Updated Picks for Canada's Men's Hockey Roster for the 2022 Winter Olympics

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2021

Updated Picks for Canada's Men's Hockey Roster for the 2022 Winter Olympics

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing (Feb. 4-20) are fast approaching. It will mark the first time the NHL will allow players to compete for their countries in the Games since 2014.

    COVID-19 could still derail those plans. On Monday, ESPN's Emily Kaplan reported the NHL has until Jan. 10 to opt out without suffering financial consequences. She indicated that could happen if there was a significant disruption that meant the league couldn't complete its 2021-22 regular-season schedule on time.

    A handful of Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders games have been rescheduled since mid-November. However, there's no indication that the NHL intends to pull out or that players will opt out over health and safety concerns.

    The announcement of Canada's roster is expected in mid-January. Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alex Pietrangelo are already confirmed as part of the lineup. Six goaltenders are under consideration.

    In February, we made an early projection of Canada's roster and revised it in November. With the final selection just around the corner, here are our updated picks. The list comprises three goaltenders, three blue-line pairings and four forward lines, including two spare forwards and two spare defensemen to complete the 25-player roster.

Goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Binnington and Darcy Kuemper

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    On Oct. 25, the Hockey News' Matt Larkin reported that Canada named six goaltenders in its list of potential Olympic candidates. They were 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; Mackenzie Blackwood of the New Jersey Devils; and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.

    Price was our pick as Canada's starter in our previous two projections after he backstopped them to gold in the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. His heroics in carrying the underdog Canadiens to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final seem to make him a lock for the job. Price, however, is still rehabbing from offseason surgery and might not be ready in time for next month's selection.

    With time running out for Price, it could come down to Fleury and Binnington as Canada's main tandem, with Kuemper as the team's third goalie.

    Fleury, 37, got off to a rough start this season with Chicago, but his performance has improved since Derek King took over as head coach on Nov. 6. Indeed, it looks like he's regained the form that won him the Vezina Trophy last season. He's won seven of his past 10 games, with a .939 save percentage during that stretch.

    The 28-year-old Binnington also has an uneven body of work this season. He has eight wins, five losses and three overtime losses with a 2.80 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. Nevertheless, he's used to big-game pressure after backstopping the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2018-19. That experience could secure him a spot as Fleury's backup.

    Kuemper has struggled at times to adjust with the Avalanche after three solid seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. He has a 10-5-0 record with a 2.86 GAA and a .902 SP. The 31-year-old also has an injury history and recently returned from a five-game absence with an upper-body injury. However, his stellar play backstopping Canada to gold at the 2021 World Championships should earn him the third spot.

    Hart seems to have bounced back from last season's woeful performance. However, the Flyers' long slide in recent weeks seems to be taking a toll on his play. His save percentage was .856 over the past five games. The 23-year-old will need a strong effort over the next four weeks to bolster his chances.

    Like the others, Blackwood has been inconsistent this season with a 5-3-3 record, a 2.81 GAA and. 913 save percentage. The 25-year-old could lose out to the more experienced starters on this list.

Defensive Pairing 1: Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo

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    Vegas Golden Knights blueliners Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo remain our choice for the first defensive pairing. Pietrangelo already made the roster after being part of the initial three selections submitted by Canada general manager Doug Armstrong to International Olympic Committee in October. Theodore's skills, versatility and familiarity with Pietrangelo should make this a solid blue-line tandem.

    Theodore has established himself as a skilled and mobile defenseman. With 16 points in 23 games, he's tied for third among Golden Knights scorers, while his 22 minutes and 30 seconds of time on ice per game ranks second. The 26-year-old is a left-handed shot who can also play left or right defense.

    Pietrangelo, 31, skated for Canada in the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup. One of the NHL's elite defensemen, he captained the St. Louis Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup. His leadership, experience and all-around skills will be invaluable to Canada's blue line. The Golden Knights rearguard has a league-leading 40 takeaways, while his average ice time (25:25) ranks among the top 10 among NHL skaters.

Defensive Pairing 2: Darnell Nurse and Cale Makar

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    After putting Cale Makar with Morgan Rielly on Canada's second pairing in February, we replaced Rielly with the Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse in our previous projection. We're keeping the 26-year-old Nurse with the young Colorado Avalanche blueliner. His size, physical play and all-around skill would furnish a defensive edge to accompany Makar's quickness and superb puck-moving abilities.

    Makar was runner-up for the James Norris Memorial Trophy in 2020-21 and should be among the front-runners this season. The 5'11", 187-pounder leads all NHL defensemen in goals (11) and power-play ice time per game (4:24), while his 23 points rank among the top 10. He'll provide considerable production from the blue line, especially with the man advantage.

    The 6'4", 221-pound Nurse will provide Makar more time and space to join the attack. He can log big minutes, sitting third in time on ice per game among all skaters (26:23), while his 3:04 short-handed ice time per game is among the top 10. He can also contribute to the offense. That two-way effort would make him a fine addition to Canada's second defense corps.

Defensive Pairing 3: Morgan Rielly and Aaron Ekblad

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    We placed Morgan Rielly with Dougie Hamilton in our previous projection. While Hamilton is having a good season with the New Jersey Devils, Aaron Ekblad's strong performance with the high-flying Florida Panthers elevates him from a spare into the third pairing.

    Ekblad, 25, sits in the top 10 among defensemen in points with 23 and is among the league's leaders in plus-minus at plus-19 and time on ice per game (25:43), seeing action in all game situations. That versatility would make the 6'4", 216-pound Panthers rearguard very effective for Canada on the power play or killing penalties.

