Amidst the Return to Play hype, one of the exciting rumours that came out of the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations was that the NHL Players (with IOC approval) would be returning to the Olympics. To save you a search if you are unaware, 2022 will be in Beijing and 2026 in Milan and Cortina. Looking ahead a few seasons, this is my way too early projection for Team Canada 2022.
Line 1: Crosby and Bergeron have a long history of International success dating back to the World Juniors. Marchand (I hate that I have to say this) is a top 10 NHL player right now and is still young enough to carry that into 2022. He has very obvious chemistry with these two, they dominate every single time they play together and I do not see any of them regressing enough to not make the team
Line 2: This is arguably the first line but Sid has earned the right of defacto 1C on Canada until he retires. The sheer speed on this line will be fun to watch and this will be the Huberdeau coming out party for those who live under a rock (apparently Sportsnet still does). There is a chance (albeit on the smaller side of course, but) that all three of these guys will be considered top 10 NHL players in two years time.
Line 3: Canada has an abundance of riches, but since the disaster in Torino, they have veered towards building proper teams and filing roles. I still think the third line absolutely needs to be fast for the International ice and all three of these guys check that box. They all have elite skill and aren’t afraid to bring their lunch pail to work, oh ya, they can score too.
Line 4: This may be three of the best 200-foot players in the NHL, I wouldn’t say speed is any of their main assets but they can more than keep up with the best of them. O’Reilly is coming off a season where he won the Selke to go with his Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe. Stone is widely considered one of the best two-way players bar none; remember when Ottawa was kind of not shit, then the Stone trade happened. Finally, Scheifele is a franchise center with an edge that you rarely find in player with his talent. I will also say that Team Canada tends to build a 4th line with player’s who will play some Penalty Kill time and all three are some of the best in the league.
13th (& 14th): Honestly speaking, Mitch Marner will only continue to get better, he will be a 100+ point guy by then and has a very real chance to get into one of these four lines. I can see him sliding in with Tavares and Stamkos, either way there’s a lot of talent and flexibility on this roster. Jonathan Toews is mainly on here because I don’t have the heart to take him off this list. Make no mistake, he is still an elite talent in the NHL and he can slot in with any of these lines and take on Penalty Kill responsibilities. Team Canada is very loyal to the guys who have given them years of service, especially when it has been nothing but gold, maybe Toews is that guy in 2022.
1st Pair: Morgan Rielly is already the best LD in Canada’s pool and Doughty is a thorough bred, I don’t think this one needs much explaining. You may not like them as the 1st pair, or they may have different partners but they will both 100% be on this team
2nd Pair: Cale Makar is a generational talent on D, give him another year and a bit of NHL experience and I feel safe in assuming he will only get better. Pietrangelo is in the same category as Doughty and he will be relied on to be a dominant, shut down defenseman that will allow Makar to jump up in the rush if the coaching staff allows it (not that they need it).
3rd Pair: In 2020, this would be a premier, if not one of the best shut down pairs in the NHL with the talent to produce offensively. Parayko has the skill to be a lock on this roster and Canada has always made sure to have the proper handed defenseman on each pairing, not to mention his chemistry with Pietrangelo. If 2022 were on NHL ice, I would be more inclined to keep Weber here, but I refuse to take my favourite player off the list.
7th (& 8th): In all honesty it is a toss up for who out of Chabot and Hamilton will be the third RD, I will say that I lean towards Chabot. Dougie was in the Norris conversation before his injury in 2019 but he has been inconsistent in his career. Chabot on the other hand, hasn’t reached his prime and should be entering that window by 2022. Regardless of the situation, one of these two will make the team while the other will be on the bubble for the 7th spot with Weber who has the same legacy card as Toews.
I think Carey is obvious, just look up his International numbers, they don’t make sense. Carter Hart and Jordan Binnington are two of the best young goalies in the game right now (I have both on my Keeper League Fantasy team) and they are just scratching the surface. By no means is it out of the question that either of these guys takes over the starting position from Carey, but I just don’t see it happening. They are interchangeable in the depth chart, but I think it will be Hart sitting on the bench for most of the games that Canada plays.
Now for everyone’s favourite part, the snubs.
Forwards: Matthew Barzal, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Sean Monahan, Logan Couture
Defense: Shea Theodore, Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Kris Letang, Brent Burns
Goaltenders: Marc-André Fleury, Braden Holtby
I put all of these guys in the same category because they are all 2020 stars who I think will unfortunately just get surpassed by some of the younger talent coming into their prime. Barzal and Theodore are both more than qualified to be on this team and I think they will be the first men up should there be any injury concerns.
UP AND COMING TALENT
Forwards: Pierre-Luc Dubois, Anthony Mantha, Robert Thomas, Anthony Cirelli, Alexis Lafrenière, Nick Suzuki
This one is a bit tougher because there is an abundance of young talent in the NHL, let alone Canada. They all clearly possess incredible skill and talent but if any of them are going to make the team they will need to accept a fourth line/13th forward role. PLB is entering his prime and is an absolute force, Mantha is a very big body that can score, Robert Thomas is a hidden gem in the NHL and Anthony Cirelli continues to get better at an exponential rate; can he keep it up? Suzuki can be labelled a homer picks but I really like his game and if he explodes for a couple of Point Per Game seasons it’s possible. Finally, I think Lafrenière will just be too young and not far enough along in his development to be able to knock anyone off the roster, similar to Crosby in 2002.
Defense: Bowen Byram, Darnell Nurse, Josh Morrissey, Noah Dobson, Jake Bean, Evan Bouchard
Again, a lot of options, Byram went 4th overall to the Avalanche (remind you of anyone) last season and if he can develop some sort of inexplicable chemistry with Makar I can see an argument to be made. I love Darnell Nurse, he is what a Defenseman should be in my opinion, he just happens to have a Canadian passport, but if anyone on this list is to make the team it is him. Fighting him for that honour is Morrissey who could take a big step forward now that he is in a bigger role with the Jets. Dobson, Bean and Bouchard are more long shot picks but they are all top NHL prospects right now that have been developing in the AHL for a couple years and are set to make their mark on the league.
Goaltender: Darcy Kuemper
Biz is loving this one, I think that Kuemper is a very interesting player because he isn’t an up and coming player in the traditional sense considering he is 30 years old. Goalies typically take longer to fully develop like a fine wine and in his last two seasons he is hovering around a 2.30 Goals Against Average and a .926 Save Percentage in 84 games. It would take a lot for Kuemper to get on the roster but he deserves some recognition.
Canadian could fill three rosters of elite talent, it is so hard to limit this team to only 23 guys but any way you slice it Canada will be good. Check in throughout the next couple of days as we will continue this series looking at the remaining countries that have qualified for the tournament.