Team Canada: Right Now

If an international event in Hockey were to happen and NHL players were allowed to go… this is who I would put on Team Canada. This is always a really fun, rewarding but also challenging team to predict. Canada has talent with an amazing mix of young players and veterans. This is my current Team Canada:


FORWARDS


1st Line:


Centre: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers


Left Wing: Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils


Right Wing: Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche


Summary: This could easily be the fastest and most skilled line in the history of hockey. The way each of these players can play at top speed is something to be marveled. I honestly don’t know how any defence pairing could matchup to this line. The three Hart Trophy candidates from two seasons ago on one line.


McDavid is widely regarded as the number one player in the world, and rightly so. He has amassed 246 points over his past two seasons into this year. (A total of 173 games played) He leads the NHL over that stretch in total points and points per game (1.42) He is the fastest player in the world and what he can do at that speed sets him apart from other players. Paired on a line with Leon Draisaitl this season, they have been tearing through defences thus far. If they stay together for the full season, it wouldn’t surprise me if they finish the season 1-2 in NHL scoring… the first time this feat would be done since Lemieux and Jagr in 1996.


Hall has shown great leadership and the ability to carry a team since his trade to the Devils. Although he has missed some significant time due to injury, he has produced 137 points in just 118 games. He spent most of the season out with a lower body injury last season, but was the NHL regular season MVP just one season before. Now paired with Jack Hughes over the last couple of games, he is starting to rack up the points once again.


MacKinnon has skated and played his way into talks with McDavid as the best player in the world. MacKinnon’s ability to carry not only a line, but a full team is something that guys like Crosby and McDavid have only been able to do over the past 10 years. I believe MacKinnon got robbed for the Hart Trophy two seasons ago by Hall, but I do have NateMac as the top contender for that award this season. He is currently on an 11-game point streak to start the season, but with Rantanen and Landeskog out for a significant period, we will see if that can continue moving forward.


This line would certainly have the defence spinning and the crowd watching. Each of these guys on their own teams draw fans from across the US and Canada… Can you just imagine these three all on the same line in a competitive setting?


2nd Line:


Centre: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins


Left Wing: Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins


Right Wing: Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins


Summary: This line has played together on a number of different occasions – it is spectacular. This line is different from the high flying first line… they are able to not only score goals, but they are able to shut down any other line in the world. It helps that they have a former #1 overall player and five Stanley Cups between them. It also helps that one of them is a yearly front runner for the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. Not to mention the one player that loves to play the rat-role to get opponents off their game.


Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby. He is always in talks as the best player of our generation and there is no secret as to why. He can change the tempo of an entire game with one cross-seam pass back door to a guy nobody else saw. He can out-man any other player in the corners because he has that much power. He can also make a defenceman look silly in any facet. He has 206 points in his past 174 games and doesn’t look to be slowing down. He has carried his Penguins to an impressive start without much of any secondary scoring after an off-season they lost Phil Kessel to a trade and Evgeni Malkin early to injury. He has made players better around him… pointing hard to Chris Kunitz, Connor Sheary, Jake Guentzel, Pascal Dupuis and Ryan Whitney. He is a shoo-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame and has won almost everything there is to win as a Canadian hockey player growing up in Coal Harbour, Nova Scotia. It’s easy to see how he is able to drive a line with this much talent.


Brad Marchand is a rat… however, he is also one of the most underrated players in the NHL. His ability to control a game is second-to-none and he has the puck skills to work his way out of a telephone booth. He has a great connection with Sidney Crosby as he skates with him every summer in Halifax. Of course, he also has a great connection with Patrice Bergeron as he plays on his line in Boston. He has 206 points in 159 games since the start of the 2017 season. Interestingly enough… this has him at a pace of 1.30 points per game, which is THIRD in the NHL in that stretch behind only Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov. Although he is better known for his side antics inside the game, his talent and dedication should not go unnoticed.


