In Steve Yzerman’s final estimation, Rick Nash’s body of work for Hockey Canada overshadowed a subpar 2013-14 NHL season.
Nash was named to Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team Tuesday morning. The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia will be his third Olympics. Nash was a member of the 2006 and 2010 Canadian Olympic teams.
“Honestly, for us, we know what we’ve got,” Yzerman, the executive director of the Canadian Men’s Olympic Hockey Team, said of Nash during a conference call. “Rick has been a really good player for us. He [was] a really good player on the 2010 team.
“We know the role he played, we were very happy with him in 2010 and we’ve watched him since then. We’re banking Rick Nash is going to play the way he has throughout his entire career.”
The selection of Nash will most likely create a maelstrom of controversy due to a season in which he has recorded 18 points (nine goals and nine assists) in 27 games and was still picked ahead of Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux (38 points), Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis (38 points), San Jose’s Joe Thornton (48 points), Carolina’s Eric Staal (35 points), Pittsburgh’s James Neal (34 points), Edmonton’s Taylor Hall (41 points) and San Jose’s Logan Couture (35 points).
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Couture will undergo a surgical procedure Wednesday to repair a hand injury, and is expected to miss three to four weeks which could put him in line to be an injury replacement should any of Team Canada’s 14 forwards suffer an injury that keeps them from participating in the Olympics.
Injury is something Nash knows all too well, as he missed 17 games earlier this season due to post-concussion symptoms. Still, Yzerman and the Team Canada brain trust believe Nash’s game is rounding into form.
“He’s had some injuries this season he’s overcome,” Yzerman said. “We continue to watch him and we see a lot of the things. ... We’re still expecting Rick Nash’s play to elevate from today [and] get back to playing the way we expect and we’ve seen him in the past. We feel he’s going to do that. We feel he’s going in the right direction with his play. In our opinion his play since coming back from injury has progressed towards that.”
Yzerman also noted roster flexibility with the Canadian corps of forwards — specifically, allowing head coach Mike Babcock to be able to move wingers to their off-wing or to the middle as situations dictate was important in selecting the team. Potentially, Nash, a left wing on the Rangers, could play on the right side for Canada.
Nash will be joined by Islanders center John Tavares. The upcoming games will be the first for Tavares, whose 51 points are third most in the NHL, and his 20 goals are tied for sixth in the league.
Prior to the call, Hockey Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee formally announced the team in a press conference Tuesday morning at MasterCard Centre in Toronto, the training facility of the NHL’s Maple Leafs and the AHL’s Marlies.
Goaltenders Roberto Luongo (Canucks), Carey Price (Canadiens) and Mike Smith (Coyotes); defensemen Jay Bouwmeester (Blues), Drew Doughty (Kings); Dan Hamhuis [Canucks], Duncan Keith (Blackhawks), Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), P.K. Subban (Canadiens), Marc-Edouard Vlasic (Sharks), Shea Weber [Nashville Predators]; forwards Jamie Benn (Stars), Patrice Bergeron (Bruins), Jeff Carter (Kings), Sidney Crosby (Penguins), Matt Duchene (Avalanche), Ryan Getzlaf (Ducks), Chris Kunitz (Penguins), Patrick Marleau (Sharks), Corey Perry (Ducks), Patrick Sharp (Blackhawks), Steven Stamkos (Lightning) and Jonathan Toews (Blackhawks) were also named to Team Canada.
Others named to the Games
Other local notables who were named to Olympic rosters Tuesday include Henrik Lundqvist and Carl Hagelin (Sweden), Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek (Austria) and Mats Zuccarello (Norway). Islander Lubomir Visnovsky was named to the Slovakian Olympic team, his fourth time going to the Games.
The 2014 Games will be Lundqvist’s third Olympiad. Zuccarello, the only NHLer on the Norwegian team, will participate in his second Olympics. Grabner, Hagelin and Vanek will be in their first Olympics. The Devils trio of Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr and Marek Zidlicky were named to the Czech Republic's Olympic team Monday. These Games are the fifth for Jagr, the third for Elias and Zidlicky’s second.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.