With the Sochi Olympics coming up in a year from now, it’s usually the time where people start keeping an eye on the NHL and an eye on potential candidates for Olympic rosters.
This is especially true of Canadian fans who are constantly counting down to the next Olympic tournament. It’s not just the avid fans though, but many media prognosticators and expert analysts will try and predict what the team may look like. Even within that community the picks differ greatly.
A year out, there are many players in consideration and things can certainly change. Progression up or down, age and injury all factor in and can give or take away a players spot in a hurry.
The Canadian roster in particular is extremely difficult to predict, as there are likely as many as 50 players that will be given legitimate consideration for a spot on the 25 man roster.
Steve Yzerman and his cohorts will be taking an extra long look at players for this tournament because of the fact it is overseas on the bigger ice, something Canada has struggled on.
In the last two tournaments outside of North America, 1998 in Nagano and 2006 in Turin, the Canadians finished a disappointing 4th in ’98 and didn’t even get out of the quarter-finals in ’06.
Clearly their success has been on NHL sized rinks in front of more favourable crowds. Evidenced by gold medals in 2002 (Salt Lake City) and 2010 (Vancouver).
They will be looking to stop that trend for 2014. Speed will be a skill in high demand going over given the much wider ice surface.
Here’s a look at my early predictions for Team Canada 2014.
*Eric Staal - *Sidney Crosby - Steven Stamkos
*Rick Nash – Claude Giroux - *Corey Perry
John Tavares - *Jonathan Toews - Jordan Eberle
Jamie Benn - *Patrice Bergeron - Tyler Seguin
Jordan Staal, Taylor Hall
*denotes returning player
Six forwards return from the 2010 edition in Crosby, Staal, Nash, Perry, Toews and Bergeron. Crosby will again lead the squad as the top centre and offensive catalyst and very likely team captain.
Staal and Stamkos both move to the wing to flank Crosby. Staal was a force in 2010 and found chemistry with Crosby then. Stamkos comes in as the NHL’s top sniper and will be relied on for the same in 2014.
Rick Nash also returns and is the only two time Olympian in the group. While he is one of the game’s top power forwards and offensive talents, he also showed an impressive two way game in 2010. Claude Giroux has turned into one of the game’s top forwards. He brings elite offence, can play in all three zones and is still emerging each year. Perry, a former 50 goal scorer and MVP will be counted on to put pucks in the net.
Jonathan Toews, the 2010 tournament top forward, will centre the third line and play against the other team’s top line. He did a stellar job of that in 2010, while also putting up points and being effective in the faceoff circle. Tavares and Eberle will suit up for their first Olympics. Both have worn the maple leaf multiple times and bring impressive junior resumes to the table. No one can forget what they, especially Eberle, has done for Canada at the WJC.
The fourth line, bring a lot of versatility and talent to the roster. Seguin is one of the game’s best young talents, Benn is an impressive emerging power forward, and returnee Patrice Bergeron is one of the best two way forwards and faceoff men in the NHL and an ideal 4th line centre for the team.
Jordan Staal and Taylor Hall come in as the extras, Staal is extremely versatile and plays an excellent two way game. Could be a big help on the PK. Hall brings great speed and energy and could make an impact on the big ice.
Dark Horse Candidate: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Incredible vision and playmaking ability, if he takes the next step over 2013 he could make an impact in Sochi, especially on the power play.
*Duncan Keith - *Drew Doughty
Kris Letang - *Shea Weber
Alex Pietrangelo - * Brent Seabrook
Michael Del Zotto, P.K. Subban
Four returnees in the group with the top pairing in Keith and Doughty reunited from 2010. Both logged big minutes for Canada and will do the same in 2014.
Shea Weber brings his cannon of a shot back and will play a key role in all areas, especially the power play. Kris Letang has emerged as one of the leagues top rearguards and is one of the smoothest skating D-men in the world.
Brent Seabrook also returns from 2010. In that year he was the 7th defenceman and will once again be a depth blueliner, but should see an increased role in 2014. He will be paired with Alex Pietrangelo, one of the NHL’s top young defenceman. He had a breakout year last year in St. Louis and is continuing his progression this year.
Michael Del Zotto and P.K. Subban come in as the extras, both are great skaters who will excel on the big ice. Del Zotto an excellent puck mover who is effective on the power play and Subban brings energy, versatility and can play in various situations.
Dark Horse Candidate: Justin Schultz. Oilers rookie has impressed so far, and if he continues to improve could be a valuable piece to the Canadian power play in 2014.
Carey Price (starter)
*Roberto Luongo (backup)
*Marc-Andre Fleury (3rd)
Price comes in as the starter and is the best Canadian goaltender in the league right now. He’s poised, confident and athletic and will be the team’s starter. He’s had some international experience winning a gold medal and being named top goaltender in the 2007 WJC tournament.
Luongo, the starter from 2010, makes the team again but as a backup. He has been inconsistent over the last few years and even lost his job. He has started 2013 out strong and looks to once again prove his one of the leagues top netminders.
Fleury seems to have a love/hate relationship with fans. Those that love him think he is among the league’s elite and those that hate him see him as barely more than a mediocre starter. What he has done is win a Stanley Cup and is one of the most athletic goalies in the league. He also has international experience and will be the team’s 3rd option once again.
Dark Horse Candidate: Jonathan Bernier. Considered one of the games top goaltending prospects, if he gets a chance to be a starter somewhere this year, he could work his way into the conversation.
The team as a whole is young and talented, with the majority of the roster under the age of 30. There is a considerable amount of experience, however, with 12 returning players from 2010 in Vancouver.
A lot can happen in the next year, and Yzerman & Co. have a lot of tough decisions to make. Hard to go wrong though with the talent available to them.
Let the debate begin.