Patrice Bergeron is arguably one of the best defensive forwards in the History of the NHL. This can be shown by his fantastic +195 rating and 4 Selke Trophies over the past 10 seasons. The guy is also a wizard on the Penalty Kill and in the faceoff circle. Not to mention he is on one of the best, if not the best lines in the NHL with Marchand and Pastrnak. Bergeron is also able to score at more than a point-per-game pace, racking up 154 points in 141 games since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. This season he has helped his Bruins to a 9-1-2 record as they look to get back to the finals for a second straight season.


3rd Line:


Centre: John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs


Left Wing: Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning


Right Wing: Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs


Summary: This is very interesting line. The 1st line will be known for their speed and skill. The 2nd line will be known for their completeness. The 4th line will be known for their ability to shut down top lines. The 3rd line was the toughest to put together for me and it does have a very small, modern hockey mentality. With Marner feeding Point and Tavares, this line could put up big numbers against a lot of good hockey players. However, Point and Marner tend to play very riskily… therefore, I can see why this line could be the line the 13th and 14th forwards swap out.


Tavares is a natural goal scorer and leader, but is able to see both ends of the ice with his high hockey IQ. He has built a career off being able to think the game faster than the young players play the game. That knowledge helps him stay ahead of the curve and keep up to the play. Tavares has also seen his game raised to the next level alongside Marner, producing his career high in points (88) and goals (47) last season. Although, I’m thinking that goes down a little bit with his new positioning on the power play as “bump guy”. Although Tavares has never had luck in international competition with injuries, it’s hard to have a player with 47 goals not on the Canadian roster.


Brayden Point is a player that really broke onto the scene two playoff seasons ago, and carried it into a 92 point campaign in the 2018-19 season. He has deceptive speed and isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas for a smaller player. Playing with a playmaker like Marner will not be too far off from playing with a guy like Kucherov, a player that likes to find an open man and isn’t afraid to take a passing risk to get a scorer a good shot on net. It would be very interesting to see him on a line with the chemistry of Tavares and Marner. Adding the same speed as Hyman, with a hell of a lot more skill.


Mitch Marner has a lucrative new contract and is probably being overpaid for what he is worth. However, don’t let that persuade you that he doesn’t belong on at least a roster with this team. His playmaking abilities with these two players would really exaggerate his skill. Plus, he brings a youthful excitement to the locker room that guys love to have in a small tournament like International competitions. Marner plays with a lot of energy and also had a career year alongside Tavares last season, potting 26 goals and adding an outstanding 68 assists.


4th Line:


Centre: Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets


Left Wing: Ryan O’Reilly, St.Louis Blues


Right Wing: Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights


Summary: This line is the official shut down line of Canadian hockey. Three players who are well for their defensive play. This line would most likely be the only line in hockey that would be able to shut down the first line on this team. This line combined for 497 takeaways, 334 hits and 298 hits since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. An impressive feat for three forwards.


Mark Scheifele is easily the NHL’s biggest student of the game, watching hours upon hours of hockey every day. This makes him capable of studying his opponents and learning the game very easily. This is shown by 157 points and +31 rating since October 2017. He brings a lot to the table on a very offensive heavy Jets team but unlike a couple of his younger teammates, he knows how to play in both ends of the rink. This is a guy that could easily be the “bump” guy on the primary power-play and also be a top penalty killer. Scheifele has also given 119 hits since 2017… that’s not a super impressive number unless you think of how much their line maintains possession of the puck while he is on the ice. He is a player that brings leadership qualities and extreme knowledge of the game to an extremely talented team.


After the cup run, starting from January onwards, there was arguably no better player in hockey than Ryan O’Reilly. He had a career year with 77 points last season and has been on pace already this season to break that mark. He has been a bright spot down the middle for the Blues, who have struggled to find anyone consistent in that position for years. He won his first Selke trophy and his first Stanley Cup (along with the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP). O’Reilly will look to add to his success in St.Louis this season as they look to defend their crown as the NHL’s best team.


