Making an Early Impression

With less than 100 days till the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the pressure continues to mount for Canada winning a gold medal on home soil.

Over the next little while, everybody will become an analyst as a discussion of who should and should not be on Team Canada will intensify considerably. Along with those already on the preliminary 46 man roster, various other players are also saying that they deserve a shot on this team as well.

Dustin Penner has somehow been rejuvenated under Pat Quinn and finds himself among the league leaders in points with 19. Last year’s No. 1 pick, Steven Stamkos, has also played well this season by amassing 11 goals in 13 games.  Despite the great starts for both Penner and Stamkos, both of these players will be long shots at best to make the Olympic team. 

Penner is coming off two very subpar years in Edmonton and has never hit the 50 point plateau during any of his seasons in the NHL. The difficult task for Stamkos will be competing against a deep talent pool that Canada has at center with the likes of Mike Richards, Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Eric Staal and a whole list of others. Despite receiving praise from Yzerman on his performance to this point in the season, the chance of Stamkos making the upcoming Olympics is minimal at best. At the young age of 19, Stamkos will have plenty of opportunities to wear the maple leaf in the future years ahead. Unfortunately for Stamkos, his lack of experience in the NHL and the strong depth of Canadian forwards are definitely counting against him for Vancouver.

Where opportunities might arrive for some players to make Team Canada is through the number of injuries occurring with some Olympic hopefuls.

On the Russian side alone, fans have already seen the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin already go through periods where they will miss games. On a more serious note, Andrei Markov, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar are injured to the point where the Olympics might be in jeopardy for all three players. While not as severe as the injuries with Russia, Canada also has some of their top players missing games early on in the season.

Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Simon Gagne and Jonathan Toews all find themselves missing in action. Of that group, Gagne seems to be the most hurt as he is expected to be out of the Flyers lineup for the next few months. Gagne’s chances for making the Olympic team are all but done as even if he recovers prior to the tournament in February, the team would have already been announced by the end of December.

As far as the other three are concerned, Spezza’s chances of making the Canadian roster were slim to begin with as he was a late addition to the orientation camp roster following an injury to Ryan Getzlaf. To have a legitimate chance at making the team, Spezza would have required an amazing start to the season. Unfortunately that start has not happened as Spezza has gone scoreless in his first ten games of 2009-10.

Staal has not exactly started out the season on fire either as his five points in thirteen games are by no means awe inspiring numbers. Nonetheless, the star forward in Carolina, has a very strong reputation behind him with his Stanley Cup championship and the teams Eastern Conference Final run from last year. The extent of Staal’s injury does not sound too severe as he is only expected to miss a few games.  As long as Staal is healthy come the end of December, he should no doubt stand a very good chance at making the Olympic team.

Like Staal, Jonathan Toews should also be in the mix for Team Canada as well. Currently Toews is injured after suffering a devastating hit from Canucks defenceman Willie Mitchell. Toews should return to action soon though and if he plays to what he is capable of, he might be representing Canada in Vancouver. With Toews being such a complete player, he does not necessarily need to center one of the top two lines for Canada.

Other players also having an impact this season are Ryan Smyth and Patrick Marleau. Despite representing Canada in many International tournaments, Smyth has been passed by many of the emerging young players among Canada’s extensive talent pool. However, Smyth has played very well this year following his trade to Los Angeles as he often finds himself playing alongside Anze Kopitar.

Like Smyth, Sharks forward Patrick Marleau is also having a great start to the season as he stands third in the league in points. The one drawback that Marleau faces though is that he is on a San Jose team that has constantly underachieved in the playoffs. One has to wonder if the lack of post season success by the Sharks over the last few years will diminish the impact of Marleau’s great season to this point among Team Canada management.

Currently, there is nobody outside the 46 man orientation roster that stands a realistic shot at making the Olympics. However, Team Canada has seen some surprises in past years such as Rob Zaumner making the 1998 team and Eric Brewer making the 2002 team. With a little less than two months until the team is named, maybe there will be a player who comes out of nowhere and makes Yzerman’s decision a difficult one. 

Fans can only sit and wait as the deadline to name the Canadian team is fast approaching.    

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