Steve Yzerman is faced with one of the most difficult challenges of his Hockey Canada career — build the strongest roster that will give Team Canada the best chance to win the gold medal in back-to-back Winter Olympics.
Canada, the only nation to win multiple gold medals since NHL players began participating in Olympic competition at the 1998 Nagano Games, hasn’t won a gold medal outside of North America since 1952 in Oslo, which is also the last time that the country won back-to-back golds.
With more talent to choose from than any other Olympic general manager, particularly on the blue line, Yzerman knows that he will be forced to leave superstar players at home when his team travels to Sochi to defend its Vancouver triumph.
One player who should make the trip to Russia is Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, who despite being the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best all-around defenseman, is not considered by many fans and media members as a lock to earn one of the seven or eight spots on the blue line.
With that said, he is being scouted by the Team Canada brain trust, including head coach Mike Babcock.
Babcock met with Yzerman yesterday as part of process for Team Canada. Focused on Giroux, Subban and Marc Staal as he watched games.—
Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) December 03, 2013
From an offensive standpoint, very few defensemen bring the same level of playmaking skill, scoring ability and smooth skating that Subban provides the Canadiens on every shift. The 24-year-old blueliner ranks third among NHL defensemen in assists (20), third in points (24), second in shots (92) and tied-1st in power-play points (12). His powerful shot from the point and ability to walk the blue line to open up shooting lanes on the man advantage would be huge assets to Canada’s blue line.
Due to the Olympic-sized sheet of ice that is both longer and wider than what’s used in NHL arenas, Yzerman explained to the Canadian Press in July that skating would play a huge role when constructing Canada’s final roster, which bolsters Subban’s case to make the squad.
“I believe there is a priority and importance in being able to get around the ice to skate,” said Yzerman. “That will weigh into our final decisions on putting this team together. There will be more of a premium price on skating.”
In regard to skating, and using speed and quickness to create scoring opportunities and get out of trouble in the defensive zone, Subban is among the league’s best. The way he carries the puck from end-to-end and flies past multiple opponents makes him worth the price of admission each night. It’s the perfect blend of skating and puck-handling skill required to be productive on a IIHF rink. It’s important to note that Subban does have international experience as part of Canada’s gold medal-winning teams at the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championships.
The most popular reasons that people give for why Subban shouldn’t make the Olympic roster are that he takes too many chances on offense, spends too much time in the penalty box and is a worse defensive player than most of the other blue line candidates. While there’s no question that Subban’s offensive game does, at times, result in opponents earning odd-man rushes, he’s become a much more responsible player than he was as a rookie.
His 29 PIMs rank 18th among defenseman, which is less than Los Angeles Kings star Drew Doughty, who’s widely considered as a lock for a first or second-pairing roster spot. Subban’s 33 hits are more than fellow Canadian defensemen Duncan Keith, Kris Letang and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and his 43 blocked shots are more than Jay Bouwmeester, Doughty and Keith. The Canadiens star has a respectable plus-nine rating and plays an integral role on a Montreal team that ranks second in GAA, while also getting 0:44 of ice time per game on the league’s third best penalty kill unit.
Subban wouldn’t be the best defensive defenseman on the Canadian team, but he’s certainly not a liability in his own zone. Based on chemistry, playing styles and other factors, he would be a great fit on the Canadians’ third pairing.
Here are my projected pairings for Sochi:
|1||Drew Doughty (LAK)||Shea Weber (NSH)|
|2||Duncan Keith (CHI)||Brent Seabrook (CHI)|
|3||P.K. Subban (MTL)||Alex Pietrangelo (STL)|
As someone who plays the game with an extraordinary amount of confidence and an amazing two-way skill set, there’s no question that the Montreal defenseman belongs on Canada’s roster in Sochi.
Subban may not be Babcock’s first choice to put on the ice with the score tied in the final minutes of regulation or overtime, but his offensive talent and skating ability are too impressive for Yzerman to ignore.
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