The all-too-early 2022 Team Canada Olympic Team prediction

Ask ten different people who would be on a 2022 Team Canada roster, and you will get ten different answers. Some will lean towards youth and speed, some towards experience and proven track records. Some will suggest no one should play out of position, while others may say that the best players in hockey can figure it out, no matter where they line up.

With the NHLPA making it clear they want their players back in the Olympics in 2022, and the NHL identifying China as an important market, it is reasonable to hope the best players in the world will be representing their countries in Beijing. So, if we can sensibly project a best-on-best tournament, it only makes sense to project rosters.

Very few things in the game have excited me as much as the selection of Team Canada’s roster for the Olympics. In 1998, I was baffled by the inclusion of Rob Zamuner, as well as awarding the captaincy to Eric Lindros over Wayne Gretzky. In 2002, I felt the early low of a lopsided loss to Sweden, but was enthralled by that team’s combination of experience and youth. The 5-2 win over the Americans in the gold medal game is a memory that will never go away. 2006? Well, 2006 was 2006. The highlight of that edition of Team Canada was the training camp held in Kelowna, where I lived. 2010 was a test in chemistry, with four San Jose Sharks, the Keith-Seabrook Blackhawks pairing, and the Getzlaf-Perry-Niedermayer Ducks contingent. 2014 was a dominant performance from beginning to end, so it was hard to even second-guess any selection.

The 2022 Olympic Games are two-and-a-half years away, so there is no doubt the actual roster will differ from the one I present today. Players will emerge, while others will falter. Injuries will surely derail some, while a hot start to the 2021-2022 campaign could make the difference. And, quite honestly, a critic could take nine forwards I didn’t include on the roster, along with four defensemen, and substitute them into the roster and no one would bat an eye. That is the reality of the depth of talent in Canada.

So, here is my projected roster for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Whether you agree or not, I think we can all concur that we want to see the best players in the world competing for Olympic gold.

FORWARDS

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 18, A: 44, P: 62
An absolute dynamo with the puck, Barzal is coming off his second season in the NHL. While his 62 points are down from his Calder Trophy winning 85 points in 2017-2018, the Coquitlam, BC native improved his 200-foot game under new Islanders coach Barry Trotz. The former Seattle Thunderbird plays with game with speed, energy, and an uncanny knack for finding his teammates.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 65, G: 32, A: 47, P: 79

An incredibly versatile forward who does what it takes to help his team win, Bergeron will be an elder statesman for Canada. With a World Junior Championship gold, a World Cup gold, and two Olympic golds, the L’Ancienne Lorette, Quebec product is as decorated as they come. On top of all the accolades, the Bruins centreman has played on Sidney Crosby’s wing in the last three international competitions.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 80, G: 33, A: 43, P: 76

Perhaps a little under-appreciated at this point in his career, Couturier has developed into an elite two-way forward who has all the makings of a Selke Award winner. Coming off back-to-back 30-goal, 76-point seasons, the big Flyers centreman has the size and acumen to slot into the bottom six and serve on the penalty kill.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 79, G: 35, A: 65, P: 100

Big surprise here. One of the greatest players to ever play, also happens to have one of the finest careers with the Maple Leaf on his chest. World Junior gold, World Championship Gold, World Cup Gold, and two Olympic golds. Crosby will wear the ‘C’ on his chest in Beijing, as he did at the ’14 Olympics and ’16 WC, and will likely play a major role. The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native has rounded out his defensive game, but this team will be loaded with two-way forwards, allowing The Kid to play the powerplay.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 33, G: 11, A: 26, P: 37

Injuries derailed Hall’s 2018-2019 season, stalling the momentum of his Hart Trophy the previous year. The speedster has been among the league’s elite, particularly since joining the Devils. In 181 games in New Jersey, he has 183 points, often playing with players who are not as offensively talented as he is. If the Calgary product makes the Canadian roster (he has played in a World Junior and three World Championships) his potential to produce highlights would be enticing.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 41, A: 58, P: 99

There may just one player who can keep up with Connor McDavid, and his name is Nathan MacKinnon. In fact, over the past two NHL seasons, the only Canadian to outproduce the Cole Harbour native is McDavid himself. With a wicked release and a coiled energy, the chance to see MacKinnon in a best-on-best tournament would be a thrill. Expect a top-six role for the Avalanche star.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 26, A: 68, P: 94

