The Candidates for Team Canada in Pyeongchang: KHL Edition
With the World Juniors around the corner and Olympics closely following, Canadian hockey fans are waiting on bated breath to see who will represent us in Pyeongchang…
Without the NHL’s participation in the Olympics, one of the most anticipated international hockey tournaments of the year will likely turn into the Spengler Cup with better media coverage.
With the potential exclusion of Russia at the Olympics the field could be wide open. The Americans will send an NCAA all star squad, while Sweden and Finland will scrounge from their professional leagues to fill out their rosters. But given the sheer volume and reach of their hockey program, there are plenty of options at Canada’s disposal.
Right now Canada has some NHL alumni currently milling around the KHL and the rest of Europe. AHL players not tethered to an NHL contract will also get an opportunity to crack the roster. The team could also get kind of fun with the potential inclusion of CHL and NCAA players. You can have no doubt that general manager Sean Burke and Hockey Canada will not leave a stone unturned.
The KHL in particular is chock full of NHL alumni. It’s a safe bet that Team Canada will have a pretty healthy KHL contingent. After minimal research and reading, here are some KHL players that I have found to have a legitimate shot at cracking Canada’s roster.
Jesse Blacker, Defense, Kunlun Red Star
The former Leafs prospect lit up the DEL last year with a strong 34 points in 46 games for the Nuermberg Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers. He got an invite to Canada’s pre-Olympic Karjala Cup roster so he’s clearly on their radar.
Taylor Beck, Right Wing, Kunlun Red Star
Ever since Nashville traded him to his hometown Maple Leafs in the 2015 offseason, Beck has played in nine different uniforms over the past three seasons. He never did get to suit up with the Leafs beyond an unfortunate media day photoshoot the day that they shipped him to the Islanders. He has since played games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, New York Islanders, San Antonio Rampage, Bakersfield Condors, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Wolfpack, New York Rangers, Yekaterinburg Automobilis and now the Kunlun Red Star. As a Guelph Storm fan I’ve always liked Beck so it would be cool to see him get a shot at making Canada.
Gilbert Brule, Center, Traktor Chelyabinsk
Another player in the long line of Columbus draft busts from the Doug MacLean era (but hey he had Rick Nash!). Seriously, this video has not aged well.
1. It’s so so cringe-worthy that Columbus passed on Kopitar for Brule and
2. The visual of Blue Jackets management fist-pumping when Montreal passed on Brule to take “the goalie” has not aged well. When you already have Marc Denis why would you even want Carey Price?
When all was said and done Brule did manage to suit up in 299 NHL games, but never ended up playing to the level that anyone expected from the former sixth overall pick. In the KHL he has seemingly rekindled his scoring touch (42 points in 53 games last season split between Zagreb Medvescak and Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik). He has been selected for Canada’s pre-Olympic Channel One Cup roster so clearly there’s something there.
Simon Despres, Defense, Bratislava Slovan
The last we heard from Simon Despres, he was a former blue chip prospect (30th overall pick in 2009) that Pittsburgh unceremoniously shipped to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy. After years of injuries and failure to crack the Ducks’ deep blueline, Despres bolted for Russia this offseason. Still just 26, Despres could hopefully show some of the puck-moving skills that made him a hot commodity coming out of junior.
Matt Frattin, Right Wing, Astana Barys
Another former Maple Leaf on this list (but certainly not the last), Frattin played 135 career NHL games with the Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets before moving onto the KHL this year. He already has 27 points in 31 games with Astana Barys this season and could add some scoring punch at the Olympics.
Ryan Garbutt, Left Wing, Nizhny Novgorod Torpedo
305 career NHL games for a grinder who wasn’t afraid to get that elbow in the corners. If he doesn’t get suspended from the tournament for decapitating some small Swiss defenseman on his first shift, then he could potentially add some serious grit to Team Canada.
Quinton Howden, Center, Minsk Dynamo
Florida’s 25th overall pick in the 2010 draft never really lived up to his top prospect label. Howden amassed 97 NHL games over four seasons and just never left enough of an impression to fully surpass to fully graduate from the AHL.
