Somehow, without NHLers, the coming Olympic Hockey Tournament just won’t feel right.
However, since the NHL (read, Gary Bettman) and the owners don’t want their prized pupils in the Pyeongchang Games, hockey is going to party like it’s 1994 all over again.
That was the last time that Canada used “amateurs” at an Olympic hockey event, before the pros took over in Nagano in 1998.
In five Olympic Winter Games ice hockey tournaments since ’98, fans worldwide were treated to a who’s-who of hockey — a veritable two-week long all-star tournament.
However, it was decreed earlier this year that the NHL would not participate at Pyeongchang, leaving national organizations like Hockey Canada scrambling.
Which means Canada’s entry will be studded with pro players currently toiling in Europe, free agents, minor league players on AHL only contracts and maybe even junior/college players.
We’ve combed the stat sheets from European leagues, minor leagues and the free agent wire and come up with our own prospective club. Here are 20, including 12 forwards, six defencemen and two goalies (with current team and leaugue).
20. G Ben Scrivens – Ufa Salavat Yulayev (KHL)
It wasn’t that long ago that undrafted netminder Scrivens was manning a NHL cage, appearing in 15 games as back-up in Montreal during the 2015-16 season. The Cornell University graduate found work last year with Dynamo Minsk of the KHL, starting 55 games. He won 28 of them and had eight shutouts, along with a 2.28 goals against average and .918 save percentage. Scrivens signed out of NCAA hockey with Toronto and after just two seasons in the AHL became a back-up fixture. He does have some international experience, having played four games during the 2014 IIHF World Championships (1.74 GAA, .938 save percentage).
19. G Chet Pickard – Mannheim Eagles (DEL)
At one time a top NHL prospect, Chet Pickard has yet to play a NHL game. The former junior start with Tri-City of the WHL parlayed a great season with the Americans in 2007-08 into being drafted 18th overall by Nashville. Unfortunately for Pickard, ahead of him on the Predators depth chart was Finnish star Pekka Rinne. So, Pickard plied his trade in the AHL and ECHL for four seasons, with a season in Sweden sandwiched in during the lockout, before heading to Europe for good in 2015. Pickard, who won gold with Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships, is in his third season in the DEL (Germany’s top loop). In 52 games over the last two seasons with Iserlohn, Pickard won 17 and had two shutouts. He is still just 27, too.
18. D Kevin Klein – Zurich SC (Swiss-A)
On the back end Team Canada can at least draw on one very recent NHLer in defenceman Kevin Klein. The 32-year-old native of Kitchener just wrapped his 12-year NHL career, the last four seasons with the New York Rangers. In 627 career games, Klein had 154 points and added another 19 points in 73 playoff games. Originally drafted 37th overall by Nashville in 2003, Klein does have some international experience, having been on the blue line for Team Canada at the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championships. This year, Klein is skating with Zurich SC of the Swiss League and has tallied four goals and three assists in 15 games so far.
17. D Chris Lee -Magnitogorsk Metallurg (KHL)
For as prolific a scorer from the blue line that Chris Lee is, it’s a pity he’s never gotten a sniff at the NHL level. The 37-year-old veteran scored 65 points in 60 games with Magnitogorsk last year and then another 21 points in 18 playoff games. Ever since being a NCAA star at SUNY Potsdam early in the last decade, Lee has been a scorer in every league he’s played in, from the ECHL, to the AHL, German league, Swedish League and now the KHL. He skated with the Canadian team at this year’s IIHF world championships, tallying two assists in seven games alongside NHLers like Colton Parayko and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
16. D Cam Barker – Bratislava Slovan (KHL)
Should he make Team Canada for the Pyeongchang games, Cam Barker will be the highest former draft pick in the line-up. The Winnipeg native was taken third overall by Chicago in 2004, but took a while to become an everyday NHLer, finally making it up for good during the 2008-09 season. He was outstanding that season, scoring 40 points in 68 games, but injuries and inconsistency plagued him thereafter and by 2013 he was headed to the KHL to continue his pro career. In all, Barker saw action in 310 NHL games, logging 96 points. So far this year with Bratislava he has a goal and five assists in 21 contests. Barker has seen international action with the Canadian world junior team (2006) as well as Team Canada at the 2013 Spengler Cup.
15. D Marc-Andre Gragnani – Dynamo Minsk (KHL)
Montreal’s Gragnani was one of those rangy junior defencemen who put up a lot of points in the Quebec league, but never really found solid footing in the NHL. Drafted 87th overall by Buffalo in 2005, Gragnani saw action in 78 total NHL games with four different clubs, scoring 18 points in 78 games. His claim to fame may be the seven points in seven total playoff games with the Sabres in 2010-11. Since leaving North American for the KHL (and one season in Switzerland), Gragnani has found some of that old junior scoring touch. In two seasons with Dynamo (which boasts a couple of other potential Olympians), Gragnani has 50 point in 79 games. He has some international experience, competing at the 2011 IIHF worlds and the 2015 Spengler Cup with Team Canada.
