With so many skilled players to choose from (assuming the NHL participates), Steve Yzerman has his work cut out for him as Team Canada's Executive Director for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Here are my picks for the team:
Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby (A), Rick Nash
If Sidney Crosby is healthy enough to participate, there is no doubt that the Penguins Captain will be the starting center. I like Steven Stamkos on the wing, especially his off-wing, so that he can use his deadly shot coming off the boards. With Rick Nash adding some size on the right side, the first line will have the world's best puck distributor between two of the best shooters in hockey.
Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry
With all three players over 6'2'' and 205 pounds, this line will be a force to be reckoned with. Jamie Benn has shined in Dallas, taking over Brendan Morrow's job as the team's true star (no pun intended). His physical style of play will mesh perfectly with the two big boys out of California.
Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews (A), Jarome Iginla (C)
Staal is a natural center, but Jonathan Toews is much better suited for the position. On his way to being one of seven players with eleven or more consecutive 30-goal seasons, Jarome Iginla will be the team's new captain. The two-time gold medal winner will be a huge asset in the locker room, especially with so many young guns. This is a very strong two-way line, but all three forwards can easily put the puck in the net.
Tyler Seguin, Claude Giroux, Jordan Eberle
Speed is the name of the game for this line of kids. Tyler Seguin could be the brightest young star in the sport, and Claude Giroux is reaching his 90+ point potential this season. Jordan Eberle could be a surprise pick to some, but the 21-year-old is on pace for a 36-goal and 78-point season on one the NHL's worst teams. Eberle is also one of the most clutch players in Canada's World Junior history. This line will provide energy and cause a lot of stress for slow defensive pairs.
I was torn between Jordan Staal and Bergeron for the team's last forward spot, but Bergeron's face-off ability put him over the edge. The Bruins' center leads the league with 803 face-offs won. This is a very important asset for defensive-zone situations in close games.
I want to stress that these pairs are not in any particular order. Drew Doughty came into the Olympics in 2010 as a bottom three d-man, but emerged as perhaps the most valuable by the final game.
Marc Staal, Drew Doughty
Marc Staal is a solid defender in his one zone, and can skate better than most "stay-at-home" defenders. Drew Doughty is a highly-skilled puck mover, and can be a one-man breakout. He may be a better fit with Dan Girardi, but either way, Doughty should be paired with one of NYR's defensive blue-liners.
Duncan Keith, Shea Weber
Former Norris winner Duncan Keith is very similar to Doughty in terms of his puck-moving abilities, but may be a bit faster and perhaps a bit less reliable in his own zone. That's where Shea Weber comes in. The Nashville Captain, who blasted a puck through the net in Vancouver 2010, is a force in all three zones, intimidation being his best asset.
Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle
My last pair of defense is made up of two off-the-board players for many in the hockey know. Dan Girardi is the NHL's new, top shot-blocker and one of the best in his own zone. Dan Boyle has Olympic experience, winning a gold medal in Vancouver, and is a strong puck mover and powerplay distributor.
Tyler Myers makes the squad in my last defense slot as a physical, smart and responsible blue-liner.
Unlike the defenseman, the goaltenders are in order.
The "Flower" is the most consistent goaltender of Canada's three best and also the only one able to wear a Stanley Cup ring.
Carey Price may be the most technically-sound of the three goaltenders, and could very likely challenge Fleury for the starting job.
Luongo is a tremendous goalie, but even though he won gold in Canada's crease last Olympics, I do not trust him.
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