Mark Stone emerged as one the game’s elite defensive forwards after being traded midseason to the Golden Knights. Although he was always an extremely talented defender, he was thrown into the spotlight because of what he was able to do on the offensive side of the puck in the playoffs; he produced 6 goals and 6 assists in just 7 games. He has carried that play into this season as he has 16 points in 13 games thus far. Playing a team with a good system, on a line with Pacioretty and Statsny certainly helps compared to what he had in Ottawa.


13th and 14th Forwards:


13th Forward: Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks


14th Forward: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning


Summary: Both Stamkos and Toews have been on Team Canada’s in the past… both are extremely talented players in their own sense. I believe Stamkos could easily slide into the 3rd line and Toews could easily play on the shut-down 4th line… each even taking a spot from a teammate as the hypothetical tournament plays on.


Jonathan Toews knows what it takes to win, as he has won almost everything there is to win. He has three Stanley Cups, Two Olympic Golds, Two World Junior Golds, One World Championship Gold, One World Cup Championship, One Selke Trophy, One Messier Leadership Award and One Conn Smythe Trophy. A player with this winning mentality is hard to come by and there is no way this team could leave that presence and leadership off the team. Although Toews is off to a bit of a slow start, he is coming a career individual year and has plenty left to give.


Steven Stamkos is probably Canada’s purest goal scorers. I believe he would slot in as the 19th skater just to have his 37 power-play goals over the past 2.10 seasons. He also had a career year for points last season (98) and is a huge piece in the league’s best power-play, along with Point, Kucherov, Hedman and Maroon. Stamkos is due for another big season as they have virtually the same team and are looking to prove themselves after a very quick exit in last year’s postseason.


DEFENCE


Top Pairing:


Left Side: Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs


Right Side: Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers


Summary: A young pairing that was paired together for Team North America in the last major International competition that the NHL participated. A strong pair together, one more offensive and one more defensive, complement each other at both ends of the rink.


Morgan Rielly has developed into one of the NHL’s most dangerous scoring threats from the back end. He had the most goals as a defenceman last season (20 goals) and was third in the league behind just Giordano and Burns for the most points. Rielly was snubbed to not even be on the ballot for last year’s Norris Trophy but has come out of the game flying thus far, scoring 14 points already this season. He uses his heads up Hockey IQ to leave the zone and gets out of trouble with his powerful skating abilities. He is also one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the NHL.


Aaron Ekblad has taken a lot of heat for not producing a lot of points for a first overall pick. However, his play away from the puck and in his own end should surely make up for the lack of points. At 6’4”, he is able to use his body to his advantage that has him at a career +28 rating with 420 blocks and 474 hits. Ekblad is a solid leader from the back end with great first pass ability and the skating ability to keep in good position. He is an amazing complement to an offensive style defencman like Morgan Rielly, as we saw with Team North America in the last World Cup of Hockey.


2nd Pairing:


Left Side: Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks


Right Side: Alex Pietrangelo, St.Louis Blues


Summary: Two right-hand shooting defence that played together at the last World Cup of Hockey under Mike Babcock. Like the first pairing, Pietrangelo works very well with Burns’ ‘4th Forward’ mentality. These two complement each other very nicely, and would work again if a tournament popped up in the middle of the season.


Brent Burns plays like he is a 4th forward/rover on the ice, and it shows when he has 60+ points for 5 straight seasons, while putting more than 250 shots PER SEASON over that same time period. He has reached the 20-goal plateau three times in his career and is pacing to break his career numbers this season with 3 goals and 10 assists already. He is one of the most dynamic defencemen of this era, yet only has one Norris Trophy to show for it.


Alex Pietrangelo is coming off a big playoff performance that helped his Blues win their first ever Stanley Cup. He had his best offensive out of his career in that playoff run as well, scoring 19 points in 26 games. He also had a lot of consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy that was given to O’Reilly in the end. Like Ekblad, Pietrangelo is not the highest scoring guy on the back end, but does make up for it with his solid defensive play. These two guys worked very well together in 2016 and I wouldn’t see why they couldn’t be even better now.


3rd Pairing:


Left Side: Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames


Right Side: Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche


Summary: This might be a huge shock for a lot of casual hockey fans. Two players here that you might not have thought would be on this list. Giordano because he is an aging player that is losing a little bit of his step each season and Makar because he is just 21 years old with minimal NHL experience. 11 reg, 10 ploff.


