Beijing 2022: Projecting Canada’s Next Olympic Hockey Team

The Pyeongchang Olympics ended last month, and as a hockey fan it left you with a sour taste. Thanks to the squabbles of billionaires, we were robbed of the chance to see the best of the best go at it on the global stage, and instead were left with a tournament that Germany had a legitimate chance of winning (no offense, Germany).

No one knows for sure if Gary Bettman and the IOC will be able to come together on an agreement for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, but judging by the fact that the entire NHLPA seemed ticked that they weren’t able to go to the Olympics, I’d say the motivation is there. That’s not to mentions that ice hockey received its lowest ratings and attendance at the Games since the Olympics started invited NHLers in 1998. It’s almost as if the better players are a draw.

Yes, there is plenty of motivation on either side of the ledger to bring back the best-on-best format, so surely they will. The NHL has been vocal about its desire to grow the game in China, and that just so happens to be where the 2022 games are taking place.

Canada is the undisputed champion when it comes to best-on-best, so they will have a lot to play for in Beijing. The team will look mighty different from the one that won it all in 2014 in Sochi. Mainstays like Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, and Jay Bouwmeester have likely played their last Olympic hockey games, and you won’t see Marty St. Louis or Patty Marleau on the next Canadian Olympic squad, either.

So what will the next Canadian Olympic team look like? That’s what I’m here to tell you. Check it out:

24 Starting Goalie: Matt Murray

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Matt Murray first took the starter’s job from Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh, and now he’s taking the Team Canada reigns from Carey Price. Goaltending for 2022 in Canada is still a wildcard, as who can say for sure if Murray remains on top of his game for another four years. Heck, he’s struggled so far in 2017-18, which is officially just the sophomore season for the two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Injuries have played a starring role in Murray’s young NHL career. If concussion issues continue to inhibit Murray’s trajectory, he might not even make the Beijing squad. However, the reigning Stanley Cup champion goalie is the front-runner right now, if only based on recent success. How could you not bring on Murray, who’s been clutch AF over the past two postseasons?

23 Backup Goalie: Carey Price

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While Carey Price will relinquish his starter’s role come 2022, he’ll still be on the bench for Team Canada and likely get a few softer starts in the Preliminary round. The Montreal Canadiens goaltender starts his eight-year, $10.5M AAV contract next season, and the Habs and their fans sure hope that 2017-18 is not the new norm for the former Hart Trophy winner.

Injuries have held Price to just 43 appearances so far this season, and quite frankly he’s looked below average in those 43 games.

His save percentage sits at .904 at time of writing, which is well below the average for an NHL goalie today. Of course whether Price has even enjoyed a prolonged stretch of health as of yet is unclear, but this is not the 2015 Carey Price who took the league by storm.

22 Third Goalie: Braden Holtby

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Braden Holtby would maybe be the starter of Team Canada if the Olympics were to happen this year with NHL player involvement, but in Beijing he’ll be third string. The Lloydminster native is the only goalie of the trio listed here who has managed to remain healthy for the duration of the campaign, and he also has the best stats of the threesome—albeit by a narrow margin.

Some will point to the Caps’ lack of postseason success as a reason to keep Holtby off the team altogether, but that’s ridiculous. His career playoff numbers are elite, so Washington’s lack of postseason success has little to do with him. In his 59 career playoff appearances, Holtby sports an impressive .932 save percentage, a 2.00 GAA, and he’s registered four shutouts. They simply can’t beat Pittsburgh, but don’t blame Holtby.

21 1LD: Morgan Rielly

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My entire 2022 squad has just five players who won Gold in 2014 Sochi, and the defense will have just two returning members, making the corps look mighty different. Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is progressing well in his young career, and if he keeps getting better he could very well find himself on the top pair of Team Canada’s 2022 Olympic squad.

Many coaches in the game today see it as pretty important that you have left-shots patrolling the left side, and right-shots holding down the right.

I’ve followed those guidelines when building Team Canada 2022, and as a result I’ve had to leave off some pretty good defensemen off this team. It opens the door for youth though, and Rielly is actually the oldest LHD on this roster we’ve built.

20 1RD: Aaron Ekblad

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The former first overall pick from the 2014 NHL draft will man the right side on Team Canada’s top pairing in 2022. Although his game has had its ups and downs since his rookie year in 2014-15, Ekblad has bounced back in 2017-18 after a rough 2016-17 campaign. It’s important to remember that development is not often a straight line, and that rings even truer for defensemen.