14. D Mat Robinson – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
CSKA are the Montreal Canadiens of the KHL. For Canadian defenceman Mat Robinson to play with them — and produce — is quite an honor. This is a team that retired Vladislav Tretiak’s number, for Pete’s sake. For Robinson, who went undrafted out of collegiate hockey at Alaska-Anchorage, the hockey journey brought him to the Swedish League first, then the KHL. Now in his fifth season in the loop, Robinson has a goal and nine assists in 18 games with CSKA. Robinson, 31, has gotten better with age, it seems, as he’s scored 118 points in 217 total KHL games (he played three seasons with Moscow Dynamo and one with Riga Dynamo).
13. D Keaton Ellerby – Mora IK (Swedish League)
Should Team Canada go the way we think, there has to be room for a big man like Keaton Ellerby (6’5″, 220 lbs.) on the roster. Originally a 10th overall pick by the Florida Panthers in 2007, Ellerby didn’t quite pan out in the NHL. However, he did play in 212 games, scoring 27 points with Florida, Los Angeles and Winnipeg. A native of Strathmore, Alberta, Ellerby is now on his fourth European team in his fourth different league. He started in the KHL with Astana Barys, then went to the Swiss A, the Finnish liiga and now the Swedish League with Mora IK. He competed in the 2015-16 Spengler Cup with Team Canada, scoring two points in three games.
12. LW Mason Raymond – Bern SC (Swiss-A)
By all accounts, Mason Raymond is still a burner, now putting his wheels to use in the Swiss A League with Bern. The swift former Vancouver Canucks draft pick could always score at the NHL level, but injuries and inconsistent play hastened his departure from the league after just four games with Anaheim last year (no points). Yet, in 546 career NHL regular season contests, Raymond scored 115 goals and added 136 assists. The Cochrane, Alberta born winger also tallied 20 points in 63 playoff games. He already has eight points in just his first eight games in Europe, scoring two goals and six assists for Bern.
11. C Derek Roy – Linkopings HC (Swedish League)
That former longtime NHLer Derek Roy can score, there is no doubt. Even at 34, Roy is leading Linkopings in scoring this season with 11 points in 11 games. His scoring touch was what made the diminutive center attractive to Buffalo in 2001, as the Sabres drafted him 32nd overall. He paid huge dividends in eight years with Buffalo, scoring 161 goals and 266 assists in 549 games. He was more of a journeyman his last three seasons in the league, seeing action with Dallas, Vancouver, St. Louis, Nashville and Edmonton (adding 98 more points in 189 games). Since leaving the NHL in 2015, the Ottawa born Roy has played with Bern of the Swiss-A, then Omsk and Chelyabinsk of the KHL last year before heading to Sweden.
10. RW Taylor Beck – Yekaterinburg Automobilist (KHL)
Taylor Beck won’t knock anyone’s socks off with blinding speed or elite hands, but the former junior scoring star does get the job done at both ends of the ice. He was better than a point-per-game in four seasons with Guelph, and wasn’t far off that pace in the American Hockey League either. Beck, drafted 70th overall by Nashville in 2009, wasn’t quite as prolific at the NHL level, with 11 goals and 12 assists in 92 games. After a two-game stint with the New York Rangers and 16 games with their AHL affiliate in Hartford (16 points), Beck signed with Yekaterinburg this season. He has three goals and four assists in 20 games and is +6.
9. LW Rene Bourque – Djurgardens IF (Swedish League)
In hockey terms, Rene Bourque was an undrafted success story. Hailing from tiny Lac la Biche, Alberta, Bourque took his talents to the University of Wisconsin in 2000 and had a decent four-year career with the Badgers. He signed a free agent deal with Chicago in 2004 and spent one season in the AHL with Norfolk, scoring 33 goals. The Blackhawks brought him up the next season and he responded by recording 34 points in 77 games. He would go on to play 725 total games in the league with six different teams, scoring 163 goals and adding 153 assists (he had 12 goals and six assists in 65 games with Colorado last year). Bourque also had 11 goals and four assists in 27 post-season contests. This season with Djurgardens, Bourque leads the team with 10 points (six goals) in 10 games.
8. C Marc-Antoine Pouliot – Biel HC (Swiss-A)
Possessed of elite level talent in junior, Pouliot had the distinction of playing with Sidney Crosby at Rimouski for two seasons. The Quebec City born pivot certainly held his own playing with his celebrated confrere, tallying 114 points in 70 games the last season (2004-05) the two played together for the Oceanic. Pouliot was drafted in 2003, 22nd overall by Edmonton and would go on to play 176 games in an Oilers uniform, scoring 21 goals and adding 32 assists. Pouliot couldn’t stick and after 13 games with Phoenix in 2011-12, he was off for good to the Swiss League, where he has thrived as a scorer. Now in his second stint with Biel HC, Pouliot has 11 points in 13 games and overall has tallied 81 points in 89 games. Pouliot has plenty of Spengler Cup experience for Team Canada, too, and has scored 12 points in nine games over two tournaments.
