Who Are the Locks? Projecting Canada’s 2016 World Cup Roster

After an incredible couple seasons, Victoria's Jamie Benn is a lock to crack Canada's roster for next year's World Cup.

Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was a standout for Canada at the 2014 Olympics – where he scored the only goal in the country's 1-0 semifinal win over the United States – and won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading point-getter in 2015.

I won’t waste time summing up the merits or accomplishments of Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby. They’re not just locks to make next year’s Canadian World Cup team – it’s a lock either of them will be the team’s captain.

Likewise, I’m not going to wax on about Carey Price, Duncan Keith, or Drew Doughty, either. Barring injury, all five guys are on this team, and you already know how great they are.

Really, there’s not a lot of wiggle room here – other than on defence and maybe goaltending, players’ names here are written with pen, not pencil. That’s why I’ve called them locks. Duh.

Jamie Benn

The Victoria product cemented his status with the Canadian national program in 2014, when he was a head-and-shoulders standout in Sochi. Playing on the largest, most skilled and intimidating line in recent Olympic history, with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Benn scored the team’s only goal in its 1-0 semifinal win over the United States and played terrific, heavy possession hockey for two weeks.

He followed a breakout 2014 season with an Art Ross Trophy last year, edging John Tavares in the final game of the regular season to lead the NHL with 87 points.

The performance was classic Benn – he was dominant in the season finale in Big D, running over Predators pawns all night en route to a four-point hat trick, his final assist coming with just seconds left in the third period.

The reaction from Benn’s teammates, who mobbed him in celebration, showed just what a great captain he must be. It was the coronation for a former fifth-round pick who is just about the most respected opponent in the National Hockey League.

Both Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane have referred to Benn as the league’s most underrated player – maybe not anymore, though – while Jonathan Quick recently called him “the ultimate hockey player.”

from Quick’s column for The Players’ Tribune:

“He can do everything at a high level, but I think he also buys a lot of space for himself on the ice because he’s tough as nails. Benn will hit you. He will fight you. He’s not afraid of anyone. Sometimes the game plan against star players is to rough them up and see if they can take it. With Benn, forget it.”

Steven Stamkos

He’s pretty close to being the Duh category I levelled above on Crosby and Co.

Even if he somehow fluttered to 20 goals next year, Stamkos will be playing for Canada at the World Cup – the sympathy he conjured in 2014, when he sat out Sochi with a broken leg, became a Lifetime movie. He’s a guy who loves the game and has made it known it’s his dream to win Olympic gold and, I’d assume, something like a World Cup gold.

Talent-wise, there’s not a better goal-scorer in the NHL. (Yes, Ovi, I know you’re out there.)

He’s automatic from the slot, but he’s also a much better all-around player than he’s ever gotten credit for. Case in point: his stats were down during Tampa’s Cup run last spring, but he was perhaps the best player (save for Duncan Keith) in the league over those three months covering 200 feet.

He’s a warrior when he needs to be, an uber-ambitious captain eager to prove he’s more than just a hired gun. But also, he’s a hired gun.

Read: ‘Crosby, Toews, Then Who in 2016?‘ by Kolby Solinsky, Black Press

John Tavares

Another duh. Tavares is probably somehow still underrated, even though we all know how good he is, because his last name isn’t Crosby or Toews.

There’s so much skill and he’s so strong with the puck and on his skates. He’s the Larry Bird of hockey; you get the feeling he could hold the puck for whole shifts if he wanted to, but that he gives it up because he’s bored of playing on ‘Easy’ mode.

Claude Giroux

Interesting: the guy who was robbed of a spot on Canada’s last Olympic team, who was the forgotten cast-off hidden behind the Martin St. Louis pity party, is a LOCK for the World Cup.

But absolutely, Giroux is a player, captain, and talent right up there with Stamkos, Tavares, and even Crosby. And with the way the two Pennsylvania rivals teamed up at last summer’s World Championship, we could be seeing the beginning of a very beautiful, odd, unexpected friendship.

NOTE: No disrespect to Chris Kunitz, but can you imagine if Giroux had been playing with Crosby and (Insert Name Here) on the first line in Sochi? I mean, Canada was already dominant enough… but still, that’s the dream.

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry

It’s probably unfair that we just lump these two guys together, as they’re MVPs playing on the same Ducks team – the same Ducks line.

But, whatever.

Too many times at these two-week international bracket tourneys, chemistry is forced or assumed. And sometimes, it doesn’t work when there’s already chemistry there – Chris Kunitz and Crosby didn’t do much of anything together in Sochi, while the Joe Thornton-Dany Heatley-Patrick Marleau combo became an anchor weighing down Canada’s depth in Vancouver.