Brandon Kozun, Right Wing, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv
Kozun had a 20 game stint and a cup of coffee with Leafs at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. It was tough for the tiny winger to stick because he was too small to be a role player on a team’s bottom six, but wasn’t quite talented enough to play heavy minutes on a scorers line. Kozun has since been a scoring force in the KHL. His international experience with team Canada (World Juniors in 2010 and Spengler Cup) should make him a front runner for a roster spot.
PA Parenteau, Right Wing, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg
Parenteau is an unfortunate casualty of the NHL salary cap squeeze. PA has the offensive skillset of a top six winger, but at age 34 with declining skills there’s not a tonne of NHL teams looking to commit any money to him. He also lacks the defensive responsibility or a skill to stick in a bottom-six position that most teams fill with cheap young players on entry-level deals.
On the brutal Toronto Maple Leafs team of 2015-16, Parenteau racked up 20 goals and 44 points proving he can generate some offense on a weak team. Should be perfect for the Olympics.
Teddy Purcell, Right Wing, Omsk Avangard
I was kind of surprised to look at Purcell’s HockeyDB page and see that he had a 24 goal, 65 point season in 2011-12 for Tampa Bay. While he’s never even come close to repeating that production, Purcell’s 571 game NHL resume might set him apart among the Island of Misfit Toys that will be Canada’s Olympic camp.
Ben Scrivens, Goalie, Ufa Salavat Yulayev
I was always kind of thrown off by how Scrivens positions his glove. He has tried to explain his style before and seeing as his nickname in the NHL was “The Professor” maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt.
“(..) if you have your glove sideways [with the thumb pointed straight up or even more open] where does the puck come from? The puck comes up from the ice, so the angle it comes at is up so I want to face as much of the glove as possible perpendicular to that path. And then the other thing I was going with, is what’s harder to do – because mostly every goalie is dropping while they are making saves – so what’s harder to do, lift a limb back up against the momentum of your body, or start with the arm up top and keep it there? So you have gravity and momentum working with you more.” (per InGoal Magazine)
Two years ago Scrivens was coming off of a mediocre 2015-16 season in Montreal. He was one of many backup-calibre goalies failing to keep the puck out of the net while Carey Price was on the IR. The book was out on Scrivens and it looked like he just wasn’t consistent enough to stick as an NHL backup. In the 2016 offseason, when the music stopped in the musical chairs game that is the NHL backup goalie market, Scrivens was left sprawled out on the floor after Al Montoya hip checked him out of his seat.
Scrivens ended up defecting to the KHL where he had a solid .918 SV% with Minsk Dynamo last year and has posted an even better .921 with Ufa Salavat Yulayev so far this year. As one of the better goalies in the KHL and Canada’s expected starter for the Spengler Cup, Scrivens is almost too qualified to play in this 2018 Olympics Games.
Maxime Talbot, Centre, Lokomotiv Yaroslav
Talbot could be a perfect role player for Canada. In the NHL he made his money as a checking line energy guy on some very successful teams. Talbot has 704 regular season games and 84 playoff games worth of NHL experience. He also has some international experience having played on Canada’s silver medal World Junior team in 2004, HC Fribourg-Gottéron in 2012-13 Spengler Cup and Canada’s 2016-17 Deutschland Cup team. Oh and he won that Stanley Cup in 2009. Out of the available options at Canada’s disposal for Pyeongchang, Talbot might have the most impressive resume which is… well it isn’t great.
Wojtek Wolski, Left Wing, Kunlun Red Star
It’s a miracle to see Wolski back in skates after this play ended his 2016-17 season with a broken neck and concussion:
Out of all of the candidates vying for a spot on Canada’s roster, the Polish-born Wolski is easily their highest ceiling talent. He has silky mitts and has shown an affinity for racking up points. In the NHL Wolski had scored at least 40 points in four consecutive seasons in Colorado (2006-2010) and even notched 22 goals in the 2006-07 season. He has been a near-point per game five KHL seasons and could be looked upon to help shoulder the load for a good portion of Canada’s scoring.
Unfortunately Canada will be without the KHL’s fourth leading scorer and former Calgary Flame, Nigel Dawes (31 goals and 45 points in 35 games). He is ineligible because he became a Kazakhstan citizen two years ago in order to play for their national team, a decision he made understandably never foreseeing an opportunity to play for Canada).