7. RW Bud Holloway – Skelleftea AIK (Swedish League)
If anything later in life, Bud Holloway can say he skated in one NHL game, with the Montreal Canadiens no less. A former Los Angeles Kings prospect, Holloway had his moment in the sun with the Habs during the 2015-16 season and was gone the following year. He bounced from junior to the AHL early in his career, then went to Sweden to play with Skelleftea for three seasons and a season in Bern, Switzerland. Montreal signed him to a minor league deal in 2015 and he played in 70 games with St. John’s of the AHL (and one with the big club), before going to the KHL initially in 2016 and being entice back to Skelleftea. Since returning, Holloway has 12 goals and 13 assists in 32 games.
6. LW Rob Klinkhammer – Kazan Ak-Bars (KHL)
Good two-way forwards will be needed when Canada takes on the hockey world at Pyeongchang. Lethbridge born Rob Klinkhammer, a veteran of 193 NHL games — and many more minor league and European contests — fits that bill. An undrafted left winger, Klinkhammer parlayed a free agent contract in Chicago’s minor league system into stints with five different NHL clubs, scoring 22 goals and 21 assists, while logging a +1 overall. He last competed in the NHL with Edmonton before taking his act to the KHL with Dynamo Minsk. He had a good year in 2016-17, with 38 points in 47 games and this season he has a goal and eight assists in 21 games split with Minsk and Kazan.
5. C Gilbert Brule – Kunlun Red Star (KHL)
Hockey has taken Edmonton born Gilbert Brule to the absolute four corners of the earth. A first round (6th overall) pick out of the Vancouver Giants junior organization, Brule has played all over North America, in Switzerland, Russia, Croatia and now with Kunlun Red Star hockey club in Beijing. He was a big scorer in junior and had fair success in 299 NHL games for Columbus, Edmonton and Phoenix, scoring 43 goals and adding 52 assists. Under Mike Keenan at Kunlun, he has six goals and eight assists in 16 games, after registering a point in six games with Chelyabinsk earlier this season.
4. RW Matt Frattin – Astana Barys (KHL)
Astana Barys is a scoring powerhouse in the KHL and former NHLer Matt Frattin is one of the more prolific playmakers on a star-laden club. The former Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick is third in scoring for Astana, with seven goals and 12 assists in 21 games. While the Edmonton native was good enough to skate in the NHL, he never put up enough points to match his speed. Frattin scored 17 goals and added 18 assists in 135 NHL contests over parts of five seasons after starring at the University of North Dakota. In college, the minors and now in Russia, he has scored at a higher rate, making him an attractive pick for the Canadian Olympic squad.
3. LW Brandon Kozun – Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (KHL)
Little guys with great hands dot the rosters of minor league and European clubs. Dual Canadian/American citizen Brandon Kozun, all 5’8″ of him, is a good example of a determined kid who made the most of his talents. His NHL career was brief (20 games, four points with Toronto), however, he has scored at a fantastic rate in the KHL. In 2015-16, Kozun tallied 49 points in 58 games with Jokerit Helsinki. He joined Yaroslavl Lokomotiv before the 2016-17 campaign and so far the diminutive winger has scored 27 goals and 40 assists in 81 games. Kozun skated for Canada at this summer’s Sochi Hockey Open, recording two points in three games.
2. C Quinton Howden – Dynamo Minsk (KHL)
Howden is a gunner who has a pretty impressive international record, at least at the junior level. At 25, he would be one of the youngest skaters on this list, too. The former first round pick of the Florida Panthers (25th overall, 2010), couldn’t quite stick in the big league, even though he scored 111 goals in junior with Moose Jaw (in 244 games). He did end up playing 97 games with Florida and Winnipeg, tallying 10 times and adding seven assists. He wasn’t tendered an offer this season, so signed with Minsk, where he has scored 10 goals and six assists in 23 games to lead Dynamo in scoring. As far as international play, Howden twice skated at the world juniors for Team Canada, scoring five goals and six assists in 13 games.
1. RW Jarome Iginla – Free Agent
Whispers have abounded that one of the NHL’s better shooters over the last two decades might be a candidate for Team Canada. Not yet officially retired, Jarome Iginla might take a position with the Canadian squad at Pyeongchang. And his scoring touch would be most welcome. Now 40, Iggy still managed to score 14 goals and 13 assists in a 2016-17 season split between Colorado and Los Angeles. Over his 1,554-game NHL career, Iginla had 625 goals and 675 assists, with another 68 points in 81 playoff games. Adding to that, he would be the only player on a prospective Canadian team with Olympic experience. He won gold with Canada in 2002 and 2010 and over 19 total games scored 10 goals and four assists.