We’ve done the Americans, the Russians, the Czechs, the Swedes and the Finns. Now we’ve come to the most difficult country to handicap.
With Canada’s Olympic orientation camp underway in Calgary, we decided to take a closer look at the Great White North’s best players. Some of you will notice differences between these online rankings and the ones in our Yearbook, but that’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla.
So just who are the 10 best Canadian players? It’s a tough job and one that will, no doubt, lead to debate and scathing commentary. But someone has to do it and we’re not afraid to stick our necks out around here. With that said, we offer the Top 10 Canadian players.
10. Eric Staal, C, Carolina
The eldest of the Staals is also the best of them. At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, he’s a load to handle – Zdeno Chara failed to neutralize him in the playoffs – and has puck skills few other players in the world can match. He’s averaged 36 goals over the past three seasons, has been a 100-point scorer, has led the playoffs in scoring and has his name on the Stanley Cup – all that and he’s still just 24.
9. Mike Richards, C, Philadelphia
Simply put, Richards does it all. He can score, pass, hit, win draws, is a maniacal penalty killer, can run a power play and has the intangibles to be named an NHL captain at the tender age of 23. Expect Richards to be a Team Canada stalwart for years to come – a future captain, even.
8. Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay
Injuries and a really poor team the past couple of seasons have derailed Lecavalier’s ascent to indisputable superstardom. But at 29 years old he’s already a 10-season vet with 302 goals and 669 points. He’s also 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, is a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner and has a Cup on his resume.
7. Martin Brodeur, G, New Jersey
Arguably the greatest goaltender in history is still in the mix for No. 1 in the NHL and proved last season even a lengthy layoff can’t derail him. After missing 50 games with bicep surgery, Brodeur jumped back in and won nine of 10 starts, finishing the year 19-9-3, with a 2.42 goals-against average and .916 save percentage; numbers that would have earned him a Vezina nomination if he had played the entire season. The three-time Cup winner and soon-to-be three-time Olympian is still the bar by which all other active goalies are measured.
6. Scott Niedermayer, D, Anaheim
The four-time Cup winner plays the game like few other defensemen, ever. Niedermayer, who turns 36 on Monday, controls the play in his own end by being positionally sound and in the offensive zone with his puck skills and decision-making. All the while, he’s just as likely to end up behind the opponent’s net with the puck a la The Great One, on the half-boards like Joe Thornton (who was hotly debated for this list) or back at the point getting pucks to the net and feathering saucer passes to his shooters.
5. Jarome Iginla, RW, Calgary
Iginla is perhaps the most complete forward in the world. He is a runaway train who mashes foes with his shoulders and fists when needed, but is also an all-world player when it comes to skills. He’s won two Rocket Richard Trophies, led the league in points, is a veteran of two Olympics and has captained his team since 2003.
4. Chris Pronger, D, Philadelphia
It’s fair to say Pronger has not mellowed with age because, at 34, there is no player in the league who scares opponents more. He has won the Hart and Norris Trophies and a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. Pronger is a minute-muncher who simply never lets up, is a devastating hitter, makes a great first pass and has a heavy shot that always seems to find its way to the net. The negatives that come with his demeanor – penalties and suspensions – were raised when compiling this list, but Pronger is just too good to drop down or completely off.
3. Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim
The sky’s the limit for this 24-year-old. He outplayed Joe Thornton in last season’s playoffs – essentially ensuring himself an Olympic berth and knocking Big Joe off this list – and has seen his regular season point totals rise every year of his NHL career. Getzlaf is 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds with a chip on his shoulder. But he’s a deft passer who also has a wicked shot, leads one of the top young lines in hockey and has won a Stanley Cup.
2. Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver
He played for horrible teams on the Isle and in Florida before landing in Vancouver, but still has a career GAA of 2.57 and a staggering .919 save percentage. He’s an every-game starter who thrives when facing lots of shots. Luongo, 30, played in the 2006 Olympics behind Brodeur, but is now the frontrunner to be Canada’s No. 1 netminder.
1. Sidney Crosby, C, Pittsburgh
There are many Crosby-haters out there, but around here you’ll find few. In the playoffs, The Kid showed his game is still maturing. He dominated down low, went to the net with reckless – yet skilled – abandon, made passes like few others in the world and showed he can be an elite goal-scorer if he chooses to be. And he did it all with a passion few others demonstrate, while leading his team back to the Cup final and to its first championship since the heady days of Mario Lemieux and Co.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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