With the official news that NHLers will be returning to compete in the Olympics once again for the first time since the 2014 Sochi games, the rapid speculation on who will represent each team has begun. With NHL talent spread all over the world more than ever before, we should be set for the closest and most exciting best-on-best tournament to date.
Each country will have some very tough decisions to make, some more than others, when it comes time to submit their final 25 man rosters in January 2022. We will take a look at what each of the main contenders teams should look like come game one of the tournament. We’ll be projecting thirteen forwards, seven defenceman and three goalies for each major team in the tournament. Let’s start off with no other than Team Canada.
The undisputed favourites in every best-on-best hockey tournament, Canada will once again be bringing the most talented team to the tournament by far. The Canadians will be big favourites to take home gold, hoping to secure it for the third straight time when NHLers are a part of the tournament.
Johnathan Huberdeau – Connor McDavid – Nathan MacKinnon
Brad Marchand – Sidney Crosby (C) – Patrice Bergeron (A)
Matthew Barzal – Brayden Point – Mitch Marner
Sean Couturier – Ryan O’Reilly – Mark Stone
I mean what is there really to say. This forward group would dominate any team on the planet. Not only do they have a ridiculous amount of talent, they also have a ton of international experience including two returning members from the 2014 gold medal team, and seven returning members from the 2016 World Cup winning team.
Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon finally get to don the Canadian sweater in the Olympics and should form the deadliest duo in the entire tournament on Canada’s top line. No defence core in the tournament will be able to contain them. Add in Johnathan Huberdeau and his playmaking skill and you’ve got a trio that can do it all.
Meanwhile the dominate 2016 World Cup trio of Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand can take a backup role on the team’s second line and terrorize other opponents’ second pairings. All three are possession gods and should dominate possession of the puck every shift. The trio will also be the most experienced line in the entire tournament with oodles of NHL and international experience.
For the bottom-six I went with an all offence trio along with a pure possession shutdown group on the fourth line. The third line will be able to skate circles around just about anyone in the offensive zone and should be very fun to watch with the puck.
The fourth line meanwhile contains two Selke winners and the best two-way winger in the league in Mark Stone and would be able to shutdown any line in the tournament. Expect them to get a ton of minutes whenever Canada is holding a small lead late in a game.
If you need any indication of just how stacked Canada is, John Tavares who’s coming off a season in which he was on pace for 73 points is the team’s extra forward. I considered Steven Stamkos but he’s fallen off a bit recently due to numerous injuries and isn’t great at even strength anymore. That said, he could be a power play specialist option for the team.
Devon Toews – Cale Makar
Shea Theodore – Alex Pietrangelo (A)
Adam Pelech – Dougie Hamilton
Just like at forward, Canada should have some big turnover from their last Olympic squad with Alex Pietrangelo the only returning member on defence. We know Canada loves chemistry in these tournaments (recall Chris Kunitz and Jay Bouwmeester from the 2014 team). I continued that trend when creating this defence group.
On the top pairing I have arguably the best offensive defenceman in the NHL in Cale Makar alongside his hugely underrated and defensively sound teammate in Devon Toews. The duo should provide a perfect mix of skill and defence.
On the second pairing yet another pair of NHL teammates in Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo’s game fell off a bit last season but he’s still a lock to make this team as the only returning defender from the 2014 team. Theodore meanwhile, like Makar, is among the best offensive defenceman in the NHL.
Finally on the third pairing we’ve got the most perfect fit imaginable. The elite offensive producer in Dougie Hamilton alongside the best pure defensive defenceman in the world in Adam Pelech. With Pelech beside him, Hamilton should get free range to go all out on offence.
The only position that Canada has some major question marks is in net. It’s assumed that 2014 gold medalist and 2016 World Cup winner Carey Price will be the starter for the team, although he’s certainly not the goalie he was back in 2016. He’s struggled over the past couple years in the regular season, but he always shows up when it matters in the big moments and I’d be shocked if he isn’t Canada’s starter come the first puck drop in Beijing.
Backing him up I’ve got reigning Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury, who also represented Canada in 2010. While the other position groups for Canada will have a ton of turnover with younger players coming in, both Price and Fleury appear to be the best options in net for Canada even in 2022.
For the third string you’ve got plenty of options. Carter Hart and Jordan Binnington seemed like the favourites before their rough 2020–21 seasons. I’ll go with the underrated Darcy Kuemper, who is set for a huge season as a new member of the Colorado Avalanche, where merely performing up to expectations could earn him the fast lane into being Canada’s third goalie.
On the bubble
Steven Stamkos – As mentioned, Stamkos is definitely right there to be included on the team, but his even strength play has fallen off in recent years. Perhaps he has a big bounce back year in 2021-22, but I wouldn’t expect him to make the team unless they are looking to add a powerplay specialist.
Mark Scheifele – There’s no doubt Mark Scheifele can rack up the points offensively, but his defensive game is severely lacking which isn’t exactly suited for a bottom six role which is where he would be playing on Canada’s stacked roster. Canada also already has a ton of centre’s so Scheifele would have to play on the wing which may not suit him.
Jared Spurgeon – Spurgeon continues to be one of the most underrated defenceman in the entire NHL and could certainly find his way onto the Canadian roster come 2022. That said, the Canadians are absolutely stacked on the right side of defence leaving little room for Spurgeon. If they felt comfortable playing him on his off side, a spot alongside Makar would be a nice fit.
Thomas Chabot – Thomas Chabot perhaps doesn’t get enough attention due to where he plays, but he is certainly one of the better offensive defenceman in the league. That said, the Canadians already have Makar, Theodore and Hamilton filling the offensive role on their defence, and Chabot is brutal defensively. I assume the team will want to fit out their other three spots on the back-end with more defensively responsible players.
The obvious favourite
It’s clear the Canadians hold the advantage as the best team in the tournament.
Not even the Americans can match their level of depth and elite skill throughout every part of their lineup. Canada’s roster should once again be ridiculously stacked from top to bottom. They’ll be huge favourites in this tournament to once again take home Olympic gold behind a team full of NHL superstars.
The team I’ve projected here has a combined five Harts, seven Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay’s, five Art Rosses, two Calders, two Lady Byngs, two Rocket Richards, six Selkes, three Conn Smythes, two Vezinas, 12 Stanley Cups, and 7 Olympic gold medals. Awards don’t mean everything, but when it comes to building a roster for the world’s biggest international tournament, they definitely help.
The other teams in this tournament will have to hope Canada slips up, because no team can defeat them when they’re at their best. Hockey is one of the least predictable sports though, and it only takes one game or sometimes just one period of hockey to completely turn the tides. Next up we’ll be taking a look Team USA and see what makes them Canada’s toughest competition heading into the Olympics.