CALGARY — Nobody’s saying the deck is stacked against Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle making Canada’s Olympic hockey team, but the Edmonton Oilers roomies are likely wild-card candidates.
There are five or six high-end centres who could easily move over to push them out of the running for a spot on the wings. Still, at least they’ve been invited to the party.
Hall and Eberle are in Calgary for three days of the orientation camp, along with 44 other players. The right-winger Eberle and the left-winger Hall know the Canadian team’s general manager, Steve Yzerman, likes them. So does head coach Mike Babcock.
They’re clearly in Hockey Canada’s crosshairs and the rest is up to them this fall, prior to the team being finalized by New Year’s Eve. Rack up points in concert with a run of Oilers wins and they’ll be noticed.
The players won’t be skating on the European-sized ice surface at Calgary because it would cost more than $1 million in insurance premiums on the contracts against injury and Hockey Canada won’t fit that bill.
But at least they’ll be learning about the Olympic dorms; the packs of wild dogs roaming the streets in Sochi, Russia, as Ken Hitchcock, Babcock’s associate coach, reported; the venues; the drug testing and other stuff about Sochi, in case they’re picked.
Hall, 21, should have been the NHL second-team all-star left-winger behind orientation invite Chris Kunitz, but a bad vote by the writers gave Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals the first-team right-wing selection and second team left-wing. That cost Hall $50,000 in bonus money.
“I’m the youngest guy there and that’s pretty cool,” said Hall. “I’ve never really thought of what other players think of me, but this is an honour, for sure. This is a great first step. The next step is being on the team and that’ll be super hard.”
Hall’s competition on left wing includes Kunitz, Rick Nash, Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic and Patrick Sharp.
Eberle, who was a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy finalist when he scored 34 goals two years ago, had 37 points in 48 games last season, playing with a broken hand for weeks.
He admits he looked at the list of players invited to Calgary to see where he fits in.
“I just have to make it hard for them to keep me off the team, have a great start,” said Eberle. “I’m sure Taylor’s thinking the same thing. I’m sure there are guys who are shoo-ins to make the team, but being named to the orientation camp means you’re in the mix, on their radar.
Martin St. Louis, who is the senior citizen at age 37, is a right-winger, as are James Neal and Jeff Carter, who have played lots in Europe, too.
There’s several forwards — Evander Kane, Jamie Benn, Joffrey Lupul, Jason Spezza, Jarome Iginla — who didn’t get invited, but will be watched, too. Hockey Canada likely submitted a list of at least 60 names of possible players to the International Olympic Committee, but had to limit the camp to a certain number.
The Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux, who backed out of the orientation camp after surgery on his index finger following a freak golf accident, Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal, John Tavares, Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron and Logan Couture are all centres who could be moved over to the wing.
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