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Winter Olympics Hockey 2014 - Selecting Team Canada for Sochi: The Forwards

A panel of EOTP writers and editors got together to form their own War Room to select the best possible team to represent Canada in Sochi. Here are the results. Part I covers the forwards chosen. Part II covers the defensemen and goaltenders.

Sidney Crosby will lead Team Canada into Sochi, but which forwards will join him?
Sidney Crosby will lead Team Canada into Sochi, but which forwards will join him?

On January 7, Steve Yzerman will announce the 25 men who will represent Canada in hockey at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It will be the culmination of a process that included an orientation camp over the summer, scouting over likely the past two half-seasons, some statistical analysis, and ample discussion among team executives (you can see my predictions for who makes the team here). After our site's November and December Team Canadas were determined through a simple voting process, for the final roster we sought to re-create the conditions under which Yzerman, Doug Armstrong, Peter Chiarelli, Ken Holland, and Kevin Lowe will have to come to a consensus; we created our own War Room. Five members of the EOTP Team - Bruce Peter, Ian Murray, Matt Drake, Stephan Cooper, and myself - all residing in different cities and all having scouted different teams over the past year, debated for two hours the ins and outs of creating the the team that gives Canada the best chance to bring home gold for a second consecutive occasion. Here is the team that was chosen, and the reasoning behind the selections. We begin with the forwards.

You can also listen to the entire 2 hour podcast right here:

Listen To Hockey Internet Radio Stations with Habs Eyes On The Prize on BlogTalkRadio

STATISTICS: In addition to conventional stats like goals and points, shooting percentage is listed to isolate artificially elevated goal totals. On-ice shooting percentage is listed a t5-on-5 only, but serves the same role for point totals. O/D ZS% indicates the percentage of non-neutral zone post-whistle shifts a player starts in the offensive zone. A lower number indicates a more defensive assignment. CF% stands for Corsi For Percentage, and it indicates the percentage of shot attempts a player's team records with that player on the ice at 5-on-5. Relative Corsi compares a player's CF% while on the ice with the team's performance without that player on the ice. EVTm% is the percentage of a team's even-strength ice time that player plays while in the lineup. The concept is the same for power play and shorthanded ice time. For a more detailed look at fancystats, feel free to look here and here.


C Sidney Crosby (L) - Pittsburgh Penguins

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
42 22 37 59 15.7% 9.6% 48.3% 53.5% +6.2% 34.2% 79.6% 11.1%


Role: 1st line offensive C, 1st power play, team captain

Sidney Crosby is the best player in hockey and the unquestioned number one centre on Team Canada going into the 2014 Olympics. He likes to play along the right half-boards on the power play, where he can quarterback the unit while using his left-handed shot as a potential one-timer. The biggest question when it comes to Crosby is what type of linemates best complement his skills.

When considering that question, it's important to note that although he is a skilled player, Crosby doesn't mind going into the corners and battling for pucks. He is a possession beast, and loves the puck on his stick. He is the focal point of any line he plays on, and would therefore ideally play with a sniper who can benefit from the Cole Harbour native's elite passing, and a power forward, who isn't afraid to go to the net and cash in on potential rebounds, as well as to screen the goalie.

Scouting Report: "Crosby has amazing hands, vision and often looks to pass first in the offensive zone, but he's also very much a glorified grinder. And by that, I mean he loves to battle down low, along the boards and behind the net, cycling the puck, wearing defensemen down and trying to use his lower-body strength and change of direction to free himself to create a scoring chance." - Jim from Pensburgh

LW Steven Stamkos (R) - Tampa Bay Lightning

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
27 12 11 23 23.3% 15.0% 49.4% 49.3% -0.4% 32.0% 56.5% 17.2%


Role: 1st line offensive winger, 1st power play

Steven Stamkos is a huge wild-card for Canada in that he's currently recovering from a break in his right-leg, and is unlikely to be 100% or in mid-season form even if he is able to suit up in the tournament. If he is unable to compete, the War Room likes Jeff Carter and James Neal as two potential goal-scoring substitutes.

Stamkos is a unique breed in that he's a superstar whose success is mostly shooting-driven rather than possession-driven. His potent wrist shot strikes fear into even the league's most talented netminders, which is important since guys like Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Miller will need to be beaten in order for Canada to take home gold. Statistical analysis has shown that Sidney Crosby has an almost-unmatched ability to raise the shooting percentage of his linemates, and with Stamkos a career 17.5% shooter, the sky's the limit for how well the duo can do at this tournament.

