The NHL has officially pulled out of the Olympics, meaning we’re reverting back to 2018 when players around the globe filled spots. This allows the competition pool to close a bit, as we saw in South Korea, but prevents the world’s top talent from having a shot at playing for gold in a best-on-best scenario.
So, we’re left with what people are calling “replacement players.” Most of them are full-time professional athletes, with many having NHL experience — and some still having the capabilities of playing in the NHL, but choosing to have a better career elsewhere. For teams like Latvia, Denmark and Germany, they’re used to not having much NHL talent joining them for international tournaments. But for Canada, that’s almost never the case.
Canada’s roster will be interesting. Unlike some of the European nations, Canada’s talent is spread across the world. The Channel One Cup last week provided the team with an early look at some available players, although some of its talent wasn’t made available or were going to be at the Spengler Cup in Davos before Canada backed out on Monday.
A lot of it is a shot in the dark, really. Some names might decline to go. Some quality AHLers may get called up to the NHL. NCAA schools may not allow their top players to go ahead of exams and the playoffs. It’s a really challenging thing to predict, but we’ll try anyway:
Corban Knight – Philippe Maillet – Jordan Weal
Alexandre Grenier– Ryan Spooner – Daniel Audette
Adam Tambellini – Eric Staal – Josh Ho-Sang
Landon Ferraro – Tyler Graovac – Christopher DiDomenico
Josh Currie – David Desharnais
Other notables: Eric O’Dell, Kent Johnson
So, it’s not a perfect roster, but it’s one that could produce some interesting results. Staal hasn’t officially retired yet and had some decent moments over the past few NHL seasons. Sure, he likely couldn’t handle anything more than a fourth-line role, but he had some bright moments in the playoffs last year and could be leaned on in a leadership role for Canada.
A lot of the offense will be driven by the likes of Knight, Spooner and Maillet, all of whom had strong seasons in the KHL. Center depth isn’t something Canada will need to worry about too much: they’ve got versatile options that can play down the middle and the wing. Ho-Sang is an interesting one because while he’s having a great AHL season, he’s not under NHL contract. Could he use this tournament as a stepping stone to one?
A good theme of Canada’s options here is two-way and defensive reliability. Many of these players were forced into shutdown roles in the NHL before showing off their more offensive sides in Europe. That could come in handy in tight games, so it’s a shame Canada didn’t get to play at the Spengler Cup and showcase what they could do.
Mat Robinson – Brandon Gormley
Chay Genoway – Eric Gelinas
Jason Demers – Maxim Noreau
Reece Scarlett – John Gilmour
Other notables: Morgan Ellis, Owen Power, Trevor Murphy
Defense was a bit of a mixed bag at the Channel One Cup, but it was actually Robinson, Gormley and Genoway that led the offense for Canada, surprisingly enough. They’ll definitely be the top dogs for Canada, and it gets a bit interesting after that.
Demers, just one game shy of 700 in the NHL, hasn’t played much this year, with just the three-game Channel One Cup battles being his only real action. But Demers signed with AK Bars Kazan in the KHL earlier this week in an attempt to get back into game shape and, perhaps, play a big shutdown defensive role for Canada. Gelinas, who spent parts of five years with New Jersey and Colorado, also has seen limited ice time this year but has been a reliable force in the Swedish league the past few years.
Noreau is still one of the best defensemen in the NLA and proved that at the 2018 Olympics — he’s a Canadian Spengler Cup legend and if he wants to go to Beijing, he should be there.
Other notables: Landon Bow, Matt Tomkins
This one is a bit challenging because a team with a loaded AHL roster could elect to send a goalie instead of keeping them around for injury/COVID insurance. Zach Fucale, for example, is someone Hockey Canada has loved to steal for the Spengler Cup, but he’s been called up to the NHL on a handful of occasions already. It’s unlikely the Capitals would lend him out when they rely on him so often.
Dubnyk has been a loyal national team servant for Canada, representing the team in two Spengler Cups and four World Championships, among other events. Dubnyk only has two games of pro experience this season, though, both of them being wins in the AHL with Charlotte. That shouldn’t stop him from being Canada’s starting goalie, though: he’s been staying in game-playing shape and, despite a rough past three seasons, still appears capable of playing good hockey.
Pasquale, though, is no slouch. The 31-year-old former NHLer was one of the top goaltenders in the KHL over the past three seasons and won the AHL’s Harry Holmes Memorial Trophy as a solo recipient of the league’s top goalie duo award. Pasquale would be a No. 1 goalie on most of the teams in the Olympics and should create a good tandem with Dubnyk.