In his three National Hockey League seasons, Marner has gotten progressively better every year, though he took a massive step in year three, jumping to 94 points for the Maple Leafs. His 68 assists trailed just McDavid among Canadians last season, and his style of play has endeared itself to hockey fans in Toronto and otherwise. Capable of playing the penalty kill, Marner’s speed and puck-possession game will allow him to contribute anywhere in the lineup. Perhaps his chemistry with a certain Leafs linemate will make an obvious pairing in Beijing.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 78, G: 41, A: 75, P: 116

Quite simply, the best player in Canada. And by 2022, the gap may be wider than it is now. The fastest man on the planet will have a chance to play with elite players in 2022, where the line options will be tantalizing. Over the past three seasons, the Richmond Hill, Ontario product leads all Canadians in goals AND assists. Don’t be surprised to see McDavid wearing an ‘A’ on his chest in Beijing, where he will be a first-line centreman.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 28, A: 49, P: 77

What a difference a year makes. One season ago, O’Reilly was floundering with the Buffalo Sabres, citing his lack of love for the game. Now, he’s the reigning Selke Award winner, the reigning Conn Smythe winner, and a Stanley Cup champion. A premier defensive forward, O’Reilly set career-highs in goals, assists, and points. O’Reilly slots in perfectly in a checking line role for Canada.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 79, G: 41, A: 51, P: 92

Some may argue there isn’t room for a Barzal, a Marner, and a Point on the same Canadian lineup, but the Tampa winger is one of the best kept secrets in hockey. An elite puck-hunter, the former Moose Jaw Warrior uses his speed and nose for the net to make opposition pay. Point may start the Olympics as the 13th forward, but has the ability to find his way into a more regular spot, if given the opportunity.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 38, A: 46, P: 84

From draft-day reach to elite power forward, Scheifele provides a big body and tremendous two-way package to the Canadian forward core. Among the best pivots in all of hockey over the past few seasons, the Jets centreman is lethal with the puck on his stick, converting on more than 19% of his shots over the past three seasons, while providing potential Selke upside in the defensive end.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 77, G: 33, A: 40, P: 73

For all the depth and talent throughout the candidates for a Team Canada roster, right wing is the most shallow of the forward positions. However, Stone is a shoo-in for the lineup, thanks to his combination of offensive ability, hulking size, and premier commitment to the defensive game. Despite wingers being generally ignored in the evaluation of the top two-way forwards in the game, the Golden Knights star has earned Selke votes in every season he has played, and finished second in voting in 2019. His versatility and work ethic has Stone set to wear the Maple Leaf in 2022.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 47, A: 41, P: 88

Tavares was robbed of a real opportunity to represent Canada when he suffered a knee injury at the Games in 2016. A model of consistency, never dipping below 0.85 points per game since his rookie season in 2009, the Maple Leafs centreman has incredible hockey IQ that is most evident when he is playing with good players. Speaking of which, his chemistry with Toronto linemate Mitch Marner will be an asset in a short tournament.

DEFENSE

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 70, G: 14, A: 41, P: 55

In just two seasons in the NL, Chabot has put the entire league on notice. After an MVP performance in the 2017 World Junior Championships (the first defenseman to be named MVP), his impact at the pro level has seemed inevitable. But, after a 55 point performance for a offensively-lacklustre Senators team in 2018-2019, Chabot has all the makings of a perennial Norris contender, and will be a massive piece for Canada in 2022.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 8, A: 37, P: 45

Doughty had a star-making performance as a 20-year-old in the 2010 Olympics, and projects to be the elder statesman for a Canadian blueline that will undergo a major makeover. The fact that he shared the Olympic ice with Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger shows the LA Kings’ star’s longevity. Along with all the Kings, Doughty had a down year in 2018-2019, but has the mobility and experience (Norris, 2x Stanley Cups, 2x Olympig gold) to play a role for Team Canada in 2022.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 13, A: 24, P: 37

Following a nasty hit that led to a serious concussion in 2016, Ekblad hasn’t looked quite as effective as he did prior. That said, the Panthers’ stud plays a heavy game, possesses a heavy shot, and has the potential (if healthy) to play a gritty top-six role for Canada. A two-time all-star before he turned 21, Ekblad had all the makings of a perennial Norris contender, but a bounceback from the injury woes is essential to him making the roster. If he returns to form, he should wear the Maple Leaf.

