The 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi are less than three months away and each country’s general managers are are starting to make their decisions about who will wear their country’s colors.
Of course, each team has it’s obvious elite players who will be playing for their team. The Toronto Maple Leafs, however, only have one player that could be considered elite in the NHL and is a lock for the Games.
While the Leafs have fumbled their way to an 11-6 record, there are more than a few players that could play their way onto a team or already have. However, the Maple Leafs have a primarily-North American lineup so you won’t see a lot of Leafs wearing Team Canada or USA colors.
Let’s look at four teams and Toronto Maple Leafs who could be on their team.
Nikolai Kulemin, Winger
Kulemin is and probably will always be a lock for Russian hockey teams because of his chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. While he might not be an offensive player for the Leafs, when he lines up beside Malkin the offense just comes from him. This is why I think that should Kulemin be traded at the deadline, Pittsburgh might be a very good option for the Leafs to trade him to.
Carl Gunnarsson, Defenseman
Gunnarsson has represented Sweden three times at World Championships but has yet to play for Tre Kronor at the Olympics. With a lot of turnover since the 2010 Games, Gunnarsson might get his shot.
Petter Granberg, Defenseman
A Leafs prospect playing in Sweden, Granberg played for Sweden at the 2013 World Championships. With Sweden not being afraid of playing young players that are playing in their home country, Granberg might get another chance to play for Sweden. The Leafs certainly wouldn’t mind one of their top prospects getting the experience.
Joffrey Lupul, Winger
With the recent injury to Steven Stamkos, there might be an open spot on the forward corps on Team Canada. Whoever steps up their game the most until February should earn that spot. Lupul has been on lists for this edition of Team Canada before but has fell off because of other players playing better. Lupul could very well play his way onto the team with a strong three months.
Jonathan Bernier, Goalie
Everyone has their eyes on Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Corey Crawford and Mike Smith, but Bernier has at least kept his name in the conversation for a spot in Canada’s crease. Crawford and Smith are off to great starts, but whether they can keep that going remains to be seen. Price and Luongo were the preseason favorites. What does Bernier hold above them all? A lower goals against average and a higher save percentage.
Phil Kessel, Right Wing
Kessel was the only sure-fire lock for Team USA from the Leafs entering the season. Sure, he’s had his slump, but he’s battled back to score 10 goals and has added 9 assists for 19 points in 17 games.
James van Riemsdyk, Left Wing
JVR was a maybe for the US entering the 2013-14 season but has done more than play his way onto the team. His chemistry with Kessel will assuredly force Team USA coaches to keep them together and place a play-making centerman between them.
Jake Gardiner, Defenseman
This is the big maybe remaining for the Leafs aspiring Team USA players. He didn’t have the greatest start to the season but has picked up his game as of late. Should he prove his offensive acumen while not being a defensive liability, he could fight his way onto the team, but the odds are definitely against him.