Ekblad may still turn into the two-way defenseman that the Panthers envisioned when they drafted him. He’s quietly put up decent numbers so far this year, and at the time of writing Ekblad has 13 goals on the season, good for third among all NHL defensemen (Dougie Hamilton and P.K. Subban are tied for first with 15). He could well anchor a power play unit in Beijing.

19 2LD: Darnell Nurse

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There have been few bright spots in Edmonton this season, but one has to be the progression of Darnell Nurse. The young defenseman has become a legitimate top-four option for the Oilers this season, which has been a welcome surprise when you consider the unplanned regressions of Oscar Klefbom, Andrej Sekera, and Adam Larsson.

Nurse’s game still needs to grow a bit before he’s ready for this stage, but as a left-shot the path to the Olympics for Darnell is there.

His cousin Sarah Nurse made her Olympic debut for Team Canada in Pyeongchang in February, taking home a silver medal after dropping the shootout decision to the U.S.A. in the Gold Medal game. Darnell will be hoping for a better result than his cousin in Beijing in a few years.

18 2RD: Drew Doughty

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One of two returning defensemen from the 2014 squad in Sochi, Drew Doughty will most definitely wear a letter for the Beijing Olympic squad. He’ll be a grizzled veteran by the time the 2022 games roll around, but Doughty will still likely be a top-10 defender in the league, and quite possibly the best one Canada has to offer.

Doughty’s game is the type that doesn’t regress at the age of 30 like that of a Shea Weber type. Doughty is a better skater than almost every player in the NHL, so even if he loses a step or two over the next four years he will still be faster than most options for Team Canada. Plus, the guy has won two Stanley Cups in addition to two Olympic Golds already. Doughty on this team is a no-brainer.

17 3LD: Thomas Chabot

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This pick may surprise some of you, but I’ve already told you how shallow the left-shot D pool is looking for Team Canada in 2022, and Thomas Chabot is as good a bet as any to progress to this level of play. Once the Senators send Erik Karlsson out the door (LOL) he’ll see an increase in his ice time.

Now, playing in Ottawa won’t help the optics of Chabot off the bat, but four years is a long time.

Chabot first caught the attention of Canadian hockey fans playing with the World Junior squad. He was the club’s best defenseman at the 2017 tournament, and some would say he was the best player there, period. This is admittedly one of my more outlandish predictions for the 2022 team, but I like to be bold.

16 3RD: P.K. Subban

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The other returning member on defense for the 2022 team will be Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. Subban was the eighth defenseman for the Canadian squad in 2014, and he only found his way into one game. He’s nonetheless a Gold Medal winner, and Subban will be hoping to add to his collection of hardware in 2022 when he joins the squad in Beijing.

Assuming he stays healthy, Subban will play a key role on the 2022 squad, likely quarterbacking the top power play unit.

His role was limited in 2014 thanks to his reputation of being an offense-first type of defenseman, but he’s since developed into a great all-around defenseman who can be counted on in all situations. He’ll be a leader on Canada’s 2022 Beijing squad.

15 7th D: Dougie Hamilton

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The Canadians took eight defensemen to Sochi, so we can safely assume that there will be at least seven D who head to Beijing in 2022. We’ve selected Flames all-around dynamo Dougie Hamilton as the seventh rearguard to join the club in Beijing, and for good reason.

Hamilton took half a season or so to get used to his new digs in Calgary, but he’s been phenomenal since becoming acclimated.

Hamilton is putting the finishing touches on his third season in Southern Alberta now, and if he remains hot down the stretch he has a chance to hit the 50-point mark for the second straight year. Together with Mark Giordano he forms half of one of the best defense pairings in the league. If only the T.J. Brodie/Travis Hamonic pairing could figure things out now…

14 1LW: Taylor Hall

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For some bizarre reason the men in charge of building the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team didn’t think Taylor Hall was good enough for them. That club of course dominated the tournament so it’s difficult to criticize their roster choices in the end, but I’m on record saying Taylor Hall deserved to be on that club. The only reason he wasn’t is because he was mired in Edmonton and people—for some reason—think that meant he sucked.

While many critics are now pointing to his season in New Jersey as proof that he needed a change of scenery to mature (what a load of garbage), Hall was actually always pretty much this good. Not only will he be on Canada’s 2022 Olympic Team, but he will flank his former teammate Connor McDavid on the team’s top line.

