To honor Canada Day, let’s take a look at the best Canadian players in the NHL.
Canada’s legacy in hockey is unmistakable. A healthy portion of the best players of all-time have come from the True North. Usually, Canada Day, which falls on July 1, represents the start of NHL free agency. But in these weird times, it doesn’t.
So to honor the poutine-eating, whiskey-drinking, maple syrup-producing hockey fans up north, let’s take a look at the best Canadian players in the NHL today. If a tournament was held today, who would Canada send to it? Let’s take a look.
This could be a look at the 2022 Olympics as well. Hopefully, it is because the Olympics are best when the best in the world are playing.
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This is the unquestionable strength of Team Canada. That’s not to say their defense or goaltending is weak. Rather, it’s a compliment to how deep and skilled Canada is as far as their forwards. No country can match up against this.
Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid would help form two unstoppable lines on top of the lineup. Joining the former would be his two common international linemates, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. I was tempted to put Mark Stone on Crosby’s line, but why mess with what has worked so darn well in the past?
Meanwhile, the latter would get Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Three of the fastest and most skilled players in the world playing on the same line. Good luck stopping that.
Even their third line would be one of the top forward line for most countries. Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning already form an outstanding duo, so why not keep them together? Complementing them would be fellow Florida resident Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers.
Their fourth line would be getting most of the really tough deployment, but they’d still come out on top a lot more often than not. You’d have three Selke Trophy candidates in Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers, Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the St. Louis Blues.
Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets would be a terrific option anywhere in the lineup, as would John Tavares of the Toronto Maple Leafs. If you’d prefer a savvy veteran who could provide leadership in the locker room, how about Jonathan Toews? The fact that Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall are afterthoughts tells you how hilariously deep Team Canada is.
Traditionally, Canada has been very strong on the blueline in recent years. While they aren’t as strong as they usually are, teams would still have a very hard time scoring goals against this group.
Leading the top pairing would be Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, who is quietly one of the best defensemen in the NHL. He’s coming off a heck of a season for the Blues, as he led all Canadian defensemen in points during the 2019-20 season. Joining him on the top pairing would be Ottawa Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot.
On the second pairing, the left side would feature the eternally underrated Shea Theodore of the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s a perfect complementary defenseman. On his right would be another underrated defenseman in Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Canada almost always goes with pairings that feature one left-handed shot and one right-handed shot. But their third pairing would feature two right-handed shots in Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and Dougie Hamilton of the Carolina Hurricanes. Both had incredible 2019-20 seasons.
Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs would be a terrific left-handed option as an extra defenseman. Ryan Ellis of the Nashville Predators would provide another option on the right side. If you want to be smart and utilize a seven defenseman lineup, Shea Weber might be a smart pick. Just put him on the ice on the power play and lord have mercy on anyone who’s in the way between the puck and the goal.
If Team Canada has a weakness (and it does not), it’s in net. They used to have an embarrassment of riches in net. Remember in 2010 when they were able to go from Martin Brodeur to Roberto Luongo? That said, the 2020 version of Team Canada would still have three very capable goaltenders.
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens would be the starter for several reasons. First of all, he’s still a good goalie, especially if he has a very strong defense in front of him. Secondly, Price deserves the nod because of his international experience. But I’d have him a short leash because there are two quality options behind him ready to step in.
If Canada’s playing at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Carter Hart would get the nod from me. He rarely loses there, as he went 20-3-0 (!!!!!!) at home this season. In a few years, Hart could be ready to grab Price’s throne as Team Canada’s starter.
The battle for the third goalie spot was a fascinating one. On one hand, you have Jordan Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, who has ice in his veins and is a Stanley Cup champion. But on the other hand, you have Darcy Kuemper of the Arizona Coyotes, who has quietly been one of the league’s top goalies as far as save percentage over the past two seasons. I’m going with Kuemper, but Binnington would be a terrific option as well.
Team Canada has been led by Mike Babcock behind the bench in recent years. He coached the gold medal winners in 2010 and 2014, as well as the World Cup of Hockey champions in 2016. But it’s time for Canada to move forward.
Canada would have a plethora of options. Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins is an excellent candidate. Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning is certainly an option. So is Stanley Cup champion Craig Berube of the St. Louis Blues. By the way, those three coaches are your top three leaders in point percentage among coaches.
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Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders is a great option too. He’s won a Stanley Cup and he’d make an already strong defense even better. However, Cassidy seems like the best option by a hair. You really couldn’t go wrong with any of the coaches I mentioned, though.