better. Hellebuyck and Markstrom provide some really nice stability between the pipes.

Justin's Lineup

Marchand-Aho-Kucherov

Guentzel-Pettersson-Marner

Stone-O'Reilly-B. Tkachuk

Miller-Cirelli-Rust

Rielly-Makar

Theodore-Doughty

Karlsson-Sergachev

Price

Campbell

My thoughts: My team would've turned out a lot better if Justin didn't snipe me several times in our draft! I use that as a compliment because I really like how his team turned out. His third line is one of my favourites from any team and would be downright dominant to go up against in a seven-game series. Nabbing Theodore in the 14th round was one of the best values in the draft, and despite waiting on goalie until the final two rounds, he ended up with a pretty solid tandem. I do worry about Karlsson defending against some of these forward lines, though.

Steven's Lineup

Huberdeau-Barkov-Scheifele

Landeskog-Lindholm-Ehlers

Gaudreau-Eichel-DeBrincat

Lafreniere-Suzuki-Larkin

Ekblad-Hamilton

Werenski-Jones

Chychrun-Pionk

Vasilevskiy

Sorokin

My thoughts: It's my team, so you know I'm gonna love it.

Which player are you surprised didn’t make today's Original 6?

Thomas: Maybe it's recency bias talking, but I'm surprised Sam Reinhart didn't at least get a nod for a fourth-line role. He was able to escape Buffalo and move to a much better situation playing for the Panthers. At just 26 years old, he still has some future ahead of him — if some people were aiming for longevity in this exercise — and has consistently shot above 12 percent, creating offense on very, very bad teams. And for all the nerds out there, he has had an on-ice shot attempt share of over 55 percent for the last seven seasons.

In the end, he's a top-line player on a championship contender and probably a top-72 forward in the NHL.

Arun: Samuel Girard! Hockey Canada may not be considering the Avalanche's third, dynamic defenseman but I certainly would. Girard performed admirably when Cale Makar missed time due to injury, he's a wizard at the blue line with shifty improvisational ability, he rarely makes mistakes and in a league that ought to prioritize skill more than the current NHL, Girard ought to shine. Maybe I should've taken him after all, in hindsight.

Kyle: Jonathan Toews, being a "top 100" player of all-time and all!

Michael: Patrik Laine. Last season wasn't kind to Laine as he moved from Winnipeg to Columbus and saw his production fall off a cliff. But he's still only 23 years old and already has three 30-goal seasons to his name, including a 44-goal outburst in his sophomore campaign. I'm surprised a GM didn't take a late-round flier on him for his incredible scoring potential in the bottom six of a roster.

Justin: Phil Danault. It's strange that the best shutdown centre in the league wasn't chosen when it will be exclusively superstars competing.

Steven: Pierre-Luc Dubois. The 2017 third-overall pick has been excellent to begin the 2021-22 season with 13 goals and 23 points, but didn't get the recognition among the six of us. He brings a nice blend of skill and physicality and would fit perfectly in any squad's bottom six. I would've taken him if I had the opportunity to draft a 13th forward. He's still only 23 years old.

Which team is your favourite?

Thomas: I am certainly biased, but I would have to say mine. It's not hard when you immediately get to start with the best player on the planet in McDavid, but being able to flank him with Pastrnak and Panarin? That is bonkers. Add in the next two lines that could be top lines on any championship contender, and the punishing defensive ability of Eriksson Ek and Hintz teaming up and you have some well-balanced stew.

Even on the blue line, the right side is a little shallow, but the transition game would be immaculate. And then you have two very young goaltenders that should be competing for the Vezina in the next few years. I'm biased, but I'll pat myself on the back.

Honourable mention to Arun's team though.

Arun: Slight edge to Michael Hoad over Justin Cuthbert. Hoad's forwards corps — particularly his top three lines — are a veritable nightmare and his entire defense can move the puck while imposing their physicality on the game. And on any given day, Connor Hellebuyck is the second-best goalie alive, behind Andrei Vasilevskiy. That could very well be the difference in a league where the margins should be infinitesimal.

Justin: [Michael] Hoad's team. The forwards are insanely deep, All-Star Game level. The ultimate win-now team.

Kyle: Hoad's forward-heavy squad.

Michael: There's a lot to like about the way Steven put his roster together. There's instant chemistry on the first line with Barkov and Huberdeau, and his forward depth is impressive. The defense corps is rock-solid and he finishes things off with the best goalie in the league. This team is a force to be reckoned with.

Steven: I'm going to say Arun's team. I love what he did down the middle of the ice with Matthews, Point, Tavares, and Kadri, while his defense is absolutely loaded! Top it off with Shesterkin between the pipes, and you've got a tall task come the postseason.

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