To start out, our panel decided to put Stamkos on Sid's left, which is an unorthodox move considering the lack of right-handed players capable of playing right-wing, and the traditional practice of wingers playing their strong sides. Our conclusion, however, was that with the success of snipers like Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk in the past playing their off-sides, playing with his stick facing the middle of the ice might create additional one-timer opportunities off the sticks of Crosby and St. Louis, and more goals as a result. Since this line combination, against most foes in the tournament, will likely feel like a power play, there's no reason to think we won't see many-a-plays like this.

Scouting Report: "Some of his reputation, however unfounded, is as a perimeter and transition player, not a defensive, 200-foot or net-front forward. While he has elite finishing ability and truly underrated speed on the rush, before his injury this year, we were continuing to see his development as a complete player, one that plays physical on the puck (both with it and defending it). Jon Cooper and Rick Bowness' more simplified defensive system have hinged on extra effort as a 5-man defensive unit, and Stamkos was buying in, routinely the first forward back in the zone. That he broke his leg on an herculean backcheck is no coincidence. As for his ideal linemates, well, this one is simple. Play Stamkos with fast playmakers that see the ice well and can feed him in his wheelhouse into open ice and Canada will be just fine." - Kyle from Raw Charge

RW Martin St. Louis (L) - Tampa Bay Lightning

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
39 17 21 38 16.8% 10.1% 52.6% 50.8% -2.3% 33.1% 61.3% 21.6%


Role: 1st line offensive winger, 2nd line power play, assistant captain

For many, Martin St. Louis is a bubble player for this edition of Team Canada. But for our entire panel, he was a lock. The defending Art Ross Trophy winner provides a young team with some crucial experience, having played in the 2006 Olympics, and at 38 years old being a veteran of 15 NHL seasons. This is anything but an "intangibles" pick, however, as St. Louis has been over a point-per-game in six of his last nine seasons, just missing out on the mark in two of the other three. His chemistry with Stamkos is notable, but as he has shown with the sniper injured over the past month, he is anything but reliant on the youngster. We have St. Louis pencilled in with Stamkos and Crosby, but he could just as easily play serve as primary playmaker on a two-way line with Jonathan Toews - as his defensive play has by all accounts been much improved this season under Jon Cooper - or on a speed line with guys like Matt Duchene and Logan Couture.

On the power play, St. Louis has the misfortune of playing the same right-half-boards position as Sidney Crosby, so he is relegated to second-line power play duty, although the level of talent on this team, that is hardly a demotion.

Scouting Report: "St. Louis has always been at his best with finishers. He plays the "set-up man" role to perfection. He protects the puck well in the offensive zone and has a knack for finding space between sticks with cross-slot and cross-crease passes. While St. Louis' contributions are most often felt in the offensive third, he's an underrated defender with a tenacious tendency to hound his man when he has the puck. His stickwork is very good in tight, and he has a veteran's feel for when to collapse in around the goaltender and when to spring loose up the middle of the ice for a breakaway. He can kill penalties, too, if needed. He's currently averaging just over a minute/game shorthanded for the Bolts and, in spite of his size, is very good at taking time and space away from defensemen at the point, or getting in front of long one-timers." - Kyle from Raw Charge

C Ryan Getzlaf (R) - Anaheim Ducks

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
39 20 27 47 18.7% 12.6% 46.8% 52.7% +3.3% 30.2% 61.7% 37.7%


Role: 2nd line offensive C, alternate penalty kill forward

Ryan Getzlaf makes this team largely on the back of an MVP-calibre last season and a half in Anaheim, with 96 points in 83 games since the most recent lockout. His chemistry with Corey Perry certainly helps his candidacy, especially considering Canada's depth at centre, but it's important to note that unlike with such complementary players as Kunitz and to an extent Sharp, the panel determined that both Getzlaf and Perry held their weight in the partnership, despite the latter's superior With Or Without You (WOWY) numbers over the past couple of seasons.

Getzlaf isn't the fastest skater, but on a team of speedsters having a player with his large build and net-rushing abilities can't be understated. The other factor in favor of Getzlaf making the team is his ability to kill penalties. The Ducks' first-line centre has been on the ice for almost 40% of his team's time shorthanded.

