My Team Canada Olympic roster: Neal, Staal on, Couture, Thornton off

Rory Boylen
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One day away from Team Canada announcing its roster, I’ll take one last crack at my own picks. There are a couple changes from the last list published one month ago and I’ve topped this one off with the extra skaters I think should be included.

So, without further ado, here is whom I would have on my final Canadian roster and what my lines would look like.

LINE 1 (LW-C-RW)
James NealSidney CrosbySteven Stamkos
My thinking: For the first time this year, I have Neal on my final team. It’s impossible to overlook him any longer. He’s one of the best scorers in the NHL when he’s healthy and has played with Crosby before. I’d rather take Neal than Kunitz for that reason (even though Neal plays more often with Evgeni Malkin). Having Stamkos on the other wing would give Crosby two lethal snipers to get the puck to. If it turns out Stamkos can’t play, I’d bump Claude Giroux into his spot on the top line and put one of my extras on the second line.

LINE 2
John TavaresJonathan ToewsClaude Giroux
My thinking: This line has it all: speed, smarts, playmaking, sniping and two-way play. Tavares would be the elite goal scoring presence on this line, following the Stamkos/Neal combo on the first line, while Giroux provides the same, but with better speed. Toews is a natural fit as the second line center behind Crosby and could play with anyone on this team.

LINE 3
Jamie BennRyan GetzlafCorey Perry
My thinking: This line remains untouched from my last listing because I salivate at the thought of these three coming together. The size and cycling ability of this trio would be a nightmare for opposing defences to handle. Getzlaf and Perry are tough enough on any regular NHL night, but add Benn to that duo and you suddenly have something even more intimidating. Can you imagine the shallow Russian defense handling these three bodies? I wouldn’t give them many defensive zone starts though – I want them in the O-zone as often as possible.

LINE 4
Eric StaalPatrice BergeronPatrick Sharp
My thinking: My four centers are carved in stone, but I found it really hard to fill out the last two spots here. On one hand, I very much want Logan Couture, Matt Duchene and Mike Richards on this roster, but on the other, Sharp and Staal are both excellent skaters capable of being either productive producers or capable checkers and both have won a Cup. Even though Staal isn’t having his best year, he’s still scoring at a respectable pace and also has good size. Bergeron is the best faceoff man in the NHL and is a perfect fit on the fourth line for Canada.

EXTRAS
Martin St-Louis, Matt Duchene
My thinking: There are an awful lot of good players being left off this team, but that’s just how it’s going to be with Canada. Here are my reasons for picking these two as my extras. St-Louis may be the oldest guy here, but he’s got 20-year-old speed, impeccable playmaking ability and, if the team struggles out of the gate, you could shuffle your lines and slide St-Louis in with Stamkos to try and kick start something. As for Duchene, he’s got the wheels as well and has been emerging as a high-end player for the Avs all season. Again, if the team struggles right away, Duchene is a player you could put on any line to add an extra gear. But, man, it was really tough for me to keep a proven winner like Mike Richards off this team.

DEFENSE PAIRING 1
Duncan KeithShea Weber
My thinking: I’m going with a lefty/righty split on all my pairings and this is the best one. This pair is a good mix of power, speed, passing and scoring.

DEFENSE PAIRING 2
Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo
My thinking: Even though we couldn’t have seen this four years ago, Bouwmeester appears to be a lock for this team. Familiarity will have a big impact on a few players being selected and Bouwmeester has teamed up with Pietrangelo in St. Louis to form one mighty duo. May as well carry that over to Sochi.

DEFENSE PAIRING 3
Marc-Edouard VlasicDrew Doughty
My thinking: I’ve had Vlasic on my predicted roster since August and I’m not about to stop today. He has a safe defensive presence and while his production isn’t world-beating (though it is up this season), Canada isn’t lacking in that skill set on the back end anyway. He would be a nice safety net for Doughty whenever the Kings defender gets involved in a rush. He isn’t a household name like some of those I didn’t include, but if you aren’t a believer now, he’ll make you one by the end of the tournament. Count on it.

EXTRAS
Brent Seabrook, P.K. Subban
My thinking: I bring Seabrook because a) he’s familiar playing with Keith should any changes need to happen and b) because he’s more than just Keith’s sidekick anyway and can make this team on his own merits. On my last Canadian roster picks, I put Subban on, but I think the safer option with him is to actually include him as an extra. That way, if you think you need a spark from the blueline, you put him in and, if you don’t, you didn’t need him to begin with. Subban would be there to light a fire if need be early on, but this team shouldn’t have trouble generating the offense Subban specializes in.

STARTING GOALIE
Carey Price
My thinking: We didn’t know who was going to be No. 1 for Canada when the year started, but we did know that whoever ended up with the job would have won it with his play in 2013. In my opinion, Price won the competition and should go into Sochi with the top job. At the very least he should be a No. 2 option on everyone’s roster, a position from which he could still end up starting the most games.

BACKUP GOALIE
Roberto Luongo
My thinking: There are two clear-cut choices to me and Luongo finishes behind Price only because I’m a little unsure of the Canucks netminder in a one-game elimination tournament. If Luongo is hurt though…

THIRD STRING GOALIE
Since Luongo’s health is now up in the air, choosing the No. 3 goalie becomes a much more important pick. Usually, I’d say bring a young guy to get the experience of being at the event, since he won’t play anyway. But in this case, the third stringer may end up having to play a game, or two. In that case, I’m going with Corey Crawford. He has a Cup and regularly plays behind an elite group of players in Chicago. His save percentage is similar to Mike Smith, who I would not take because of the Phoenix factor. Remember what kind of a goalie Smith was before landing with the Coyotes? Remember what kind of a goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was after leaving the Coyotes? That’s what I’m afraid of with Smith. In fact, I’d take Jonathan Bernier over Smith.

Hit me up in the comments or on Twitter (@THNRoryBoylen) to discuss my lineup, or who I left off.