After months of negotiations, the NHL and IIHF finally reached an agreement that will send NHL players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. This will be the first time since the 2014 games in Sochi that the NHL will be sending its players. Of course, that also means this will be the first time that Connor McDavid will be available to participate and help Canada capture a gold medal. That means we can start having a conversation about who should play on a line with McDavid in Beijing and it’s really fun to think about.
I’ll start with the obvious top candidate: Nathan MacKinnon.
It’s pretty clear to me that MacKinnon is the second-best player in the league and the idea of putting him on a line with McDavid for 20 minutes every single game is just too good to pass up.
At first, I was even more excited about this duo getting the chance to play on Olympic-sized ice but according to the agreement, this tournament will be played on NHL-sized ice. Still, having McDavid and MacKinnon flying up the ice next to each other in Team Canada sweaters will have every Canadian hockey fan drooling and every opposing defenseman shaking in fear.
Who else could fit on that line? Well, the short answer is anyone. That duo could produce with any reasonable candidate that you could think of. But who are the best options? Here are my three favourites:
SIDNEY CROSBY: Screw it, just play them all together at once. Put Crosby down the middle, throw McDavid and Mackinnon on his wings and just let them run wild. Can you imagine how much fun this would be to watch? I can’t even wrap my head around how dominant they would be.
Crosby is incredible defensively and his ability to work the puck below the goal line would line up perfectly with how MacKinnon and McDavid like to operate in the offensive zone.
Now, playing you’re three best centremen on one like maybe isn’t the best idea, but they could still a combination of Brayden Point, Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O’Reilly, John Tavares, Sean Couturier, Matt Barzal, or Mark Schiefele down the middle. They’d be fine.
MARK STONE: Having Stone on the top line would require someone to play on their off-wing but like with the Crosby idea, I don’t really care. I think having Stone go hard to the net while MacKinnon and McDavid run things around the perimeter in the o-zone would make life very difficult for the opposition.
On top of his size, Stone posses a great one-timer and if they were to run MacKinnon on the right side and Stone on the left wing, it would open up plenty of opportunities for him to fire off one-timers. Considering the fact he’d be on a line with two of the best playmakers in the NHL, there will be plenty of opportunities to fire the puck and Stone is the kind of player who wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of those chances.
BRAD MARCHAND: Marchand has proven to be one of the most consistent offensive producers in the NHL over the last handful of seasons. His 256 points since the start of 2018-19 ranks 5th in the league and in the last three seasons, the only Canadian-born forwards with more goals than Marchand are Mackinnon and McDavid.
He is used to playing with high-end players as well. I could see Team Canada wanting to keep him on a line with Patrice Bergeron for the sake of chemistry, but if they were open to moving him up onto what I’m assuming would be the “top line”, then I think he would be a tremendous fit with McDavid and MacKinnon. He has the speed and offensive skill to keep up with the two of them and his willingness to go to the tough areas of the ice would only create more space for the other two to work their magic.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Jonathan Huberdeau, Matt Barzal, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares
THE CHRIS KUNITZ ROUTE
Listen, I do not think there is much of a chance that Zach Hyman actually makes the Olympic team. When you consider how many elite-level players there are for them to choose from, it would be easy to understand why Team Canada’s management would simply roll the dice and take the risk that McDavid will find natural chemistry with whoever they throw onto his line. I mean, the guy has produced with Ty Rattie before, I’m sure he would find a way to make an impact with one of the names I mentioned earlier.
We also don’t know if Hyman and McDavid will play together or if the two will instantly click, but let’s say they do. What if Zach Hyman is scoring at a crazy clip and is on pace to have a 40 goal season when Canada has to make their final roster decisions? Could they look at him as a viable option to make the team? He could also kill penalties and that’s something they may need to have on their roster.
I do not think it’s likely that Hyman is travelling to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, but the fact that he will get a chance to play with McDavid this season means that he needs to be added into the conversation for now.
What’s your take? Who should #97 be on a line with on Team Canada?