Ultimately, Getzlaf was chosen in this role in a tight decision over Joe Thornton because of how each has performed in past Olympics, because of Thornton's age and declining foot speed, and because of Getzlaf's chemistry with Perry.

Scouting Report: "[Getzlaf is] the second leading Canadian scorer in the league this season. But what really separates him from the pack is that he averages 1:59 of shorthanded ice time per game this season. For reference, Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews are averaging 1:51 and 1:22 respectively this year. He won't be needed on the PP as he is normally used as a right handed shot from the point. That could pose an issue in regards to his point production (along with less ice time overall) but not seeing top defensive pairs and checking lines could make up the difference." - Chris from Anaheim Calling

LW John Tavares (L) - New York Islanders

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
40 16 28 44 13.0% 10.4% 60.2% 50.6% +3.7% 32.4% 71.6% 4.0%


Role: 2nd line offensive LW, alternate power play forward

John Tavares earns a spot on Canada's Olympic team for the first time as a winger, a role which he played very well at the World Junior Championships and which allows him to utilize his elite skill and hockey sense while not worrying as much about defensive responsibilities. He can also be used in the power play in just about any role, as he tends to serve as a rover with the man advantage on the Island, moving around the zone and trying to find free space to unleash his nasty wrist shot.

The biggest issue with Tavares on the wing, and a point of contention when it came to choosing a fitting linemate for the Anaheim duo, is his skating ability, something that he has improved since reaching the NHL, but that still puts him below average among top players. The positive with having a lineup so full of skill, and without many sets of players who need to be together, is that Head Coach Mike Babcock has the ability to mix and match lines until finding preferred combinations. One player who was mentioned as another potential LW on this line was Matt Duchene, a creative playmaker who happens to be one of the top skaters in the league. It was decided, however, that Tavares was too good not to be in the lineup for the opening game, and that this is where he fit best.

Scouting Report: "Tavares has been quite good offensively this year, though the team's struggles have maybe gotten to him at times. As far as underlying numbers, he did not get off to a great start, but his line with Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek has been very good recently, always generating offensive zone time and scoring chances. Those two guys complement him well -- Vanek because he is good in front of the net as Matt Moulson was, and Okposo because he will do a lot of the forechecking and digging for the puck. Basically, if you have a guy who can retrieve the puck, Tavares will convert it. If you have a guy who can convert chances, Tavares will find him. Defensively he is willing but still not as good as you'd hope from a star 1C. Probably has some work to do there yet. I think he could work well on the wing because he is so good at winning pucks on the boards and positioning his body for board battles." - Dominik from Lighthouse Hockey

RW Corey Perry (R) - Anaheim Ducks

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
42 22 21 43 14.5% 11.5% 50.5% 53.8% +5.2% 30.5% 62.4% 16.0%


Role: 2nd line offensive RW, 2nd line power play

Corey Perry, as the consensus best pure winger from Canada, was a lock for this team from day one. The former Hart Trophy winner will start on a line with Ryan Getzlaf, but can easily play with Sidney Crosby, as he has at both the World Juniors and sporadically in Vancouver. Perry isn't the fastest skater, but the importance of his sniping abilities on a team of mostly playmakers can't be understated.

Perry also plays the critical role of net-crashing power forward on the power play; the crease, as evidenced by his shot chart, is a place that he loves to frequent.

Scouting Report: "There are two things Corey Perry does well, score goals and irritate people. If he were to get any PP time, it would be causing havoc in front of the net and scoring on rebounds with his silky smooth hands, not much different from what he does at even strength really. He could also be an option on the PK as he was successful in limited deployment last year, but that would depend more on the other forwards available. And as everyone knows, he plays best when cycling the puck down low with Ryan Getzlaf." - Chris from Anaheim Calling

C Jonathan Toews (L) - Chicago Blackhawks

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% Pen +/- EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
42 15 25 40 13.5% 9.4% 63.4% 59.6% +2 30.9% 60.7% 28.8%

Role: 3rd line two-way C, 1st line penalty kill, assistant captain


Jonathan Toews was the best forward and leading scorer at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, is a Selke Award winner for best defensive forward in the NHL, and was the youngest player to join the Triple Gold Club - winning the Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold, and World Championship Gold - by age 22.

