Maple Leafs' Olympic Watch: Toronto Players We Can Expect To See in Vancouver

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IDecember 22, 2009

Steve Yzerman will announce the final roster for Team Canada on Dec. 30; a day that Canadians have been waiting a long time for. There are certainly players who have to be considered a lock to make the team; guys such as Sidney Crosby, Martin Brodeur and Jerome Iginla. 

But what about the Toronto Maple Leafs?

It is extremely unlikely that any player from the Leafs will be suiting up to play in Vancouver, wearing a Canadian jersey.

The only player invited to the camp was Francois Beauchemin, though his early struggles hurt his chances.  The fact that there are just too many good defensemen for Canada to choose from will most likely mean he will be watching from home.

But there will be plenty of Leaf talent present on other countries' rosters who will be looking to beat Canada and stake their claim as the best hockey team in the world.

Mike Komisarek - Team USA

His season started out with him in a major struggle, piling up penalty minutes, consistently a minus player and overall doing more damage than good to the Leafs. But his game as of late, after returning from an injury, has picked up and he has become the solid defender the Leafs were hoping they got in the off-season.

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It may have been a bad thing in the beginning, the fact that the American coach and GM were also his coach and GM on the Leafs, watching his terrible play night after night.  Lately though it has been the opposite, as they have been able to watch him turn his game around.

If called upon, he will be one of the oldest players on the blue line, as they'll be going for a younger looking defense core this time around; with players such as Jack Johnson, Ryan Suter and Ryan Whitney likely getting the call.  

He should be a lock to dress on the blue line for Team USA, as they'll be in need of some toughness standing in front of Ryan Miller.

Verdict: On the team. 

Phil Kessel - Team USA

Well, duh.

After returning from shoulder surgery 12 games into the season, Kessel has played in 25 games, scoring 13 goals and eight assists. He has been streaky at times but is always a threat whenever he's on the ice, having the ability to release a wicked shot from anywhere in the offensive zone.

He will be joining an American team that will look much younger than it has in past Olympics.

Gone will be Brett Hull, Mike Modano, Chris Chelios and the other veteran guys who seemed to always be on the team. In will step young-guns like Patrick Kane, Paul Statsny, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown and David Booth.

The US will be a formidable opponent for anyone in the tournament, especially with Ryan Miller—who is making his case as the best goalie on the planet—standing guard in the net.

Kessel will be one of the go-to guys for Coach Ron Wilson, as they'll need to put up big numbers if they hope to contend with the likes of Russia, Sweden and Canada.

Verdict: On the team.

Jason Blake - Team USA

It has been a whirlwind of a season for Blake, who started out slow—as did most of the Leafs—but has picked up his game of late and looks to be back on track. As one of the older American players being looked at for the Olympic team, he may not fit into the plans and direction the team is looking to go.

It helps that his current bosses will be picking the team, but at the same time, it is a long shot for Blake to be chosen. He'll be fighting to make it against guys like Jason Pomenville, Ryan Kessler and Jamie Langenbrunner, probably for fourth-line duty.

If there was an injury or an opening another way, he may have an opportunity to play, but with the team looking in a younger direction, there may be no room for a guy like Blake to play for his country.

Verdict: Not on the team.

Tomas Kaberle - Czech Republic

He was a huge part of the Czech team that won bronze in the 2006 Olympics and will no doubt play a major role come 2010. Kaberle will be looked to as one of the leaders of a defensive squad that should include former teammate, Pavel Kubina, as well as Roman Hamrlik, Jaroslav Spacek, Marek Zidlicky and Filip Kuba.

It's certainly a core that could have the Czechs in contention for a medal while standing in front of goal tender Tomas Vokoun.

With potent offensive talent that should see the return of Jarmor Jagr to the scene, along side Martin Havlat, Patrik Elias, Ales Hemsky and Milan Hejduk, this team shouldn't surprise many if they turn out to be, once again, in a medal game come the end of February.

With Kaberle as an integral part of this team there is no doubt that he'll want to come home from Vancouver with more than just bronze around his neck.

Verdict: On the team.

Jonas Gustavsson - Team Sweden

There is little chance that the "Monster" will be the starting goaltender for the star-studded Team Sweden, but he certainly stands the best chance of being the number two man to Henrik Lundqvist.

He has had to undergo two separate heart surgeries within three months of each other this season, but since his return has looked solid in net—recording his first career shutout on Dec. 19 against the Bruins.

He'll undoubtedly return to Toronto after the games as a better goalie, as he'll be facing some of the best in the NHL in practice. Sweden has some of the most talented players in the world suiting up for them this time around. Guys like the Sedin twins, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Niklas Backstrom and Niklas Lidstrom.

The defending Olympic Champions—who beat Finland 3-2 in 2006 to win Gold—also won Gold at the World Championships that same year, and will be looking to repeat with a similar team.

And the "Monster" will be thankful for just being along for the ride.

Verdict: On the team.

Niklas Hagman - Team Finland

Hagman is hoping to once again represent a team that has been a medalist at three of the past four Olympics, including Silver in Torino in 2006. He should be a lock to make the team, playing alongside the Koivu brothers (Saku and Mikko), Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen and others.

They stand an excellent chance at medaling once again in 2010, with one of the best one-two punches in the net with Mikka Kiprusoff and Niklas Backstrom.

Hagman has had a stellar start to the season with the Leafs, currently first on the team in goals with 15, and third in points with 25, through 36 games. He was an early-season healthy scratch for one game due to poor play, and since that time has certainly got the message and played his way back to the coach's good graces.

Hagman will be hoping to be a part of yet another medal celebration at an Olympic games, but this time you know they'll be gunning for the Gold.

Verdict: On the team.

Mikhail Grabovski - Team Belarus

Belarus has never won a medal in a world tournament before and has very few representatives from the NHL that will be joining them in Vancouver. But what should be one of the most interesting stories on this team will be how the Kostitsyn Brothers (Andrei and Sergei), and Grabovski get along.

Their hatred for each other stems from Grabovski's time in Montreal and has continued since with Grabo coming to the Leafs. It is clear the Kostitsyn's and Grabovski do not like one another, so how they play on the same team once again should be interesting.

But needless to say, they are all locks to make the team, as the only other Belarus player in the NHL is Ruslan Salei, who should be there as well.

They are a long shot to make any noise at all in Vancouver, but it should be a thrill for all the players just to be there; getting a chance to play at the world stage against the best players on the planet.

Grabovski will be a major part of how this team does, and we'll wait and see how he handles playing with his rivals. Something tells me they won't be roommates.

Verdict: On the team.

It's less than two months until the 2010 Olympics begin in Vancouver, and it's no secret that hockey almost always comes first in the minds of those countries participating.

There will be representatives from every NHL team in Vancouver battling it out on the biggest stage in the world for that Gold Medal.  There will be more than a few Leafs there, but all this talk is starting to get old.

Its time we got this thing started, 52 days and counting.


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