Not long ago, suggesting a member of the Winnipeg Jets for a spot on Canada's 2014 Olympic hockey team wouldn't get much traction. But the continued emergence of Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd has changed that.
Kane and Ladd are far from locks, but both have played their way on to Hockey Canada's radar.
In fact, if Hockey Canada GM Steve Yzerman were to name his team today, he would be hard-pressed not to include Kane regardless of the criteria he's using. Ladd wouldn't be far behind.
"It's too far out for the management team to put together its list for this summer's evaluation camp but I can tell you both those guys, Kane and Ladd, are getting mentioned in discussions," said a Hockey Canada source on Wednesday morning.
Kane is emerging as one of the most dangerous young players in the game, with a cocktail of speed, power and finish. Promise is no longer the word most used when discussing him. Consistent threat, force and dominant have become the new labels.
Ladd may very well be the most underrated player in the NHL. A quiet 30-goal man with size and experience, Ladd is on every GM's depth chart as one of the players on the Jets roster they'd like to add to their own.
It's unlikely Kane or Ladd can crack the top-six forwards, so how Yzerman and his panel of Doug Armstrong, Ken Holland and Kevin Lowe view their abilities to contribute in different roles than they have in the NHL is paramount to any decision.
On one hand, the prospect of using Ladd in a checking role makes him more attractive on the surface. Ladd was a third-line winger on a Stanley Cup champion in Chicago. The Hawks used Ladd, Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg against any and every line in the league that year and they both checked and produced offence.
Ladd is experienced, can play physical and has steadily developed a consistent scoring touch. If Yzerman is looking for a checking winger that can provide offence and experience, Ladd is difficult to beat.
Andrew Ladd could very well be 2014's Brenden Morrow when Yzerman and his team get down to the final decisions.
Kane provides a more complex package of skills. The question will be, can he check? If Yzerman and his panel determine Kane can provide the necessary defensive element for the role they will need to fill, it will be tough to deny him his Olympic moment.
Kane's speed and ability to close and hit, combined with high-end offensive capabilities make him an intriguing fourth-line option.
Every line has to score to provide success at the Olympics and Kane's speed and willingness to crash could prove to be very disruptive at the bottom end of the lineup.
There's a lot of hockey to play before Yzerman begins to seriously formulate his roster and if Kane and Ladd continue the pace they've set so far this season, their cases will only grow stronger.
Kane is driven to succeed and move to an elite class in the NHL. An inclusion on Team Canada would go a long way to furthering that cause. The effect of playing with the world's best could have on his NHL career should be viewed as only a bonus by Jets fans.
Ladd has already won a pair of Stanley Cups and has seen and participated in hockey at its highest level. But Ladd will have some more convincing to do.
Kane, however, would be just 22 when the Olympics take place next winter, with the potential to be back a number of times. There's just too much upside in Kane not to include him on the roster, even if he's the 13th forward.
And now that Kane has picked up the scent of stardom, don't be shocked if he takes the decision right out of Yzerman's hands.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless
NHL player participation is still not guaranteed but if things unfold as expected, Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman will select a 23-player roster (13 forwards, seven defencemen and three goalies) for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. We picked three goalies, seven defencemen, 12 forwards and put together a group of forwards that would compete for the 13th and last forward spot:
Goalies: Carey Price, Montreal; Cam Ward, Carolina; Roberto Luongo, Vancouver.
Defencemen: Shea Weber, Nashville; Drew Doughty, Los Angeles; Duncan Keith, Chicago; Brent Seabrook, Chicago; Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis; Marc Staal, New York Rangers; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh.
Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Claude Giroux, Philadelphia; Jonathan Toews, Chicago; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay; Corey Perry, Anaheim; Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Rick Nash, New York Rangers; Eric Staal, Carolina; Jordan Eberle, Edmonton; John Tavares, New York Islanders; James Neal, Pittsburgh; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim.
The 13th forward: Taylor Hall, Jeff Skinner, Mike Richards, Tyler Seguin, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Jamie Benn, Jeff Carter.