It doesn't really matter whether we call Toews' line the second, third, or fourth, what matters is the role it will serve, which was something of a point of contention in the War Room. Toews is an incredible two-way player, but can also provide ample offense. Our panel decided to give him a primarily offensive role, with a couple of explosive linemates, but with the understanding that in games against more fearsome opponents than Austria and Norway, he could be given more defensive zone starts, and possibly even team up on a line with Bergeron to shut down the game's more flashy forwards.

As for linemates, Chicago's Sharp was one of the final cuts on our team, despite his success with Toews and Marian Hossa. Instead of taking a number of potent NHL duos, our panel sought to recreate that chemistry with even more talented players. More on that below.

Scouting Report: "This season, Toews has been centering the first line for the Blackhawks with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp as his wingers. This line dominates opponents in possession despite facing the toughest competition on a nightly basis. Toews' defensive capabilities place him among an elite group of forwards in the NHL. He kills penalties and works on the power play." Jen from Second City Hockey

LW Jamie Benn (L) - Dallas Stars

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
39 13 22 35 10.3% 12.9% 52.3% 51.9% +1.7% 29.4% 56.3% 6.2%


Role: 2nd line two-way LW

Jamie Benn was one of the last players given a spot by our panel, as he was part of a final grouping of candidates that included Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Patrick Sharp, Matt Duchene and Taylor Hall. On a speed-based team, a physical presence who is also a premier first line player in the league provides needed balance. With Rick Nash struggling with injury and form, his replacement this time around is the 24-year old B.C. native who moved permanently to the wing this year with the arrival of Tyler Seguin - who was given consideration but ultimately adjudged to be too much of a defensive concern to make the team at centre.

Benn, who has put up points largely as a result of a high on-ice shooting percentage that is a result of good vision and selectively accurate shooting, has improved his possession numbers this year to the tone of an above-50% corsi, despite a less sheltered role. He is the captain of the Stars, and plays the majority of the team's power play time, much of it from the slot.

Scouting Report: "A year ago I'd have questioned his speed, his maturity and his leadership, but after a furious summer of training and the captaincy bestowed, that's all gone. [Benn is] big. He's durable. He's deadly-skilled, and he'll lead or follow as needed- passionately for Canada. Benn was to be the goal scorer as Seguin moved back to center. Now Seguin has more goals and Benn has the greater number of assists, proving the versatility both have learned in their short times in the league playing wings and pivots." - Brad from Defending Big D

RW Claude Giroux (R) - Philadelphia Flyers

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
40 11 26 37 9.6% 8.1% 55.3% 53.0% +3.7% 32.8% 61.8% 18.0%

Screen_shot_2014-01-01_at_4Role: 3rd line two-way RW, 2nd line power play

Giroux was another one of the bubble players who snuck onto this squad. Despite putting up points, he struggled for much of 2013 on a poor Flyers squad, with a revolving door of linemates and and a shaky defense corps and goaltending leading to his formerly assured place on Team Canada given to other, "hotter" candidates.

Luckily for the Ontario native, his recent play has catapulted the Flyers into playoff contention, and he now at least has a decent chance at making the squad. Our biggest worry when considering Giroux was whether or not his skill set was redundant after other skilled playmakers like Crosby and St. Louis. Would a pure sniper or another power forward bring better balance to the roster? In the end, it was decided that because of his recent strong play, his status as a right-handed shot with experience and success playing right wing, and his underrated goal scoring ability - not to mention his position as a team captain - Giroux is worthy of this team.

He will play to begin with on a two-way line with Toews and Benn, but could also be thrust into a more offensive role with Getzlaf or Crosby. He will also play in his traditional spot along the left half-boards on the second power play unit.

Scouting Report: "[Giroux] has 17 points in his last 10 games, which included a nine-game point streak. I wouldn't even say Giroux has played poorly at any stretch this season -- even early in the year, he was getting chances and still looked like the same player he's always been. But that early season cold spell is going to be unfairly blown out of proportion, even if Giroux's rebound has brought him back to nearly a point-per-game pace. I think he's versatile enough to play any forward position, though I can't remember off the top of my head the last time he played either wing. He's a dangerous set-up man on the power play and could fill that role for Canada if needed." - Travis from Broad Street Hockey

C Patrice Bergeron (R) - Boston Bruins

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
40 10 13 23 8.6% 7.6% 43.5% 60.6% +10.9% 28.0% 44.3% 35.1%


Role: 4th line shut-down C, 1st line penalty kill

Over the course of 12 months, Patrice Bergeron went from being one of the most underrated players in the NHL, to being given MVP-like recognition following the Bruins' trip to the cup finals, to once again being off the radar, as many projections have him left off of Team Canada at this late stage. Some may look at his mere 23 points in 40 games so far and conclude that he hasn't been playing well, but his 60.6% corsi - higher even than last year, and tops among Canadian forward candidates - suggests that he is still very much the dominant force from last season.