13 1C: Connor McDavid

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No surprise here. Connor McDavid will be the first-line center of the next Canadian Olympic team, and that’s almost a certainty at this point. Even if his Edmonton Oilers wallow in the basement of the league for the next four years (entirely possible), there’s simply no denying that McDavid deserves a starring role on this team, and the world was robbed of seeing it happen in 2018, to be frank.

The Oilers will miss the playoffs in 2018, but that has nothing to do with the play of McDavid.

If he wasn’t saddled with either Drake Cagguila or Milan Lucic as one of his wingers almost every game, he’d likely be running away with the scoring race again. Heck, he could still win the Art Ross trophy despite the anchors GM Peter Chiarelli has supplied for him.

12 1RW: Tyler Seguin

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Another player who was left off the 2014 squad but was probably good enough to play for Canada was Tyler Seguin. Good news, Seguin supporters: he’s on our 2022 squad, and he’s playing a starring role on the top line. While he does play center in Dallas most of the time, he has experience on the wing and gets relegated to that position thanks to the incredible depth Canada boasts up the middle.

This will be a fun top line for Canada, should it come to fruition. Of course it’s always a good time to watch Connor McDavid do his thing, but it also adds a layer to the “Taylor vs. Tyler” debate way back from the 2010 NHL Entry draft. It’s tough to say who’s had the better career to this point, but no one will care much when they’re on the same line in Beijing terrorizing opponents.

11 2LW: Brad Marchand

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If you told me three years ago that Brad Marchand would be an Olympic hockey player for Canada, I would have called you an idiot and asked to get out of my face. Today, you’d be an absolute fool to leave Marchand off the Canadian Olympic team, and he’ll find his way onto the roster in 2022 when the NHL allows its players back into the tournament.

Marchand still plays with an edge that can get him into trouble from time to time, but we can’t ignore the fact that he’s an elite offensive talent in this league, regardless of his thuggery.

Marchand currently sits fourth in the league in points per game, behind Nathan MacKinnon, Nikita Kucherov, and Evgeni Malkin. Not bad company to keep, and that also means he’s been more productive than reigning Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid.

10 2C: Nathan MacKinnon

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As I literally just mentioned, Nathan MacKinnon is leading the NHL in points per game at the time of this writing, registering 1.34 through 59 games (he missed eight games in February with an upper-body injury). Despite missing time, MacKinnon is firmly in the conversation for the Hart Trophy, and smart money has him winning the honor if his Avalanche make the postseason.

We have him as the second-line pivot on our Beijing 2022 team.

It will be the first Olympic games for MacKinnon, who was just an NHL rookie when Team Canada took home Gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.

Despite his inexperience, look for MacKinnon to play a major role on the 2022 squad should NHL commissioner Gary Bettman allow his players to participate.

9 2RW: Steven Stamkos

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Steven Stamkos was named to the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team in Sochi, but was ultimately unable to participate thanks to an injury that held the superstar to just 37 games that NHL season. Teammate Martin St. Louis ended up taking his spot on the roster, but no doubt Stammer was devastated that he wasn’t healthy enough to join in on the fun.

Good news, Steven! We found room for you on the 2022 Beijing squad. You’ll be a veteran leader of this team as one of the few skaters who are over the age of 30 when the games start. Unbelievably, these will be Stamkos’ first Olympic Games, officially. He was on the reserve squad for the Vancouver 2010 Team, but never played a game, and of course we already mentioned the injury that kept him at home for Sochi.

8 3LW: Jonathan Huberdeau

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Onto the third line now, we have another natural center who we’ve moved to the wing for the purposes of Team Canada. Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau has developed into quite the player for the Panthers, and since he has some NHL experience on the wing, he was a logical choice to patrol the left side of the third line in Beijing.

Playing alongside Aleksander Barkov for the past few years in Sunrise has given Huberdeau a front row seat to one of the premier two-way forwards in the game.

Some of that awareness has rubbed off on Huberdeau, which is one reason why he’d be a valuable piece for Canada’s third line in 2022. That’s not to say that this would be a checking line, but it would certainly be a threat at both ends of the ice.

7 3C: Sidney Crosby

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It’s hard to believe, but Sidney Crosby will be at the ripe old age of 34 when the next Olympics go in February of 2022. Yes, he’s no longer “Sid the Kid,” and he will be the oldest player on the Beijing squad. The 2022 games are projecting to be Sid’s international hockey swan song, as he could very well retire before the 2026 games, wherever those may be held (the IOC makes the announcement in September 2019).

