SOCHI -- If practice Monday was any indication, Jeff Carter has come a long way in four years.
Carter spent Canada's first practice at Bolshoy Ice Dome skating next to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. That trio is expected to be the No. 1 line when the Canadians' quest to repeat as gold medalists begins Thursday at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with a preliminary-round matchup against Norway.
Jeff Carter spent Canada's first Olympic practice skating next to Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. (Photo: John Russell/NHLI)
"It was fun. It was the first day and we don't really know what's going to happen come the first game but I think it was a good skate," Carter said. "I didn't really know. [A coach] put up the sheet before practice. We've got a few days here. It would be great to play with them, but we'll see what happens."
Four years ago, Carter was in Vancouver at the start of the 2010 Olympics, but he never actually made it onto the team. Carter was Canada's insurance policy, an extra player brought to the city where the Olympics would take place. His participation was not needed.
In 2010, Ryan Getzlaf was questionable with an ankle injury but passed his fitness tests and Carter was sent home. It's the answer to a trivia question people will be asking years from now about the last player cut before Canada won the gold medal on home soil.
"It didn't upset me," Carter said. "I didn't really have the greatest year. I was obviously happy to be the guy that had the chance to go there and maybe play. But it was a good experience. It was a learning experience for me, I think, kind of motivated me a little more for this year. It all worked out."
After the Olympic break in 2010, Carter had six goals in his first nine games. He finished with 33 goals that year, but that was 13 less than the season before. After one more year with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carter was traded twice during the 2011-12 campaign but also helped lead the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup.
He had 26 goals in the shortened season of 2012-13, and he's got 20 goals and 37 points in 49 games in 2013-14. Carter has had chemistry in his career with teammate and 2010 Olympian Mike Richards, both in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, but now he'll need to find some with new linemates.
"When I saw him pass [the puck] back today, I didn't know for sure," Canada coach Mike Babcock said of putting Carter next to Crosby. "I said to the other guys, ‘What happens when you do 3-on-2s today? They're always passing the puck. You can pass it right into the corner. You can't pass it into the net. You have to shoot it into the net.' Carter shoots the puck when he gets it in L.A. We expect him to shoot it when he gets the puck. If he's giving it back to Sid, he can't play with him."
Crosby and Kunitz have plenty of chemistry. It's a big reason why Kunitz made the team and why he'll play on the top line ahead of other forwards who are considered by most pundits to be superior players.
Carter can add an element to that line that isn't present in Pittsburgh. Crosby, Kunitz and (when healthy) Pascal Dupuis have formed a terrific trio for the Penguins, but Carter is a natural sniper who could benefit from being on the receiving end of Crosby's playmaking ability.
"They play great together. They've showed that time and time again," Carter said. "I think whoever plays with them just needs to talk to them. Sid's obviously one of the best players in the world, if not the best. He'll tell you were to go and what he needs."