Bergeron plays against the best players in the world night in and night out, and starts more than 60% of his non-neutral zone shifts in the defensive zone, meaning he's put in situations to fail. His high on-ice shot differential, high goals-for percentage, and even managing to put up points at all, are indications that he remains one of the top centres in the world, and a deserved lock for this team.

Bergeron also brings flexibility, having played at times on the wing in the past with Canada, meaning one could put him on a line with Jonathan Toews and likely prevent a line from ever scoring a goal. He is the best faceoff man in the world, sitting at 61.6% so far this year, another leader, and can play just about any role that is asked of him. He has been a staple on the Bruins' successful penalty kill for years and will be a key component on the PK in Sochi.

Scouting Report: "[Bergeron] wins faceoffs, he kills penalties, and while he has only registered 23 points in 40 games, he's quite capable of creating and finishing scoring chances anytime he's on the ice, as evidenced by his team leading 60.6 Corsi for percentage. Likely to reprise his role as the team's 13th forward, Bergeron will serve as a complimentary piece up front, serving in whatever capacity Mike Babcock sees fit." - Ian from Stanley Cup of Chowder

LW Patrick Marleau (L) - San Jose Sharks

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
40 17 20 37 11.0% 8.4% 45.3% 54.3% +2.2% 29.0% 60.0% 39.1%


Role: 4th line defensive LW, 2nd line penalty kill

Patrick Marleau is a guy who has played his way back onto the Team Canada radar recently, not because of his point totals - which are impressive for a 34-year old thought to be in decline - but as a result of his stellar two-way play so far this year for the Sharks. One of the most undervalued types of players, at least to most fans, is the aging tough minutes forward who seems to hover just under the offensive standards set by either his past performance or his predecessors. Canadiens fans have seen it with Brian Gionta; Devils fans with Patrik Elias; and Sharks fans have surely witnessed it with Patrick Marleau. Most forget that in 2010, Marleau was relied upon by Babcock late in games, playing big minutes, and contributing five points in seven games. Not bad for someone with a reputation for disappearing in big game situations.

Marleau isn't a flashy choice, that much is clear, but on a line with Couture this year he has taken some of the hardest defensive minutes in the NHL and still tilted the ice in his team's direction. He plays on both the power play and penalty kill, has the experience that many of the younger guard do not, and rarely makes mistakes. He has enough speed, even at his age, to fit in on the big ice, and would fit perfectly to the left of either Bergeron or Toews, shutting down some of the most talented lines in the tournament. Marleau was a guy who the War Room was unanimous about including, despite the fact that he was on hardly anybody's team a few months ago. His strong two-way play, combined with his reliability, versatility, and experience made him a no-brainer.

Scouting Report: "Despite being constantly maligned by elements of the mainstream media for a lack of effort, Marleau is consistently trusted by his head coach to play some of the most difficult defensive minutes available and thrives in them. Despite those same elements criticizing him for an inability to produce in pressure situations, Marleau is 37th in NHL history in playoff goals and will almost certainly finish his career in the top twenty in that category if not top fifteen. Even at 34, he remains one of the fastest players in the league, is a zone entry demon as well as a trustworthy penalty killer. He's also a Mike Babcock favorite and was leaned on heavily en route to a gold medal in Vancouver." - Derek from Fear The Fin

RW Logan Couture (L) - San Jose Sharks

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% Pen +/- EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
40 12 20 32 8.2% 7.9% 43.4% 53.2% +0.6% 27.8% 59.3% 30.8%


Role: 4th line two-way RW, 2nd line penalty kill

Couture struggled from a production standpoint in the month of December, with no goals between the 5th and 27th of the month, but even without putting the puck in the net, along with his linemate Marleau, he was shutting down the opposition's top players, while starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone. Couture may have only 31 points in 40 games, but his shooting percentage of 8.2 is well below his career average of 12.1 so regression would indicate he should begin producing at a pace more befitting his talent level soon enough.

