Jamie Benn, Marc-Edouard Vlasic in Canadian Olympic mix
NHL players opening eyes with impressive starts to season
Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn and San Jose Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic have skated into the mix for the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team.
The two players are under strong consideration to crack the 25-player roster, thanks to an outstanding first six weeks of the NHL season. However, there remains six more weeks before the Canadian brass declares who will be on the team bound for Sochi.
Canadian Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman and his management team, which consists of NHL general managers Doug Armstrong (St. Louis), Peter Chiarelli (Boston), Ken Holland (Detroit) and Edmonton Oilers president Kevin Lowe, gathered with Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and Brad Pascall, vice-president of hockey operations/national teams for Hockey Canada on Wednesday.
The group met in a downtown Toronto hotel for 4 ½ hours to discuss the first six weeks of the season and formulate a scouting plan to keep a watchful eye on certain players in the next six weeks.
Canadian head coach Mike Babcock and his Olympic coaching staff also conducted a conference call on Wednesday.
Is the Canadian roster taking shape? Not really. There are the locks like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith. There have also been pleasant surprises like Vlasic and Benn.
Stamkos injury clouds Olympic spot
Then there's the uncertainty of injured players like Steven Stamkos. The Tampa Bay Lightning star broke his right leg when he crashed into the goal post in a game on Monday. There appears to be confusion as to whether Canada can pencil Stamkos’s name on the 25-player roster in late December and then replace him if he’s not recovered in time.
“We haven't discussed it with IIHF, but my understanding would be there would be nothing that precludes a team from naming a currently injured player as long as there is a possibility he will be healthy and ready to play in the Olympics,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Thursday.
Benn, Vlasic opening eyes
Meanwhile, Benn wasn’t even invited to the Olympic orientation camp in Calgary, but he has opened the season with six goals and 16 points in 18 games. Vlasic, who was in Calgary, has played solid two-way, physical hockey and is closer to an Olympic roster spot than he was at the beginning of the season.
But again, there still are six weeks to go. There still are plenty of developments to be played out, like how will Rick Nash perform after spending more than a month on the sidelines with a concussion?
The talented New York Rangers forward is symptom free and began to skate with his teammates on Wednesday. He could be back in action by the end of the month.
In an ideal world, Yzerman and Co. would like to see improved play from Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux and his Carolina Hurricanes counterpart Eric Staal.
The two were considered locks at the beginning of the season, but they have started the season slowly. Giroux took 16 games to score his first goal, but now has a goal and three points in his club’s recent three-game win streak. Staal only has one assist in his last eight outings.
Armstrong and Pascall were in the press box on Wednesday evening to scout the Pittsburgh Penguins and Flyers game and keep an eye on Giroux. Armstrong will watch his Blues play the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, in a game that will feature Canadian Olympic team candidates Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester of St. Louis, as well as Matt Duchene of the Avalanche.
The next six weeks will be interesting times for Yzerman and his management team.
But Canada’s brain trust is only at the halfway point with plenty more to be played out.