Giordano is coming off a career year that saw him reach a very impressive 74 points. Surprisingly enough, only 21 of those points came on the power-play. This means his play was absolutely outstanding last season. He is a defenceman that I would want on any team, the only reason he isn’t on either of the top 4 pairings, is because those other 4 guys have experience together. Giordano earned himself a +39 rating last season, which speaks volumes of how he played.


Cale Makar is one of the league’s most dynamic and exciting young players. He is on this list because he has earned it in my eyes. Although he has just 21 games of NHL experience… 10 of them were in the first two round of NHL playoffs where he was able to put up 6 points and was a +4 rating. AS A 20 YEAR OLD. This kid is poised to have an outstanding NHL career and he is proving himself even more this season with 10 points on his first 11 games already. I expect him and Jack Hughes to go down to the wire in Calder Trophy voting by the end of this season and it would not shock me to see Makar to take the Rookie of the Year title.


7th Defenceman:


7th D-Man: Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers


Summary: Nurse is an interesting pick because he doesn’t have a full slate of big game experience. In fact, he only has 13 games played in the playoffs. He and his Oilers are looking to bump that number up by pushing for a playoff spot this season, but the West is very strong this year and they will most likely have to finish top three in their division to crack a spot. Nurse has 8 points already in this young season and is a very solid defensive defenceman. Three out of five of his NHL seasons have been in the positives for +/- rating, which is fairly impressive considering the shape the Oilers have been in the past ten years. Nurse could slot into this lineup if Makar were to not work out or another blue-liner was hurt or not playing up to par.


Goaltenders:


Starting Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights


Backup Goalie: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens


Third Goalie: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals


Summary: Three veteran goaltenders that can carry a mediocre team to the playoffs. Put any three of these guys behind the aforementioned Team Canada and you have a guy who will put up very impressive looking numbers.


Fleury gets the starting role because how dominant he has been since the start of the 2017 season, aka since he took over in Vegas. He has taken them to one division crown and one Stanley Cup Final. He has the most wins (72) and shutouts (13), highest save percentage (.920) and lowest goals against average (2.30) out of all starting Canadian goaltenders in the NHL over that same stretch. He also brings a certain fun mindset to the room that seems to have everyone in the league loving Marc-Andre Fleury. He is an ultimate team guy and competitor.


Carey Price is often seen as the best goalie of our generation, it’s too bad that he played behind some of the worst teams of this decade in which he has overshadowed into a fight for the playoffs on many, many occasions. His numbers haven’t jumped off the page at you in recent years, but his calm nature in net make everyone on his team play more confidently. There aren’t too many goalies in the league that I would pick over Price, Fleury just happens to be one of the few. I wouldn’t be surprised if Price takes over Fleury in this hypothetical tournament.


Holtby finally won his Stanley Cup in the 2017-18 season, just one season after he was a part of the World Cup of Hockey Team Canada as the third goalie behind Price and Corey Crawford. He is one of the biggest competitors in hockey and hates to lose. If he finds his way into a weaker game throughout this hypothetical tournament, he would succeed more than most people think he would. He has the second most wins by Canadian goalies since the start of the 2017-18 season.


Lineup Card:


Hall – McDavid – MacKinnon

Marchand – Crosby – Bergeron

Point – Tavares – Marner

O’Reilly – Scheifele – Stone

Toews – Stamkos


Rielly – Ekblad

Burns – Pietrangelo

Giordano – Makar

Nurse


Fleury

Price

Holtby


Honorable Mentions:


Forwards:


RW – Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

C – Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers

LW – Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

C – Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars

C – Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks

C – Sean Monohan, Calgary Flames

LW – Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

C – Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders


Defence:


RD – Kris Letang

LD – Thomas Chabot

RD – Dougie Hamilton

LD – Jake Muzzin

RD – Matt Dumba

RD – Ryan Ellis


Goalies:


G – Matt Murray

G – Jordan Binnington


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