Updated Projection for Canada's 2022 Olympic Men's Hockey Roster

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistNovember 8, 2021

Updated Projection for Canada's 2022 Olympic Men's Hockey Roster

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    The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics (Feb. 4-20) are drawing ever closer, and the NHL will return to the Games for the first time since 2014. Canada won its second straight Olympic gold in men's ice hockey that year and will be attempting to take home its fourth Olympic gold medal since 2002 in China.

    With the Olympic puck drop on the horizon, speculation about which players will be selected for Team Canada will intensify. We already know Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo made the cut. The full list should be revealed by January 2022.

    In February we offered up our early projection for Canada's 2022 Olympic Men's hockey team. Now is as good a time as any to review and revise that list. We've broken it down by possible forward lines, defense pairings and goaltenders, including two spare forwards and two spare defensemen to complete the 25-man roster.

    Do you agree with our selections for Team Canada? You can weigh in with your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.

Goaltenders: Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Binnington

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    On Oct. 25, The Hockey News' Matt Larkin reported Canada had named six goaltenders among its list of Olympic candidates before the Oct. 15 deadline. The 11 other countries in the tournament submitted five, but Canada received an exemption because of the uncertainty over the status of Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price.

    The list of submitted candidates hasn't been announced. Citing The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, Larkin indicated they were Price, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, Darcy Kuemper of the Colorado Avalanche, Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers and Mackenzie Blackwood of the New Jersey Devils.

    Price, 34, appeared to be the top contender for the starter's job after backstopping the underdog Canadiens to the 2021 Stanley Cup final. He held that role for Canada's 2014 team and their 2016 World Cup of Hockey squad. Price returned from the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program on Monday, and there's no timetable for his return to action. Nevertheless, he remains a strong candidate.

    Fleury was Canada's third goalie on Canada's 2010 Olympic squad. While he's off to a difficult start with the Blackhawks this season, the 36-year-old won the Vezina Trophy last year with the Vegas Golden Knights. His performance this season could determine whether he has a spot on this roster.

    Jordan Binnington played a crucial role in the St.Louis Blues' Stanley Cup run in 2019, becoming a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy. Now 28, his stats aren't as stellar compared to those from his rookie campaign. He also lacks experience in international competition.

    Hart, 23, was among our original trio, but his youth and poor performance last season could hurt his chances of making the final selection. He's off to a better start this term and could get the call if he maintains that effort. He has international experience as a gold medalist for Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championship.

    Kuemper put up solid numbers over the previous three seasons with the woeful Arizona Coyotes. The 31-year-old also carried Canada to a gold medal at the 2021 World Championship. The only downside is he has a recent history of lower-body injuries.

    Blackwood has starter potential, but his stats with the Devils have been inconsistent. The 24-year-old didn't make his season debut until Monday after being sidelined by offseason heel surgery. He played for Canada's silver medal team at the 2019 World Championship.

Defense Pairing 1: Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo

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    Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo were the first defense pairing on our original list, and we see no reason to split up the Vegas Golden Knights teammates. While they don't frequently play together, their familiarity and all-around blue-line skills should make them a good fit for Team Canada.

    Pietrangelo has considerable experience as a top-pairing NHL defenseman, and as a minute-munching, two-way rearguard his leadership will be invaluable to Canada's defense corps. He captained the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup in 2019 and has international experience with Canada's 2014 Olympic gold-medal team and was on the roster for its 2016 World Cup of Hockey triumph.

    The 6'2", 197-pound Theodore has emerged in recent years as a talented puck-moving defenseman. The 26-year-old tallied 46 points in 71 games in 2019-20 and 42 points in 53 contests last season. Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, he's averaged 22:38 of time on ice per game. He can also skate on the left or right side, providing Canada with some flexibility if it needs to shift him around.

Defense Pairing 2: Darnell Nurse and Cale Makar

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    Our original list had Cale Makar pairing with Morgan Rielly. While we're keeping the 22-year-old on this line, we have decided to pair him with the Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse. His strong skating and physical defensive play could make him a good complement for Makar's offensive style.

