STOCKHOLM – Canada is the defending Olympic champions, but between Vancouver in 2010 and the present day, the nation has had three straight quarter-finals eliminations. With Sochi just around the corner, this year’s Worlds will give some young players a great platform to showcase their international abilities. Or not.
Devan Dubnyk is back in a supporting role, but Mike Smith is the man to watch. The number-one goalie for Phoenix is a free agent this summer and might be the most coveted goalie available. As well, despite Canada’s immense depth at all other positions, goal is worrisome for the 2014 Olympics. Smith isn’t just playing for a big contract here; he’s playing to make a name for himself in the eyes of Canada’s likely executive director, Steve Yzerman. The 31-year-old has been a late bloomer but has now appeared in 101 of the Coyotes’ 130 games in the last two seasons and gives Canada a legitimate chance to win every night.
The blue line is a delicate balance between experience and inexperience, the latter outweighing the former at the moment. Veteran Brian Campbell is a great skater and offensive talent while Luke Schenn is now in his fourth WM. Stéphane Robidas is another defender with plenty of games under his belt, but after this threesome it gets thin with the likes of Justin Schultz and Brenden Dillon.
Clearly Canada’s strength lies up front and in its ability to score. Steven Stamkos leads the way as he looks to cement a spot on the Sochi team. The sniper has perhaps the best one-timer in the world and is lethal whenever the puck is on his stick near the goal. Joining him are two Oilers, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall. Eberle has been a faithful participant for what will be the fourth straight year and is a great candidate for Sochi. The 21-year-old Hall is making his senior World Championship debut. He has plenty to prove, but plenty of talent as well. Three faithful from the Carolina Hurricanes are also in Stockholm—Jeff Skinner, and Eric and Jordan Staal. This troika will be key to Canada’s offence. Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux is also here as is former Calder Trophy winner Matt Duchene. No doubt, this is a highly-skilled offence.
Lindy Ruff was famous for doing so much with so little for so long in Buffalo, but hopefully he won’t institute a system of stifling defence, trapping, and close checking. With so much skill up front to work with, and a star goalie in the crease, he would do well to let the creative players be creative and take Canada as far as possible.
This is a medal-contending team, to be sure, but Canada is going to have to get it going on quarter-finals day, the make or break day for so many teams. Still, with an impressive lineup in a year where many other teams are lacking their top players, Canada should be able to make it to the podium. Left, right, or centre is still uncertain, though.