TENCER: Oilers forwards making strong case for Sochi
Dan Tencer looks at a trio of Oilers forwards who are making a strong case for inclusion on the Olympic roster
Let’s state the obvious before we even get going here: Team Canada is going to have an excellent team in Sochi and it will be extremely difficult to make it, especially for first time Olympic hopefuls. With that said, three young Oilers forwards are making strong enough cases to warrant consideration.
If he keeps going at this rate, it’s going to be really tough to keep him off the team. Extensive international experience for Team Canada (Eberle has already worn the Canadian jersey 7 times in international competition) should give Eberle a big boost in consideration, too. Not only has he represented Canada an impressive number of times given his young age, he’s also come through for them on big stages and been a part of some impressive medal wins.
On the larger ice surface, the management and coaching staff for Team Canada will be looking for speed, smarts and solid two-way play from their forwards. Though he’s not the fastest player under consideration, Eberle is certainly one of the sneakiest, with a knack for finding open space and an excellent release on both forehand and backhand. He’s got 23 points on the season and is right in the thick of the points race amongst Canadian forwards fighting for a depth spot.
Defensively, Eberle is better than he might get credit for in some circles, and has spent an average of 1:42 per game this season on the penalty kill. He was a plus player in the month of November and is an impressive +7 on the road this year.
In short, I think he’s got a really complete resume working in his favour and a solid month of December would make the decision very interesting.
Perhaps the least likely of the three to make the team because of Canada’s seemingly infinite depth at center ice, Nugent-Hopkins has come back from his shoulder surgery as strong as the team had hoped.
He’s posted 21 points in 25 games and his 15 assists put him 7th amongst Canadian forwards in that category. His plus/minus might not show it, but he’s a stronger defensive player than the average onlooker might realize before watching him closely, with his only glaring weakness being in the face off dot.
With fantastic vision and elite playmaking ability, it’s not hard to imagine what Nugent-Hopkins could do in a trio with the likes that we’ll see on the Canadian roster. He’s got 8 points in his last 5 games and if he keeps it up through December, the numbers alone ought to at least have him on the radar.
How does 100 points in 100 games strike you? That bang on point-per-game average is exactly what Hall has posted in his last 100 games. Team Canada will certainly be looking for consistent, reliable production to break a potential tie between players that have had a strong month or two, and Hall will fare well in those comparisons.
There’s no question that the larger ice surface makes it even more tantalizing for Team Canada to have Taylor Hall on its roster. The most explosive of the three young guns on the Oilers roster, Hall would be flat out fun to watch on the attack on an Olympic size rink.
While Hall might have some “all around game” questions to answer, one can certainly imagine him being added to the roster as a weapon in situations where the team needs an aggressive push or a spark.
He’s got the lowest point total of the three, but his 19 points have come in only 20 games and he’s right in the mix with a big chunk of the Canadian hopefuls when you reflect the statistics in points per game.
There’s still a lot left to be decided in the race for the final spots on the Canadian roster, and the month of December is going to be make it or break it for the guys battling for the final few spots. In order for one of the Oilers young guns to lock up a spot, they’ll either have to get extremely hot and clearly separate from the pack or they’ll have to stay reasonably hot and hope Team Canada brass opts to leave an older, perhaps slower, player home in exchange for some youth. Let’s not forget that Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe will be part of the decision making process and have the ability to go to bat for his guys.
And, while we might see one of them in Sochi in 2014, I think it’s a very reasonable bet that we’ll see all three of them crack the roster in 2018.