    Nurse has become the anchor of the Oilers defense corps. At 6'4" and 221 pounds, he has impressive size and plays well at both ends of the rink. He reached or exceeded 33 points in each of the past three seasons, leading the Oilers in takeaways with 108 while sitting second in time on ice per game (23:38), total hits with 612 and blocked shots with 540.

    Makar, 23, has blossomed into one of the NHL's top defensemen over the past two seasons. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2019-20 and was runner-up for the James Norris Memorial Trophy last season. A gifted, mobile rearguard, he will provide a potent offensive punch from the blue line for Canada.

Defense Pairing 3: Morgan Rielly and Dougie Hamilton

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    Placing Darnell Nurse on the second pairing with Cale Makar meant shifting Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly to the third pairing alongside the New Jersey Devils' Dougie Hamilton. Rielly, 27, takes the place of Winnipeg Jets blueliner Josh Morrissey, whose performance has declined over the past two seasons.

    Rielly is the Leafs' top defenseman. Blessed with strong offensive skills, he's reached or exceeded 27 points in each of his previous eight NHL seasons. He's also improved his defensive play, sitting fourth on the Leafs with 72 total blocked shots since last season while logging a team-leading 23:45 in time on ice per game.

    At 6'6" and 230 pounds, Hamilton possesses impressive size and outstanding puck-moving abilities. He's netted 40-plus points in six of the past seven seasons with the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes. Those abilities enable him to move the puck quickly out of his own zone and join the attack.

                          

    Spares: Aaron Ekblad and Adam Pelech

    We opted to replace the Ottawa Senators' Thomas Chabot and the Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty with Adam Pelech of the New York Islanders and Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers. Doughty's recent knee injury could provide Ekblad with an opportunity to make a strong impression on Canada's managerial group. Pelech gets the nod for his strong shutdown abilities.

    Winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2014, Ekblad helped Canada win gold at the 2015 World Championship. He's a key factor behind the Panthers' rise to being among the NHL's elite. The 6'4", 215-pound blueliner logs more than 25 minutes of ice time per game in all situations.

    Pelech, 27, is a skillful shutdown blueliner with the Islanders. Since 2019-20, he has logged a team-leading 2:28 of short-handed ice time per game and is among their leaders in blocked shots (177) and takeaways with 61. He would be a good stay-at-home presence on Canada's second or third defense pairing and a solid addition to the penalty kill.

Forward Line 1: Jonathan Huberdeau, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon

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    We're leaving this line unchanged from our original projection. The combination of the Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid centering Florida Panthers left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon on right wing should give Canada an irresistible scoring punch.

    Already selected to Canada's roster, McDavid is the best player in the NHL. Last season, the 24-year-old took home both the Art Ross Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award for the third time and won his second Hart Memorial Trophy. He has led the league in total points (596) and point percentage (1.43) since his debut season (2015-16) thanks to his impressive ability to create plays and score at high speed.

    MacKinnon usually plays center for the Avalanche but can also skate on the wing. He has the speed and skills to keep up with McDavid's fast-paced style. Winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2013-14 and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2019-20, the 26-year-old had three straight 90-plus point campaigns from 2017-18 to 2019-20 and netted 65 points in 48 games last season.

    Overshadowed by Panthers teammate Aleksander Barkov, Huberdeau is nevertheless third in total points among NHL left wingers (312 in 299 games) since 2017-18. The 2012-13 Calder recipient led the Panthers in scoring in each of the past two seasons. His playmaking skills—especially on the power play, where he leads all left wings in points (111) over the past four seasons—would make him a solid addition to the first line.

Forward Line 2: Brad Marchand, Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron

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    It's been more than five years since Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Boston Bruins forwards Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron led Canada to victory in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey as Canada's top line. Originally projected as the third line for Beijing, we're moving them up to the second based on their competitiveness, experience, leadership and ongoing high skill levels.