But with Getzlaf and Perry, you’ve got two guys who are talented and incredible enough to make this team on their own, and two guys who continually show up in the clutch, either for Canada or Anaheim.

Benn was a terrific, towering third Musketeer in Russia. But he’s likely unavailable if Tyler Seguin makes the team. But whoever joins Getzlaf and Perry at the World Cup, they’ll probably breakout, too.

Patrice Bergeron

Let’s not pretend he’s that exciting. But Bergeron is a perfect hockey player – a coach’s dream – who can adapt to any situation, and has throughout his entire career.

Write him in alongside Giroux and Crosby on Canada’s first line for now, and then laugh as you imagine Ryan Kesler diving once he realizes he can’t beat them or take the puck of all three of them.

Shea Weber

I debated Weber here, really.

Yes, he’s a pillar and a perennial Norris candidate. Yes, his shot and his leadership are legendary. He’s a Hall of Famer already.

But injuries and age seem to be taking a tiny toll on Weber, and it’s not far-fetched to worry if he’ll be healthy by the time the World Cup rolls around next summer/fall/whenever.

If he’s available, he’s selected. 100 per cent. And he deserves it on his resume alone. But is that right?

Almost Locks:

Tyler Seguin

He should be a lock, really. But there are always a curious couple names left off Canada’s national teams – which isn’t surprising, since this country could easily fuel two or three or four contending-calibre international squads.

The chemistry with Jamie Benn puts Seguin over the hump, but he’s really excellent enough in his own right to make this roster. He’s up there with Stamkos, Ovechkin, and to some degree Rick Nash as a premier NHL goal scorer. He plays with a dynamic ability you can’t teach, and every shot he takes hits the BACK of the net.

Seguin should get the bump over incumbent players like Nash, Jeff Carter, Matt Duchene, or Patrick Marleau for the World Cup, although I could easily see any of those four making the team, too.

Mark Giordano

Giordano missed out on Sochi, probably passed over for Dan Hamhuis. But the Calgary captain, who was the NHL’s best defender until he went down last season, will have to have a terrible 2015 to be slighted by the Canadian brass again.

Alex Pietrangelo

Again, I’d think Pietrangelo would be a lock, given that he’s been an Olympic level player since just about the minute he cracked the St. Louis Blues lineup. But he’s been forgotten on a couple experts’ projections, sort of disappearing behind risers like Mark Giordano or TJ Brodie, even Marc-Edouard Vlasic or P.K. Subban.

Pietrangelo is a little like Canada’s Ryan Suter, and he’s only 25 years old – which means he’s already the kind of cornerstone blueliner Canada can count on for another decade, if they keep him in the lineup.

P.K. Subban

The last defenceman named to the Sochi roster, even thought he had already won a Norris trophy, has upped his stock with improved play and maturity, even in just the past year and a half.

The defensive lapses are still maybe there, although I think a lot of that is just prejudice tossed at a player who feels offensive and risky. But just because Subban can skate and score doesn’t mean he’s going to be a liability out there, and you’d love to have a guy with his personality and pizzazz (what am I, 60?) on a normally monotone Canadian roster next year.

Subban may have a different style of leadership, but it’s leadership nonetheless. He’s the face of Canada’s most historic, successful NHL franchise – well, him and Price – and there’s a lot more substance to his game than he gets credit for.

Braden Holtby

The goalie situation is always an interesting one, and there are maybe 10 guys who could have a good year and slot into the massive cloud of just-pick-whoever floating below Carey Price, the entrenched No. 1.

Robert Luongo hasn’t gone anywhere or aged at all, in the crease. Corey Crawford just own his second Stanley Cup and is terrific when everything’s on the line – a disrespected Jonathan Quick, I’ll say. Jake Allen and Andrew Hammond are up-and-comers who are stuck in commitees, while Cam Talbot could be terrific and we might never know if the Oilers don’t up their performance by 25 points – ditto for Jonathan Bernier in Toronto. Marc-Andre Fleury is an option, I guess.

Devan Dubnyk is a thought, given the year he just had with Arizona and Minnesota. But then again, think of where Dubnyk was a year ago: if a guy who didn’t have a job can turn himself into a World Cup consideration in 12 months, couldn’t anybody?

But Holtby is the only one who may have carved out second place, with not just a terrific 2014 but really a terrific run since he broke out with Washington in 2012.

Holtby’s reputation has been plagued by sporadically poor performances, as if he’s the only goalie in the world who farts on the pillow now and then, but he’s truly been one of the NHL’s better netminders for the past four or five seasons, and he probably deserved more consideration for Sochi, as well.

I can’t call him a lock, because Luongo and Crawford are two sturdy backups, but Holtby’s the odds-on favourite to benchwarm behind Price next year.

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