Canada's Olympic orientation camp earlier this week included what had to be the most impressive collection of ball hockey players ever assembled anywhere on the planet.
The same 45 players who laced up their sneakers, grabbed a pair of gloves and a stick, and pushed an orange ball around a fiberglass floor for walk-throughs Monday and Tuesday make up most of the pool of gold-medal hopefuls for the defending Olympic champions.
Executive director Steve Yzerman will select 25 players, most from that pool but some from the group of candidates who were not in camp, to make up the Canada Men's Olympic team that will compete for its second straight gold medal in Sochi, Russia in February.
After spending three days at Hockey Canada headquarters in Calgary watching, evaluating, listening and asking questions of the management staff, coaches and players, the picture of Canada's Olympic roster came into focus as the attributes Yzerman will be looking for were spelled out.
To make Canada's roster the player must possess four qualities: 1) foot speed; 2) agility; 3) the ability to play a 200-foot game; 4) high hockey IQ.
The first three months of the NHL season will weigh heavily in Yzerman's decision-making, but based on the information available at orientation camp and the qualities necessary to be a part of this team, here is my prediction of what Canada's roster could and should look like:
DAN ROSEN'S CANADA OLYMPIC TEAM
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Call him the de facto No. 1 for now, but he could be the clear-cut No. 1 by the time Yzerman announces the team. It's the perfect situation for the Canucks because Luongo is motivated to return to an elite level and hungry to get back to the Olympics.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
There seems to be zero traction for Crawford despite the fact he won the Stanley Cup and was arguably Chicago's best player throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That will change once he gets off to another strong start for the Blackhawks. Crawford may not steal a game for Canada, but who says he has to? He would give the Canadians a chance to win every game he plays. That's the job of a goaltender.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Price's talent is not up for debate, but is he mentally tough enough to handle the pressure of being Canada's goalie? Even if he is selected as a backup he has to be considered an option to start. He faces scrutiny in Montreal every day, but he succumbed to the pressure in the playoffs last season. His position on this team is tenuous, especially with Mike Smith, Cam Ward and Braden Holtby lingering, but Price will get first crack.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
He's a lock and the likely captain.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
The two-time Stanley Cup champion is as tight a lock as Crosby is and should wear an "A" in Sochi.
Rick Nash, New York Rangers
Nash knows the big ice well and would be going to his third Olympics. Yzerman identified him as part of the leadership core.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
A center in the NHL, expect Stamkos to be on the right wing in his first Olympics. He played right wing at the IIHF World Championship earlier this year.
John Tavares, New York Islanders
Tavares can shift to left wing if necessary, but look for him to be in the middle to start the tournament. He'll play in the bottom six, though, because Crosby and Toews will be the top two centers.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Canada's management and coaching staff understood but were not happy Giroux didn't attend orientation camp because he's rehabbing his surgically repaired finger. It shouldn't hurt his chances to be on the team provided he gets off to a strong start. His versatility is what Canada is looking for.
Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes
The big center might find himself on Crosby's left wing to start the tournament. Chris Kunitz can regale Staal with stories about how great it is.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Canada is loaded at center, but Yzerman said it's important to have natural wings who are adept at playing up and down the wall and getting the puck to the middle. Perry, like Nash, is one of those guys.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
He's big, mobile and could be Canada's fourth center behind Crosby, Toews and Tavares. He'll have to adjust to playing fewer minutes.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks
Couture makes it because he can score, he's smart with and without the puck, and he can skate. He's another center who will be on the wing.
Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks
Sharp has everything Yzerman is looking for: foot speed, versatility (he can play all three forward positions), high hockey IQ, scoring ability and defensive acumen.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning
The disappointment of not making the team in 2010 has driven St. Louis to be there in 2014. As long as he gets off to a strong start, the 38-year-old right wing should be in Sochi. He can play either wing and will be part of Canada's leadership group.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins
He's a sensational two-way center and one of the best faceoff guys in the NHL. Bergeron could be Canada's 13th forward specializing in defensive-zone faceoffs and penalty killing.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers
There didn't seem to be much buzz about Hall during orientation camp, but there should be. He's a strong and fast skater who is starting to figure out the 200-foot game. Hall will impress Canada's management staff in the first three months and play his way onto the Olympic team.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks
He's a fast, low-risk, smart, left-handed shooting defenseman. Keith has everything going for him, making him a lock.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Weber's ability to delivering punishing hits won't be as important as his ability for punishing the puck, which he does better than anybody eligible for this team.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty's game is tailor-made for the big ice. He can move the puck and himself well. He'll join the rush, but his game won't suffer on the defensive end. He'll make the safe play instead of taking the risk.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Provided he avoids a prolonged contract holdout, Pietrangelo, who is a restricted free agent, will be on the team because he does just about everything well.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
Subban will have to be more conservative than he normally is to play on the big ice, where making up for mistakes is harder because of the extra strides it takes to get back into position. That said, the reigning Norris Trophy winner shouldn't change too much because he's already so dangerous.
Marc Staal, New York Rangers
Staal has no doubts he'll be back to his old self to start the season despite lingering blurriness in his right eye. Provided he is, the big, mobile, intelligent blueliner will be in the Olympics. He's a left-handed shot, which makes him more enticing.
Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues
Canada likes him because of his smooth skating and decision-making. The knock is that Bouwmeester, another left-handed shooter, has never won a championship at the professional level and when he went to Turin in 2006, Canada finished seventh. He'll have to raise his compete level in Sochi.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins
There is some thought Subban and Letang are interchangeable and Yzerman will take one of them. It makes sense, but only to a point because Letang is one of those players who is simply too good to leave off this team. Like Subban, he'll have to be more conservative on the big ice. He'd be Canada's fifth righty defensemen, but he can move to the left side if necessary.
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