Canada’s World Cup team will have a lot to live up to when it takes the ice for the best-on-best tournament this September. The last time hockey’s top nations collided, Canada dominated with top-notch speed and high-end defense, winning the gold medal in at the IIHF World Championships last summer, and Sochi two years ago.
In Sochi, Steve Yzerman pieced together a squad that was nearly impossible to score against. Canada allowed just three goals across six games and shut out the United States and Sweden en route to the gold. That may have only been two years ago, but don’t expect this World Cup roster to perfectly mirror that dominant Sochi team.
It’s Doug Armstrong at the helm this time around, and he’ll need to commit to 16 players by the March 1 deadline. The rest of the hockey World will be made aware of these initial choices on March 2, as each nation rolls out the first part of their teams. Here we’re going to look at which forwards we’d include in this opening round of selections.
This is an interesting exercise because the general managers aren’t being forced to name a certain number of players at each position. If Armstrong wanted to, he could commit to seven defenseman and no goalies. Or three goalies while only naming a handful of defenders, and so on. Here we have eight forwards, and we’ll take a look at goalies and defenders in another post.
It’s worth noting that to be eligible for this roster, players must have been 24 by no later than October 1. Each roster much consist of 20 skaters and three netminders.
Sidney Crosby: Earlier in the season it was hip to say that Sidney Crosby might be on the bubble for this team, but he was never getting left out unless he was hurt. He has scored big goals for Canada at every stage of competition and was the captain in Sochi. Crosby will be charged with doing a ton of heavy lifting in the offensive zone and will lead by example once again.
Jonathan Toews: Another player who started off 2015-16 slow, Jonathan Toews brings more to the ice than just goals and assists. He’s one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL and will be tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top players on a nightly basis. Crosby-Toews is a remarkable one-two punch down the middle, and there’s no way Armstrong leaves either of them at home.
Jamie Benn: It seems likely that Armstrong’s squad will try to play suffocating defense, but someone will have to pitch in a few goals here and there. That’s where Benn comes in. No Canadian skater has notched more points this season, and the 6’2″, 210-pound wing brings some size to the table as well. Benn is also an outstanding option on the power play and would likely land on the team’s first unit.
Tyler Seguin: Tyler Seguin was left off of the Sochi roster, and has since evolved into one of the NHL’s most explosive forwards. This time the tough call won’t be whether or not Seguin should make the team, but whether or not he should line up with Benn as a center. Canada has a ridiculous amount of depth down the middle and will have to ask several natural pivots to play wing. That could end up happening to Seguin.
Steven Stamkos: Everyone knows that Canada has an enormous amount of talent up front, but it truly is staggering when you see it listed out in front of you. Steven Stamkos could potentially be with another organization by the time the World Cup rolls around, but that won’t prevent the elite goal scorer from making the cut. He’ll be heavily involved on the power play and could end up playing wing alongside Crosby at 5-on-5.
Taylor Hall: While Canada is stacked at center, they are a bit thinner on the left side. Taylor Hall and Benn represent the best that the nation as to offer at left wing, and the former could end up slotting in beside Crosby to create an electric top unit. The pieces are in place for Armstrong to create a speedy top line (Hall-Crosby-Stamkos) while going with bigger bodies for line two.
John Tavares: Another tip-top center, John Tavares would be a shoo-in for any other nation’s top-six group. He could “slide” as far as the fourth line on this roster though, which is ridiculous since he’s been one of the most productive Canadian scorers over the last few seasons. It really boils down to what the gimmick is for this squad. If they are looking for a lights-out offense, then he could play on the second or third lines. We know this: head coach Mike Babcock will have an embarrassment of options as far as line combinations go.
Brad Marchand: Let’s address the elephant in the room. Patrice Bergeron isn’t listed among our first 16 players, but Brad Marchand is. That has more to do with Canada’s depth at forward than anything–Joe Thornton is fifth among all Canadians in scoring so far this year and has virtually no chance of making the team. It seems like Canada always includes a ringer of some sort, and Marchand is an excellent two-way player who can score goals and drive the opposition crazy with his chirping. He’s probably not a lock, but he’d be a Swiss-army knife addition. If it makes you feel better, feel free to insert your favorite forward in Marchand’s place but he’s earned a spot on this squad.
While considering these eight forwards, keep in mind that the rest of the roster could include options that may seem like no-brainers. If Ryan Getzlaf makes the cut, then Corey Perry could also be added, creating a second line of Benn-Getzlaf-Perry. Yikes.
The World Cup announcements are intriguing because we won’t know who the final seven players are until June 1. That gives managers time to evaluate and include slow starters or ringers.
A few veterans have been left off of this initial list, mostly because younger options could overtake them. Rick Nash has been a staple for Canada since he was a teenager, but he could lose his spot heading into the World Cup. Bergeron is an outstanding two-way pivot, but will Armstrong be looking for another one of those with Toews inevitably making the roster?
Including the Boston Bruins’ center would likely cost someone like Tavares or Seguin a roster spot, which would be a tough call. It wouldn’t necessarily be the incorrect call — it just boils down to what kind of team Canada is trying to piece together. These eight forwards would give Canada a ton of flexibility without potentially hamstringing them with an aging veteran or questionable choice.