2018 – 2019 Stats (Playoffs)
GP: 10, G: 1, A: 5, P: 6

Consider this pick a swing for the fences. Hockey Canada has a history of taking a young defenseman with little NHL experience. In 2022, it could be the 2019 Hobey Baker winner, who looked very much like an elite defender when he joined the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup playoffs. A smooth skater with top-end puck skills and decision making, Makar could be the next great Canadian blueliner and will have a couple years of NHL experience by the time he suits up in Beijing.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 59, G: 6, A: 25, P: 31

Despite playing in a Canadian market, Morrissey has had a quiet rise to the elite level of blueliners. To blame for that understated appreciation of his game? His understated game. A premier shutdown defender, Morrissey is often tasked with slowing the opposition’s best players, and he projects to slide into the role previously filled by Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the 2014 games. Plus, he keeps the tradition of Canada having a Kelowna Rocket alum on the roster.

2018 – 2019 Games
GP: 80, G: 10, A: 18, P: 28

When asked to name a St. Louis Blues defenseman to Team Canada, Alex Pietrangelo would be a popular pick. But Parayko has long been identified as a rising star in the game; a potential realized during the Blues’ run to the 2019 Stanley Cup. A member of Team North America in the 2016 World Cup, the six-foot-six blueliner is a hulking presence with surprising mobility, and the ability to contain the opposition’s best. If he continues on his current path, Parayko should play a shutdown role in 2022.

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 82, G: 20, A: 52, P:72

2018-2019 was a major step in the impressive career of Morgan Rielly, evolving from a very good defender to elite. As defensively responsible as he is smooth and talented with the puck, the Maple Leafs rearguard is also recognized for his leadership and work ethic. He will be looked at to play a variety of roles for Canada, serving on special teams and playing big minutes in Beijing.

GOALTENDERS

2018 – 2019 Stats
GP: 31, W: 16, GAA: 2.83, S%: .917

Call this one a hunch. The most anticipated Canadian goaltending prospect since Carey Price, Hart certainly looked promising in his first taste of the National Hockey League. Otherworldly numbers in the WHL with Everett, plus silver and gold medal winning performances in the World Juniors, Hart has all the tools to be an elite pro goalie. Canada has often opted for veteran netminders, but expect to see the Flyers keeper wearing the red and white in 2022.

2018-2019 Stats
GP: 50, W: 29, GAA: 2.69, S%: .919

If anything, Matt Murray’s momentum has slowed a little over the last two seasons. But, when you start you career by backstopping consecutive Stanley Cup championships, that is not a surprise. To go along with those Cups, the 25-year-old was also the starter for Canada at the 2019 World Championships, and has the temperament, experience, and fundamentals to be an asset to Canada in Beijing.

2018-2019 Stats
GP: 66, W: 35, GAA: 2.49, S%: .918

Widely considered one of the best goaltenders on Planet Earth, Carey Price is a shoo-in for Team Canada. In a short tournament, having experience between the pipes can make the difference, and Price has that in spades; he has won gold medals with Canada at the World Juniors, the World Cup, and the Olympics. Assuming he stays healthy, the Montreal Canadiens star should be the team’s starter.

Black Aces: Jonathan Huberdeau, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dougie Hamilton

So, let the debate begin. There is no Brent Burns on this roster. Shea Weber is gone, as is Steve Stamkos. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are out, and Stanley Cup hero Jordan Binnington didn’t get the nod. Brad Marchand has been left off, along with Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Matt Duchene, Logan Couture, PK Subban, Kris Letang, and Jeff Skinner. That lineup of guys left off this roster would be a threat to win gold. Maybe you’re shaking your head. Maybe you agree with one position? Perhaps you think I missed the mark. Am I lacking size? Experience? Grit? One thing is for sure. The chances of, two and half years out, I correctly predicted the Canadian roster, are extremely slim. But, it was fun. And why not, while we are at it, throw some line combinations out there to further create conversation.

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