Owen Power leads crop of young stars expected to boost Canada's men's Olympic hockey team
Roster expected to be a mix of top young players and veteran pros
In a world without the Omicron variant tearing through the National Hockey League, Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Alex Pietrangelo would anchor the blue line for the Canadian men's hockey team at the 2022 Winter Games.
Instead, Canadian hockey fans can look forward to seeing "the next Alex Pietrangelo" — NCAA rearguard Owen Power — with the Maple Leaf on his chest and gold on the line at the Beijing Games.
Power, like Pietrangelo, is blessed with elite vision, size and mobility. Power, like Pietrangelo, slows the game down and passes with precision, serving as an offensive threat on every shift.
Sure, hockey fans would rather witness the best hockey players in the world — such as Pietrangelo, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby — face off for Olympic gold for the first time since the 2014 Sochi Games. But the NHL officially pulled out in December with a record number of players, coaches and team staff testing positive for the coronavirus. (As of Wednesday,104 NHL games had been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns.)
As such, Hockey Canada is scrambling to cobble together a team consisting mainly of Canadians playing overseas, American Hockey League players and a sprinkling of young stars from the junior ranks and the NCAA.
The hope is that youth — combined with recent NHL experience from the likes of Eric Staal, Jason Demers, Eric Fehr and Devan Dubnyk — will prove the magic elixir to turn bronze from the 2018 PyeongChang Games into gold in Beijing.
"Any team that I've ever been on, that has had that success, has had that balance," Staal, 37, said of the blend between fresh-faced newcomers, players in their prime and the sage greybeards.
The deadline to name the team is Monday. From there, Hockey Canada is expected to host a men's Olympic training camp next week in Switzerland before travelling to Beijing.
Team USA general manager John Vanbiesbrouck has embraced a full-on youth movement, naming 15 NCAA players to the Olympic roster. Team Canada GM Shane Doan is not expected to go that far, but here's a breakdown of some of the young guns in contention for Canadian roster spots.
Defenceman Owen Power, 19, University of Michigan (NCAA): The first overall selection of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 NHL draft, Power is arguably one of the best players in the world not currently playing in the NHL. The six-foot-three, 213-pounder collected three assists for Canada at the 2021 world championship, logging 24:13 of ice-time in the gold-medal victory over Finland. He then tantalized Canadian fans at the world junior championship by notching three goals and five points before the tournament was halted due to COVID-19 concerns. All three goals came in one game against the Czech Republic, making Power the first Canadian defenceman to ever record a hat-trick at the tournament. And while he draws comparisons to Pietrangelo, Power also reminds some of Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard Victor Hedman, who has won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Centre Mason McTavish, 18, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL): Blessed with incredible offensive instincts, McTavish is a pure goal scorer with a laser wrist shot and quick release. The third overall pick in last year's draft, McTavish scored two goals and three points in nine games this season with the Anaheim Ducks before returning to the junior ranks for another year of seasoning. The six-foot-three, 213-pounder is a power forward who wins battles on the boards and creates havoc in front of the net. Born in Switzerland, where his dad Dale played professional hockey, McTavish suited up last season for EHC Olten of the second division Swiss league. He scored nine goals in 13 games against older competition, which bodes well for his performance should he make the Olympic team.
Defenceman Kaiden Guhle, 20, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): Selected 16th overall by Montreal in 2020, the six-foot-two, 199-pound Guhle is a strong skater who plays a punishing style on the back end. From Sherwood Park. Alta., Guhle is a shutdown defenceman who excels on the penalty kill and routinely lines up against the top players on the other team. In 23 WHL games this season with Prince Albert and Edmonton, the minute-munching Guhle has three goals and 22 points.
Centre Kent Johnson, 19, University of Michigan (NCAA): Chosen fifth in the 2021 draft by Columbus, Johnson is a silky playmaker who reminds some of NHL star Patrick Kane. The Port Moody, B.C., product has six goals and 29 points this season in 21 games with the Wolverines. At six-foot-one, 167 pounds, Johnson's calling card is his creativity. Should he make the Olympic team, he'll need to resist the temptation to cheat offensively, as the opposition, at this level, will surely make him pay.