If the NHL sent its players to the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the discussion as to who would lead Canada in scoring would be a short one, ending after one of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, or John Tavares. Some may argue that Brad Marchand or Mitch Marner could also fill that role, but they wouldn’t be as obvious as the previous three. However, without them, the debate is wide open, and could be affected by a dozen factors, from age to experience or even the league in which they currently play.
There are already several early favourites. Maxim Noreau, the 34-year-old defenceman out of the Swiss National League, led the team back in 2018. Boston College’s star Jack McBain, a third-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, has been over a point-per-game in the NCAA and could be a breakout star much like Ryan Donato did four years ago with the United States. Eric Staal, despite being the oldest member on the team, is still an offensive threat and could emerge as a difference-maker on the team.
But there is one more name that should be considered. When hockey fans hear the name Tambellini, they may think of Steve, a veteran of over 500 NHL games and former Edmonton Oilers general manager, or they may even think of his son Jeff, a 2003 first-round pick who played over 200 games in the NHL. But this year, the name Adam Tambellini should stick in people’s minds, as he has one of the best chances to lead Team Canada in scoring at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Tambellini is a Youngster on an Old Roster
Aside from Mason McTavish and college stars Owen Power, McBain, and Buffalo Sabres prospect Devon Levi, much of Canada’s is on the older side. 15 players are 30 years or older, and five are at least 35 years old. Several of those elder statesmen will be expected to play important roles, too; Staal, Daniel Winnik, and David Desharnais will likely end up somewhere in the top-six thanks to their NHL experience and strong performances this season.
All that experience has left Canada with the fourth-oldest roster, however, meaning they’ll regularly be facing players who are still in their prime and have plenty of energy to burn. Just imagine Staal facing down the likes of the United States’ Jake Sanderson and Brendan Brisson, Russia’s Kirill Marchenko, or Slovakia’s Simon Nemec or Juraj Salfkovsky. There’s no questioning Staal’s skill, but the wheels are no longer there, and the kids will almost certainly blow by the 17-year NHL veteran.
That’s where Tambellini comes in. At 27 years old, he is far from a young gun, but is still one of the youngest members of Canada’s roster, and well within the prime of his career rather than on the downturn. Last season, he played on the same line as Vancouver Canucks’ youngster Nils Hoglander, who is no slouch when it comes to skating. The pair were excellent in the few times they skated together, generating plenty of scoring chances. If Tambellini is paired with McTavish or McBain, it could be a very dangerous one-two punch for the Canadians.
But that doesn’t mean Tambellini doesn’t also have the experience and skill to grab a top spot. Last season, he made his SHL debut with Rögle BK and put up a very respectable 28 points in 37 games, plus another 10 points in 14 playoff games. He followed up that strong postseason performance with 33 points in 35 games this season, which sits seventh league-wide and first on Rögle. With him at the helm, the team qualified for the Champions Hockey League tournament for the first time in SHL history, where they finished top of their pool. And as expected, he was one of the team’s top scorers with 12 points in 10 games as they cruised to the final.
Not only has Tambellini excelled in Sweden, but he’s also done well internationally. After a huge 2019-20 season in Sweden’s junior league, the Allsvenskan, he was selected to Canada’s Spengler Cup roster, where he put up three assists in four games, the third-highest total on the team, and helped them claim gold, their fourth in five years. He also was selected to Team Canada for the European Hockey Tour and put up two assists. No matter the team, he’s always near the top in scoring, and there’s no reason to doubt that the Olympics will be a similar result.
Tambellini’s Career Spanned All Levels But the NHL
While some could argue Tambellini is a bit of a late bloomer, there’s significant evidence that he’s been an offensive catalyst for most of his career. A native of Edmonton, Alberta, and the son of former NHLer Steve Tambellini, he initially planned to play college hockey and joined the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers in 2011-12. He was an instant star, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in his rookie season and following it up with 65 points in 52 games split between the Vipers and Surrey Eagles. In the 2013 playoffs, he was dominant, scoring 10 goals in 17 games as they rolled to their first championship in eight years.
Tambellini was a hot commodity come the 2013 draft, and he didn’t have to wait long until he heard his name called, going in the third round to the New York Rangers. Scouts loved his 6-foot-4 frame and skill with the puck, but they were skeptical about his long-term future as he lacked the strength. That was evident in his first NCAA season, and he struggled to keep up with the pace of the game. After 16 games and four points, he decided to return to Canada and join the Calgary Hitmen, who acquired his rights from the Portland Winterhawks.
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In the Western Hockey League (WHL), he looked much more at home, and his career took off once again. He finished his first season with 39 points in 37 games, then led the team with 47 goals and 86 points in 2014-15, which placed him among the best players in the league. Only three players had more goals than him and his point total sat 10th in the WHL. That total, which still ranks among the best seasons ever in Hitmen franchise history, had the Rangers very interested, and once the WHL season wound down, they quickly signed him to his entry-level deal.
Tambellini graduated to the American Hockey League (AHL) the following season, and unlike his NCAA debut, the transition was much smoother. He still showed some need for growth, but still showed plenty of potential, promising to be in the Rangers’ lineup by 2017-18. Sadly, that day never came. He was cut during the 2017 training camp and despite his development, he was not given a qualifying offer at the end of the season. The Ottawa Senators swooped in at that point, signing him to a one-year, two-way deal. Early returns were good, too, as he put up six points in his first nine games with the Belleville Senators.
But, like his time with the Rangers, Tambellini was unable to catch the Senators’ attention long enough. At the end of the 2018-19 season, despite finishing with 32 points in 72 games, he was left unsigned and so he decided to take his talent to Europe. In his first season abroad, he was scoring at a rate of nearly two points per game, putting away 28 goals and 63 points in 37 games with MODO of the Allsvenskan. His performance created a bidding war among SHL teams, but in the end, he went with Rögle, who he felt offered him the best role and opportunity to thrive.
Well-Deserving of Olympic Nod
Although preliminary roster predictions had Tambellini in a depth role, there’s little reason to doubt that he’ll be relegated to the third or fourth lines. Not only has he joined the team with one of the highest point totals in his respective leagues, but he also comes from the SHL, which is one of the premier hockey leagues in the world. Compare his totals to that of Derek Roy’s in 2018. After a stellar NHL career, he joined the Swedish league and put up 35 points in 45 games, finishing first on his team in scoring. Roy went on to lead Canada in scoring at the Olympics with two goals and seven points, tied with Noreau. Using that metric, Tambellini has an excellent chance to produce well at this year’s tournament.
But even more important is his work ethic. When asked about the best advice he ever was given, American winger Noah Cates said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Since leaving the NHL, Tambellini has developed into a strong, well-rounded player who can chip in both offensively and defensively. While he regularly was a minus-player while playing in the AHL, he’s generating plenty of offence with Rögle, leading the team with a plus-21. He’s smarter and more patient than he was as a junior player, and that will translate very well at the Olympics this year.