    An early selection to Team Canada, Crosby is no longer the NHL's best player but remains an expert center and well-respected leader. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a winner of multiple NHL individual awards who also has considerable success in international competitions, most notably winning Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. Expect Crosby to be named team captain.

    Bergeron, at 36, would be the oldest player on Canada's roster. He remains an outstanding two-way forward and has had terrific chemistry with Crosby in previous international competitions. Bergeron is a 10-time finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, winning it on four occasions. His skills and leadership make him an invaluable part of this line in every situation, especially on the penalty kill.

    Since 2016-17, Marchand leads all NHL left wingers with 440 total points and 1.23 points-per-game percentage, as well as total power-play points (133) and short-handed (26). A skillful forward whose pesky style gets under his opponents' skin, Marchand would provide some bite to Canada's second line.

Forward Line 3: Ryan O'Reilly, Mark Scheifele, Mitch Marner

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    We've made a change to our third line from our original projection, moving Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele and Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Mitch Marner to the third line. We've also shifted St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly up from the fourth line. This combination should provide Canada with a solid combination of scoring punch and defensive skill.

    O'Reilly is among the NHL's elite two-way forwards. His hard-working, disciplined style earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Selke Trophy in 2019, as well as the Lady Byng Trophy in 2014. A versatile forward who can play center or on the wing, he would provide a measure of flexibility and experience to the third line, particularly in short-handed situations.

    Marner is among the NHL's top playmakers, but he's also blossomed into an effective penalty-killer. Since 2018-19, he's second among right wingers with 240 total points and seventh in short-handed ice time per game (1:48). Those two-way skills will serve him well on this line.

    Scheifele remains our choice to center this line. The 6'3", 207-pounder sits fifth among NHL centers since 2016-17 with 365 points and is eighth in points-per-game with 1.03. He can skate on the wing if necessary and helped Canada win gold at the 2016 World Championship.

Forward Line 4: Brayden Point, Sean Couturier, Mark Stone

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    We've made one change from our original projection, moving O'Reilly to the third line and replacing him with Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier. Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point and Vegas Golden Knights right wing Mark Stone remain as the fourth line's wingers.

    Couturier specialized in defensive play earlier in his career but, in recent years, has blossomed into one of the league's top two-way centers. Winner of the Selke Trophy in 2020, the 6'3", 211-pounder ranked seventh among centers in both average ice time per game (20:55) in all game situations and in faceoff win percentage (56.7) since 2017-18. He'd be a strong addition to Canada's checking lines and special teams.

    One of the top two-way wingers in the league, Stone is the master of the takeaway, leading all NHL players in that category (640) since his first full season in 2014-15. The 29-year-old also possesses solid offensive skills, tallying 61-plus points in six of the past seven seasons. His abilities would fit well on any of Canada's lines.

    Point has emerged as a skillful all-around forward in recent years and can play center or wing. A key contributor to the Lightning's back-to-back Stanley Cups, the 25-year-old finished second among playoff scorers with 33 points in the 2020 playoffs and in 2021 with 23 points. Point is also a spirited player who's unafraid to battle for the puck along the boards and in front of the net.

                            

    Spares: Mathew Barzal and Steven Stamkos

    We're keeping the New York Islanders Mathew Barzal as one of the two spare forwards. The 2017-18 Calder Trophy winner is a speedy, talented playmaker who's also improved the defensive side of his game. He can skate at center or wing, and over the past two years he's showed the ability to step up in big-game situations during the playoffs, recording a combined 31 points during the Isles' back-to-back conference final runs.

    Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was on the second line in our original projection, but his recent injury history raises some questions about his durability. When healthy, the 31-year-old can skate at center or on the wing, possessing a lethal one-timer that could prove useful on the scoring lines.

                       

    Stats (as of Nov. 7, 2021) via NHL.com

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