Couture brings a rare blend of speed, skill, and toughness, that makes him a fit to play on any line for this team. Many have pencilled him in as a net-front presence with Crosby, but the panel decided the best use of this possession beast was with Marleau and Bergeron on a shutdown line that would make both the most avid stat-head and the most old-school coach giddy. Couture also plays in all situations, and while we haven't slotted him onto a power play unit, an all-Sharks combo featuring Marleau, Thornton, Couture, and maybe a defenseman (teaser) is certainly a possibility. The one concern here is putting the lefty who has played centre and left wing his entire career on the right, but the dominant opinion from former players seems to be that handedness differences are overrated when it comes to that position. If you're an NHL star, you can play either wing without too much adjustment.

Scouting Report: "[Couture has] been a key component of a Sharks shutdown unit, flanked on the wings by Patrick Marleau and a revolving door on the right side and backed up by defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun, that heavily outshoots and outscores some of the toughest competition in the NHL at even-strength. If the Canadian brass is looking for a forward to slot alongside Patrice Bergeron on a tough-minutes line a la what Richards/Toews/Nash comprised in Vancouver four years ago, there aren't many better options than Couture." - Derek from Fear The Fin

C Joe Thornton (L) - San Jose Sharks

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% CF% rel EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
40 5 39 44 9.6% 10.1% 50.1% 57.8% +7.1% 28.2% 61.1% 11.0%


Role: 13th forward, 1st line power play

Joe Thornton was the topic of much debate in the War Room for a number of reasons. First of all, even at age 34, he is very much still a productive - even a star - player, a fact backed up by both the stats and the eye test, as he is noticeable just about every time he is on the ice, and can play either a tough minutes, or recently a more offensive role. He played the former for the first two years of Head Coach Todd McLellan's tenure, and the latter under Ron Wilson - when he recorded consecutive 90-assist seasons - as well as recently with the development of Couture to do the heavy lifting (thanks to Derek for those tidbits). Thornton is one of only two forward candidates for Canada to have played in both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics - the other is Rick Nash - and is the captain of the Sharks.

The downsides, however, are plentiful as well. Thornton has never been the fastest skater, something bound to be exploited on the big ice. He didn't have much success in either of those Olympics, with only five points in 13 games combined. He is also a playmaker and not a scorer, something of which this team has plenty, and isn't particularly versatile in that he can't play wing, and probably isn't fit for primary shutdown duty at this point in his career.

The debate over who the top-four centres should be for this team was hotly contested, with some wanting both Getzlaf and Thornton - with Bergeron on the wing - and others preferring only one of the two in the opening lineup. The beauty of the 13th forward is that combinations can easily be adjusted, with Getzlaf on a short leash going in and Thornton easily capable of a top-six role.

The other point in favor of Thornton is his impressive work on the power play, whether as the low man in an overload formation, or even the net-front presence in an umbrella or 1-3-1 formation. Linking up with Crosby and Stamkos on the first power play unit is a tantalizing proposition, and Thornton gets to call as the 13th rather than scratched 14th forward as a result.

Scouting Report: "[Thornton] no longer carries the bulk of the defensive burden on his shoulders, as he's been generally matched up against opposing second- and third-liners, and that shift in usage along with the addition of a legitimate right-shot sniper to his line in defenseman-turned-forward Brent Burns has contributed to Jumbo being on pace for his highest point total in four years, including his highest assist total in seven. He also continues to be the engine driving a power play that leads the league in shot rate but has been snakebitten lately." - Derek from Fear The Fin

LW Matt Duchene (L) - Colorado Avalanche

GP G A Pts Sh% On-Ice Sh% O/D ZS% CF% Pen +/- EVTm% PPTm% SHTm%
36 16 20 36 14.0% 9.3% 48.6% 49.0% +1.5% 29.7% 51.0% 5.5%


Role: 14th forward, injury/tactical substitution

As mentioned previously, the race for the final few roster spots was a tight one. In the end, the panel decided that speed was the most likely problem to trouble the opening night lineup, and there's no doubt that Duchene would help to solve that problem should he be inserted into the lineup, be it with Getzlaf and Perry, Crosby and Stamkos, or even Toews and Giroux. Duchene began the season on fire, owing in part to an inflated shooting percentage, and has since come down to earth. There is no doubt, however, that he is now one of the league's stars, and has improved his defensive play considerably since being chosen third overall in the 2009 NHL Draft behind Tavares and Victor Hedman. Duchene is not only one of the best skaters in the league, but also one of its most creative and skilled players. He has the goal-scoring qualities that some of his Canadian teammates lack, which makes him valuable.