    Rielly, meanwhile, is enjoying a fine season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A left-handed shot, his 23 points rank among the league leaders for defensemen. He leads the Leafs with 24:06 of ice time per game and in takeaways with 15. A strong skater whose play in his own zone has improved, Rielly would be a good addition to Canada's defensive corps.


    Spares: Dougie Hamilton and Drew Doughty

    Hamilton's offensive skills and booming shot make him a useful substitute should one of the other blueliners become sidelined. He has six goals and 15 points in 21 games thus far with the Devils, putting him on pace for another 40-point campaign.

    We had Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty as a spare on our original list. Our concern over the knee injury he suffered in late October prompted us to replace him in our November projection with the New York Islanders' Adam Pelech.

    However, the 32-year-old Doughty has looked good since his return Nov. 30. His all-around skills and previous experience with Canada's 2010 and 2014 Olympic squads could prove invaluable to Canada's blue-line depth.

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

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    There are no changes here from our previous two projections. Few countries can match the first-line firepower that Canada would possess with Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid centering the Florida Panthers' Jonathan Huberdeau and the Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon.

    McDavid, 24, has 45 points in just 25 games, jockeying for first place in the scoring race with teammate Leon Draisaitl and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. His blazing speed and impressive offensive skills will power Canada's top offensive line.

    A gifted, creative playmaker, Huberdeau stepped up for the Panthers when captain Aleksander Barkov was recently sidelined by a knee injury. The 28-year-old left wing is the Panthers' leading scorer with 30 points and sits among the top 10 among NHL scorers.

    Injuries limited MacKinnon to just 18 points in 13 games this season. When healthy, however, the Avalanche star is among the NHL's elite offensive stars, netting 65 points in just 48 games during last season's coronavirus-shortened schedule. The 26-year-old center can also play wing, making it possible for him to line up beside McDavid at right wing.

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

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    The strong chemistry between Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Boston Bruins forwards Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey was the reason we've kept this trio together. 

    Offseason wrist surgery and a bout of COVID-19 limited the 34-year-old Crosby to just 13 games thus far. Though the Penguins captain had just two points in his first seven games, he's regained his form with 11 points in his last six contests. Given his Olympic experience in 2010 and 2014, he will likely be named captain of the Canadian squad.

    The 33-year-old Marchand, meanwhile, remains among the NHL's top-scoring left wingers. He's the Bruins' leading scorer with 25 points in 20 games. He's deadly on the power play, sitting among the top 10 scorers with 11 points in that category. An agitator who drives opponents to distraction with his pesky ways, he'll also provide some grit to this line.

    Bergeron, 36, would be the oldest player on Canada's roster but also among their best all-around forwards. A four-time winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the Bruins captain shows little signs of slowing down, tied with David Pastrnak for second among Bruins scorers with 20 points. A strong two-way player, his 62.9 percent faceoff win rate is the league's best.

Forward Line 3: Ryan O'Reilly, John Tavares and Mitch Marner

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    Our previous projection had the Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele centering St. Louis Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly and Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitch Marner. Scheifele, however, has struggled at times this season, while Leafs center John Tavares has played his way into the equation with a solid performance.

    With 29 points in 27 games, the 31-year-old Tavares is tied for first among Leafs scorers. His 60.0 faceoff win percentage ranks among the league's top 10. He can also skate at left wing, providing additional versatility.

    A bout with COVID-19 sidelined O'Reilly for four games earlier this season and seemed to affect his performance during his first five games back in the Blues lineup. He appears to be regaining his form after tallying nine points in his last 12 games. One of the league's best two-way forwards who can skate at center or left wing, the 30-year-old Blues captain should remain part of Canada's lineup.

    Like most of his Leafs teammates, Marner had a slow start to this season but quickly became one of their most productive players with 21 points in 24 games. A talented playmaker, the 24-year-old also plays a solid defensive game, especially on the penalty kill. He's sidelined three-to-four weeks with a shoulder injury but will recover in time for the Olympics.

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

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    No change here. The combination of Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point on his left wing and Vegas Golden Knights right winger Mark Stone will provide Canada with a strong fourth line that will play well at both ends of the rink.

    The Flyers' struggles this season shouldn't hurt Couturier's chances of cracking Canada's lineup. Winner of the 2019-20 Frank J. Selke Trophy, the 29-year-old center is among the game's best two-way players at the position. Since 2017-18, he's seventh among NHL centers in time on ice per game (20:53) and in faceoff win percentage with 56.5 percent.

    Sidelined by an upper-body injury, Point should be good to go well before the Beijing Olympics. The 25-year-old is a versatile forward who can play center or wing and was a key contributor to the Lightning's back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. His versatility, all-around skills and energetic style make him a natural fit with this club.

    Stone returned to the Golden Knights lineup Nov. 13 after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury. He quickly made up for lost time, collecting 12 points in 11 games and sits among the top 10 with 25 takeaways. One of the NHL's most skillful two-way wingers, the Golden Knights captain should be a lock for Team Canada.


    Spares: Steven Stamkos and Mark Scheifele

    The addition of Tavares drops New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal as one of our two projected forward spares, with Scheifele moving down into this spot. While Scheifele's offense has been inconsistent this season, the 28-year-old can still slot in on any of Canada's lines as a center or wing. An improved effort over the next six weeks would boost his chances of moving into the lineup.

    Stamkos is enjoying a productive season thus far. The 31-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning captain leads his club with 13 goals and 32 points in 25 games. While his long injury history factored into our decision to keep him as a spare, he will move up if he remains healthy and maintains his current level of production.


    Stats (as of Dec. 10, 2021) via NHL.com and Hockey Reference.