TRAIKOS: Canada’s Olympic team has a strength at centre that could be a problem on the wing – Toronto Sun

Author of the article:

Michael Traikos

Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche will be a big part of Team Canada at the Olympics.
Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche will be a big part of Team Canada at the Olympics. Photo by Ethan Miller /Getty Images

If there’s one thing that Team Canada Olympic hopefuls have in common — aside from being some of the most talented players on the planet — it’s that they can all take face-offs.


It’s a strength. But it can also be a bit of a problem.

Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid are centremen. So are Nathan MacKinnon, Brayden Point and Patrice Bergeron. Ditto for John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Sean Couturier.

The list goes on and on … and on.

In fact, of the forwards on most projected lists heading into the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, only Mitch Marner, Brad Marchand, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Stone are natural wingers. It means that if someone like Mark Scheifele is going to make the team, he will likely have to accept a role at a position he isn’t used to.

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“I’ll play wing,” said the Winnipeg Jets centre. “If there are sacrifices that need to be made, I’m willing to make them and it’s all a matter of winning and winning a gold for your country. The World Cup, a couple of years ago, we had three centremen. I played wing with McDavid and (Auston) Matthews. We had MacKinnon and (Jack) Eichel on the same line. You can go back to Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman playing on the same line. You had Dale Hawerchuk winning the face-off on the famous goal with (Wayne) Gretzky and (Mario) Lemieux.


“Through history, it always seems like there’s a lot of centremen on the team and it’s guys that adapted to play the wing. I think there’s a lot of centremen out there who will give up things to play on that team. They’ll play net to make that team.”

Indeed, there were only two natural wingers (Marchand and Corey Perry) on Canada’s World Cup team in 2016, while the 2014 and 2010 Olympic teams had seven and six natural wingers, respectively. It’s more out of necessity than by design. Of the top-30 Canadian-born scorers last season, only seven played the wing.

It could mean that someone like Marner or Huberdeau could have an inside track at making the team over Scheifele or Sean Couturier.

“I think as a Canadian kid, you always want to play on that team, whether it’s the world juniors or any other team, really representing Team Canada is where you want to be playing. Again, that’s in the future. It’s a couple of months down the road. I don’t want to really think about that too much. It’s always going to be in the back of your mind of course, but my main thought is just trying to be here and now and be with this team and try to help this team win games and when that comes, we’ll take it then.”


Another position where there is an imbalance is at defence, with seemingly more talented right-handed players (Cale Makar, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty and Dougie Hamilton) than those who are left-handed (Shea Theodore, Morgan Rielly, Aaron Ekblad and Adam Pelech) — something that Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot and Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse have paid close attention to.

“It is there for sure,” Chabot said of potentially grabbing a roster spot. “You know the Olympics are coming.”

“I think to get to those upper echelons of being the top in the league, you have to do it year after year,” said Nurse. “I think I’ve progressed to the point where it wasn’t something like,’ Oh, yeah, he had a good year.” There’s some areas I need to improve and a whole other level I can get to.”


One thing is sure, with only Crosby, Bergeron, Pietrangelo and Carey Price expected to return from the team that won gold in 2014, the team that Canada sends to the Olympics in 2022 should be a lot younger than usual. Just how young is still being determined. But after the season Montreal’s Nick Suzuki had, the 22-year-old rightfully believes he could have a shot.

That is, if the natural centre can show he can play the wing.

“I think I showed well competing against guys who are going to be on the Olympic team all season, like McDavid, Point, all those guys,” said Suzuki. “Obviously, the team is going to be really deep. It’s definitely a top team to make. But if I can show at the start of the season that I can be a top player for Canada, I think I might have a decent shot.”


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While Canada will be the obvious favourite heading into the Olympics, expect there to be even more competition from some of the other countries this time around.

Russia could have its deepest roster, with Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin and Alex Ovechkin up front and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Sweden, which was a finalist in 2014, has some of the best defencemen in the NHL. Finland has Aleksander Barkov, Mikko Rantanen, Patrik Laine and defenceman Miro Heiskanen.

And then there’s the Americans, where Rocket Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews headlines a dangerous group that will have Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, 2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck and a 32-year-old Patrick Kane, who finished in the top-5 in scoring last season.


“I mean there’s plenty of talent obviously on both sides,” said Matthews. “You can go up and down every team’s lineup they’ve got so many really talented young players, veteran players, guys that have been around. I mean I think everybody’s really looking forward to the opportunity to play. I really hope it works out because everybody I’ve talked to says that the Olympics is just an incredible experience.

“The World Cup was great, but every guy that I’ve talked to that’s experienced both [says] it’s not even close. I’m really hoping it works out. There’s just nothing like it. That’s what everybody I’ve talked to about it says — and I believe it.”

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