When it came to selecting a player for this 14th forward spot, it was important to find somebody who could fit within Babcock's system, and transition seamlessly into the lineup without posing defensive problems. But it also needed to be a player who could provide a change of pace - a game-changer, if you will. The panel felt that Duchene was that perfect player, and it was only by a narrow vote that a spot in the lineup was given to Benn over the Avs playmaker for the opening game.

Scouting Report: "[Duchene's] vision has always been there, as has his slick hands. But he's gotten even faster (didn't think that was possible, but there it is), and he's so much stronger on the puck than he used to be. The guy is really hard to push off of it now, and his ability to maneuver in order to slip a defender is highlight reel worthy. You can tell how much other teams respect his talent by the space the D gives him. They know he can blow past them and generate a legitimate scoring opportunity. I will add that his creativity continues to astound me. Whenever the puck is on his stick, you can just feel something exciting is going to happen. His defensive reliability has improved so much over the past few years, and he's always dangerous on the power play." - Cheryl from Mile High Hockey


Our group of decision-makers met for two hours in coming to this set of decisions, and none was taken lightly. Past Olympian Rick Nash was crossed off early on because of his disappointing numbers and a consultation with Joseph from Blue Shirt Banter, who confessed the power forward hadn't been his usual self since returning from injury.

Chris Kunitz was cut based on his poor numbers away from Sidney Crosby. Last year, Kunitz' 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage dropped by seven points without his centreman. This year, that number has risen to 11 percent. Kunitz is a decent player, but many-a decent player can be made to look great with Crosby. We look forward to Sid making excellent players all-worldly.

James Neal and Jeff Carter are seen as the primary replacement options in the case that Stamkos is unable to play. They are both snipers seen to possess the qualities to thrive on international ice. Neal, while still somewhat reliant on Crosby and Malkin for offense, has the sensational shot and physicality to make him a more attractive option than Kunitz.

Eric Staal - a good two-way player, past Olympian, and Hurricanes captain - was a tough player to keep home, but he hasn't looked like the dominating player he can be on enough occasions this year, and the panel decided after some debate that he wouldn't be missed with superior defensive options available this time around. Should injuries strike one of the team's defensive forwards, Staal would be a logical replacement.

Taylor Hall also got ample consideration, as possibly Canada's best offensive left-wing. Even as recently as last month he was seen by the majority of the writers here as a lock for the team, but his nearly Leaf-level possession numbers and highly questionable defensive play (albeit on an overall poor team) were too much of a red flag. In the end, the panel felt that Duchene brought many of the same attributes, but with less risk. Should one of Canada's top offensive wingers suffer an injury prior to the Olympics, Hall is a player the War Room decided could be called upon to fill in.

Finally, Patrick Sharp made a late push for inclusion. His chemistry with Toews, as well as his long track record of excellent two-way play and goal scoring ability made him a tempting candidate. There simply wasn't enough support for his inclusion, forever, and his recent offensive hot streak is seen as too little, too late to warrant inclusion over some of the best players in the world.


Line 1 Stamkos-Crosby-St. Louis

Line 2 Tavares-Getzlaf-Perry

Line 3 Benn-Toews-Giroux

Line 4 Marleau-Bergeron-Couture

Alt Thornton-Duchene

PP 1 Stamkos-Thornton-Crosby

PP 2 Giroux-Perry-St. Louis

PK 1 Toews-Bergeron

PK 2 Marleau-Couture


A wholehearted thank you to all of the SB Nation writers and editors who took the time to contribute to this piece (many weren't quoted), giving us specialized insight into some of the players we don't get to see every day. Thank you as always to and for the possession figures, and to for the shot charts.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for part II of this feature, in which our selections on defense and in goal are revealed, including a couple of players who may not have received more than a token mention in Yzerman's camp.