Goalies: Both goalies this year may have had tough seasons with their respective NHL clubs, but this is a good chance for them to get on the right track for next season. Mike Smith is a great example of that. After getting named to Canada’s Olympic roster in 2014, Smith has gone on to struggle with the Arizona Coyotes in league action. His 14-42-5 record with the club this year was one of the worst records in the NHL this year, with his 187 goals against being the most allowed by any goaltender. Luckily for Smith, he can only really go up from here. At his only previous World Championship appearance, Smith finished with a 1.65 GAA and .944 SP in five games before losing to eventual champions Sweden in the shootout of the quarter-finals. If he can’t hold his own, Martin Jones is more than capable of the task at hand. Jones has a career record of 16-11-2, but only managed to record four of them this year as Jonathan Quick’s backup in Los Angeles. His last win, in fact, came on January 12th against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. With the Kings out of the playoffs, Jones will look to secure the gold medal that he was unable to grab at the 2010 World Juniors when he and Jake Allen were unable to overcome the Americans in the finals. This is a strong duo with a lot to prove this year, so expect to see some memorable goaltending performances in the Czech Republic this year.
Defensemen: While Canada’s defense isn’t bad, it’s still considered to be their weakest position heading into the tournament. With Jake Muzzin, Brett Burns, Aaron Ekblad and David Savard, you have four prospects who can all chip in with the offensive side of things. Burns, for a good portion of his NHL career, has been a forward, so his offensive abilities are a given. In fact, his 18 points in 23 World Championship games is more than the rest of the defensemen on this team combined. One thing: he’s the only one with WC experience. Ekblad and Colorado Avalanche blueliner Tyson Barrie are the only two other defensemen with Canadian experience, both at World Junior events. Ekblad, one of the favourites to battle for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, put up 39 points in his first professional season, putting him behind only Phil Housley and and Bobby Orr for best offensive seasons by an 18-year-old defensemen. Speaking of offense, Muzzin posted his best career numbers thanks to his 41 point campaign with the Kings, who, despite winning the cup last year, missed out on the playoff excitement this season. The team does have some talent on the blue line, but without any real number one defenseman, will the team struggle keeping the puck out of it’s own zone?
Forwards: Alright, pick your poison. Do you like skilled goal scorers or talented playmakers? Whoever you choose, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Jordan Eberle and Claude Giroux highlight a roster that has more offensive weapons than most of the tournament combined. If you were to build a pre-tournament top nine, Seguin-Spezza-Giroux, Matt Duchene-Nathan MacKinnon-Ryan O’Reilly, and Eberle-Taylor Hall-Cody Eakin looks like some incredible options to have up front. Throw Philadelphia linemates Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn together on the fourth line with Tyler Toffoli and you will have a fourth line that should prove to be very effective as an offensive checking line. In short tournaments like this, having players who are familiar with each other is very key, especially when many of the European squads have been practicing together for a good portion of the season. As well, having three scoring lines filled with players who played on unsuccessful teams this year does bring up the fact that these guys may have a lot left in the tank. In some cases, this is the first real chance for players to make a run at making the 2016 World Cup roster. If Canada is going to win it all this year, the offense will have to be firing on all cylinders, and that likely will be the case. Update: Oh, you know that Crosby guy? Yeah, he’s coming. Good luck competition.
Projection: The last time Canada went out to Prague, they managed to defeat Sweden 5-3 for World Championship gold. This time, they’re coming in with one heck of a roster. They’ll surely battle for a medal, with expectations of gold looming with every game.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.