Hockey Canada 2014: 5 players to watch before the Sochi games

Richard Wolowicz

Leading up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, each Thursday will be giving you five players to watch for Team Canada.

P.K. Subban

The biggest x-factor for Team Canada is undoubtedly the young firebrand that is P.K. Subban. For everyone outside of Team Canada's circle, it seems insane that the reigning Norris Trophy winner could be held off the team, but according to TSN, he's a bubble player. The problem seems to stem from Subban being a right handed defenseman, which is where most of Canada's good defensemen play.

However, that shouldn't really matter, because Subban is the best defenseman available to Canada in the first place. Not only is Subban the top offensive defenseman among Canadians, but he's also the best defensive defenseman. His dominance in every zone is not only obvious, but backed by every data point that you can think of. Canada will be watching Subban closely until it names the roster.

Steven Stamkos

A lock for Sidney Crosby's wing on the top line, and the best goalscorer in the NHL, Stamkos breaking his tibia was disastrous news for Team Canada. However, after an initial diagnosis of possibly missing the Olympics altogether, Stamkos is off crutches and in a walking cast just two weeks after his injury.

With that said, walking around on an injured leg is one thing; playing professional hockey at the highest possible level is another thing entirely. Stamkos will undoubtedly be named to the team, with the caveat that he could never play due to his leg. All of Canada will be closely watching Stamkos' recovery.

Chris Kunitz

What? Kunitz? Well, Team Canada sources are saying he's in heavy consideration to play with Sidney Crosby on the top line, and TSN is beating that drum heavily, running a segment on Wednesday of highlights showing Crosby and Kunitz "playing with one mind".

Kunitz is in no way an elite hockey player, and on his own, there's no chance he would ever make Team Canada, but it seems to be a common thought that it's difficult to play with Sidney Crosby, and that Kunitz is one of only a few players who can actually click with him. I don't buy this, and it's hard to believe that Team Canada does, but here we are.

Roberto Luongo

At 34 years old, this is the last opportunity for Roberto Luongo at the Olympics, and he already has one gold medal to his name. The presumed starting goaltender hasn't had a bad start to the season, but nearly two months into the season, Luongo has a below league average save percentage on a struggling Canucks team.

However, each Olympics Team Canada goes back to its previous starting goaltender first, so Luongo will get his chance. Hockey Canada is rumoured to be leaning heavily toward Carey Price, though, and it's not hard to see why, with Price now ranked second among NHL starters in save percentage this year, and a natural athletic ability that's extremely rare.

Cam Ward

There's one slot on Team Canada that has no real front runner, and that's the third goalie slot. It may not end up being important, but it's no secret that Canada hasn't been very confident about its goaltending in the last few years, and a great run by a Hockey Canada favorite would ease a lot of worries in management and among fans. Cam Ward is that guy, but he has to stay healthy, and he has to get back to where he once was.

Ward has missed more than 50 percent of this season and last, and hasn't been among the league leaders since the 2010-11 season. He has looked good since returning from injury, but he has to maintain consistency to be considered over Corey Crawford or Mike Smith.

More from SB Nation NHL:

The Sabres unveil their awful third jerseys

Sweden tops our Winter Olympic power rankings

Can Ovechkin score 70?

Devils going green for outdoor game

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