Crosby will no doubt be the captain of this team, but we have him penciled in as the third line pivot here, which is a testament to Canada’s depth up the middle. Heck, Crosby may or may not even be human, so perhaps his game doesn’t regress one bit over the next four years and he finds himself on the top line come 2022. Honestly, though, whoever coaches this squad (likely Mike Babcock) can feel free to roll four lines.

6 3RW: Mitch Marner

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Assuming Mike Babcock IS the coach of the Canadian Olympic Team in 2022, why wouldn’t he want his boy Mitch Marner on the roster? Not that he’ll be responsible for the selections, but I mean come on, Babcock will have a say. Marner will have five years of pro experience under his belt by this point, and at 24 years old he should be just entering his prime as a winger.

Putting him on “line 3” with Crosby and Huberdeau seems like the safest place for Marner, who will no doubt still be one of the youngest players on the Beijing squad. While his game isn’t best known for its defensive prowess as of yet, he still has a few seasons before he needs to figure it out—not to mention, he’s on a line here with two guys who seem to know what they’re doing at both ends of the ice.

5 4LW: Jaden Schwartz

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An injury derailed what was one heck of a breakout year for St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz. The line he was on with Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn right out of the gate absolutely terrorized opponents early on, but they never rekindled that magic once he returned to the lineup. Nonetheless, Schwartz is an incredible talent who has already got the attention of the rest of the league.

He patrols the left side of the 4th line on our Beijing Team Canada, but let’s not forget that Canada’s 4th line here could compete against any other team’s top line, including Canada’s. On top of all that, Schwartz is still clipping along at near a point-per-game this season, as he sits at 46 points through his first 47 games played. This is a 4th line that will be able to score.

4 4C: Mark Scheifele

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His teammates in Winnipeg have called him one of the league’s best centers, and although they’re obviously coming from a place of bias, it’s a hard assertion to successfully debunk. Scheifele broke out in 2015-16 when he scored 61 points in 71 games, and those who thought that was to be his ceiling were wrong.

Scheifele followed up his breakout year by taking yet another step forward, registering 82 points in 79 games in 2016-17.

Despite missing 17 games thanks to an injury earlier this season, he’s still clipping along at that point-per-game pace he established last year (he’s at 51 points through 50 games). Having a 4th line center as good as Scheifele is a luxury that Canada should not take for granted in 2022.

3 4RW: Jonathan Marchessault

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If you told me even a few years ago that Jonathan Marchessault was a future Canadian Olympian, I would have assumed it’s only because NHL players were not permitted to go and he’d have already ditched the NHL dream and was playing out his career in Sweden or something. Well, I think it’s safe to say I had no idea just how good Marchessault is.

On the top line in Vegas with Reilly Smith and William Karlsson, the trio forms one of the most consistent top scoring lines in the NHL. What’s notable is that many who value analytics view Marchessault as the straw that stirs that drink. The Golden Knights produce almost 55% of the shot attempts with Marchessault on the ice, which is right up there with the game’s elite players.

2 Extra F1: Mathew Barzal

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Onto the extra forwards we go, and how could we not give one of the spots to New York Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal? The guy is harvesting points in his freshman year, and he is flirting with becoming the first rookie to finish at above a point-per-game pace while playing at least 70 games since Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin accomplished the feat in 2006-07.

If Barzal takes his game to another level between now and 2022, I think it’s safe to say he will be in the top 12 and not listed as an extra when it comes time to construct the 2022 Team Canada roster.

Heck, even if he stagnates he might make the cut—there aren’t many players who put up a point per game every season. If he stays this healthy and this productive, Barzal may play a bigger role in Beijing.

1 Extra F2: John Tavares

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Say what? John Tavares is listed as an extra forward for 2022? I admit that it seems crazy not to have Tavares in your top 12 today, and if this were a team for 2018 of course he’d be in the top 12. Tavares will be on the wrong side of 30 when it comes time for the next Olympics though, and hockey is a young man’s game.

It’s also difficult to project where Tavares will be playing next season, let alone in February of 2022. It’s possible the talented center’s game hits a wall between now and then. I don’t foresee that happening myself, but a slight regression is something that most stars go through when they hit 30. Tavares won Gold in Sochi as a 23-year-old, so he’ll understand when a 23-year-old takes his spot on the roster, no doubt.

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