Hockey Canada's Doug Armstrong continues to provide fodder for the discussion around Hockey Canada's offering for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, stating in an appearance on The Athletic's Two-Man Advantage podcast that there are 10 or 11 "locks" for the team.
While that might seem either totally obvious or a little premature given that we only recently learned of the management team's structure earlier this month, what's important to note is that the Armstrong-led player evaluations began in earnest last summer when the NHL reconvened in Toronto and Edmonton for the league's restart.
Still, there are a few selections (perhaps indeed as many as 10 or 11) that could be marked down in permanent ink even if the league was still at a standstill.
So, let's take our best stab at the 40-44 percent of the team that has already been selected in a boardroom somewhere, from most obvious to least obvious.
1) Connor McDavid
As the best player on the planet, this one demands the most obnoxious "duh." It's been six years since McDavid has been showcased in a best-on-best event at the 2015 World Juniors, and the only variables that would prevent him from competing in the Olympics in 2022 is an injury (knocks on all the wood in the world), continued issues related to COVID-19 (locates and knocks on additional wood), or funny business between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF.
Barring anything unforeseen, McDavid will be to many Canadians what LeBron James has been to USA Basketball as the most important single athlete competing at a Games.
2) Nathan MacKinnon
Unlike McDavid, it's not as certain how MacKinnon fits in the lineup — be it beside the Edmonton Oilers' top centre on the No. 1 scoring line or behind him down the middle of the ice. But wherever he lands, MacKinnon figures to be a force on the Olympic stage as arguably the player that elevates his game at a more profound level in big moments compared to anyone else in the league.
3) Sidney Crosby
There's a promise from the executive team that youth will be served, but there is no scenario in which the soon-to-be 34-year-old Crosby won't be selected to the roster. He is the perfect compliment to McDavid at centre in the middle six as a seasoned and still incredibly effective two-way force. He can shut down the opposition, he can feast on mismatches; Crosby remains an indispensable element, even if many of the players he won with at the last two Olympics are far removed from the executive team's radar.
4) Brad Marchand
Marchand is the best left winger in Canada, a driving force behind the most dominant line in hockey over the last few seasons, and Crosby's choice as an ideal linemate, making his selection all but inevitable. Marchand seems like a veteran of the national team, having played such an important role in Hockey Canada's win at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but he has not cracked an Olympic roster or competed in a true best-on-best competition since 2008. Now is the time.
5) Cale Makar
Makar is only in his second season, but the Colorado Avalanche star is very clearly the most talented Canadian defenseman in the NHL right now. This will be even more obvious one year from now.
6) Carey Price
He may not be the No. 1 netminder for Canada, which will also consider Carter Hart, Jordan Binnington, MacKenzie Blackwood and (maybe) Marc-Andre Fleury for selection, but there isn't a scenario in which Carey Price is passed over if it's based solely on merit. As the rock for Canada in the 2014 triumph in Sochi, Price is likely to have the upper hand in the competition for the starter's role. And if he loses out on that, he at very least has all the experience in the world to pass along from the backup position.
7) Brayden Point
The competition will be fierce for the centre positions with Team Canada, but Point feels like a lock for a bottom six role up the middle. Fitting the Crosby mould, Point is a can't-miss selection as one of the most well-rounded and reliable players in the entire league. His versatility means he's capable of anchoring an offensive-focused third line or shutdown fourth line, which will be of immense value.
8) Mark Stone
It's unlikely that Stone holds down a top six role with natural centres likely migrating toward the wings, but the Vegas Golden Knights captain is pretty clearly the best natural right winger available to Canada. This is a defensive wizard, and maybe the most skilled defensive winger in the league, and a high-volume scorer in his own right who exists as a perfect option to help anchor a unit tasked with stone-walling top competition.
9) Alex Pietrangelo
Is Pietrangelo a guarantee to be one of the top Canadian defenders at this time next year? Probably. Will that matter? Perhaps not. Sure it didn't work out between Armstrong and Pietrangelo in negotiations last summer, but that shouldn't impact this selection process. Armstrong knows what Pietrangelo can provide for a team with championship aspirations, and he won't pass up the opportunity to include the former captain of the St. Louis Blues on the Olympic roster.
10) Patrice Bergeron
Bergeron will be nearly two decades into his NHL career by the time the Olympic team convenes next winter, but if it's going to show in his performance, it hasn't yet. Bergeron is still at the centre of the best line and perhaps the best team in hockey. And who else will Crosby and Marchand want on their line? This is a player that doesn't have to prove anything beyond the fact that he's still Patrice Bergeron.
11) Mat Barzal
Barzal might not have the points that players included and not included on this list have accumulated over the last few years, but he's easily one of the top 14 forwards Canada has to offer. He can wreak havoc with his speed, and with his loaded skillset on the man advantage. Barzal could be terrifying playing with the similarly elite talents on the Canadian roster.
Others considered: Mitch Marner, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan O'Reilly, Shea Theodore, Carter Hart
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