Winnipeg Jets fans could be very busy watching their favourite players during the Olympics, with as many as eight from four countries expected to be on their nation's early watch lists.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd was officially invited to Team Canada's orientation camp on Monday while Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and Jacob Trouba were asked to the Team USA camp.
Olli Jokinen is on the Finnish list while Michael Frolik and Ondrej Pavelec are expected to get a look from the Czech Republic organization.
Manitobans Travis Hamonic and Jonathan Toews as well as Kenora's Mike Richards have been invited to Canada's camp.
"I was hoping for this. I don't know if I would say I was surprised. I thought I played well at the world championship this spring," said Ladd. "I hoped I had done enough there to showcase myself and to be on this list and then have consideration for the final roster."
'It's an exciting time. Vancouver was one of the best memories I have as a hockey player'
Ladd has made the first step toward becoming an Olympian. However, it's the next hurdle that matters most.
He will take little comfort in knowing he was invited to Team Canada's orientation camp if he isn't selected for the Olympic roster. It's the trip to Sochi, Russia, and the chance for gold that is the big prize.
Toews is the only automatic in the bunch. He was arguably Canada's best player when they won gold in 2010 and will be on the team unless injury prevents him.
Next up among the locals will be Richards, a durable and versatile two-way centre who has added a Stanley Cup to his resume since the last Olympics.
"It's an exciting time. Vancouver was one of the best memories I have as a hockey player," said Richards. "I would love to get the opportunity to represent Canada again at the Olympics."
Ladd is a longer shot and will have to be on fire from the beginning of next season right up until the plane leaves for Sochi. He must turn GM Steve Yzerman's head and pop out coach Mike Babcock's eyes.
'It's the pinnacle for Canadian hockey players... to represent your country'
Finally, there is young Hamonic, out of St. Malo. He's a bruiser who can skate and has developed into one of the better shutdown defenders in the NHL. Depending on what Team Canada is looking for in a seventh or eighth defenceman, he's got a shot.
Ladd was among 47 players invited by Team Canada to attend a camp in Calgary running Aug. 25-28. Management will unveil their plan for the tournament as well as rules and regulations. Babcock and his staff will show the players the systems they plan to use at the Olympics.
Getting the invite to the camp only puts Ladd in the mix and guarantees him nothing.
"It's an honour to be mentioned. It's the pinnacle for Canadian hockey players to be selected to represent your country, especially at the Olympics," he said. "Everyone understands that your play at the start of the year will dictate whether you make the team. It's stiff competition and you just want to give yourself a chance to make that final roster."
Team Canada will take three goalies and 22 skaters to Sochi. The breakdown of forwards and defence is to be determined, but 13 forwards and nine defence or 14 and eight are logical.
"I haven't looked at the list of players invited, but I don't think you really have to look at the list to understand the quality of hockey players Canada has, the options they'll have," said Ladd. "Hopefully I can put myself in a position to make the final list."
Byfuglien is the most intriguing of the American Jets invitees. His talent is obvious and he could be a huge benefit to the U.S. squad. His conditioning is an issue, however, and could hold him back. Or this could be a carrot to spur him to become a complete pro. It's an angle worth watching.
Bogosian and Wheeler will have legitimate shots, and how they start the season will be key. They won't be assigned spots but will have to play their way onto the team.
Trouba had a good showing for the U.S. at the world championship last spring, but it's not even known if he will crack the Jets roster or start the season in the AHL. He's a wild card.
Ladd, 27, played in 48 games with the Jets last season, scoring 18 goals and 46 points to lead the team.
In 532 career NHL games with Carolina, Chicago, Atlanta and Winnipeg, he's scored 138 goals and 166 assists, winning Stanley Cups with the Hurricanes and the Blackhawks.
He won a gold medal at the 2005 world junior tournament in Grand Forks, N.D. He has also played for Team Canada in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the IIHF Men's World Championship.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless
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