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Unlikely players in running for spots on Team Canada

by Tim Wharnsby

TORONTO -- A strong start to the 2015-16 NHL season from Los Angeles Kings forward Tyler Toffoli and defenseman Jake Muzzin, Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone, and Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher has each on Team Canada's radar for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

General manager Doug Armstrong and his management team met this week for the third time to continue to shape Team Canada's 23-man roster for the best-on-best tournament, which begins Sept. 17.

Armstrong said putting together the 16-man roster required by March 1 will be relatively easy; it will contain plenty of players from Canada's gold-medal team from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

But deciding who will join the likes of Carey Price, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Jamie Benn, as well as Steven Stamkos, who did not play in Sochi because he was injured, on the final roster will be the difficult part for Team Canada's management team.

"We've all put a mock team together and we're starting to clarify the guys that have been on that list every time," Armstrong said Tuesday. "But what's great about scouting this and going through this is that there are players that are having really good seasons that weren't on that radar screen that we're really going to hone in on.

"A couple of examples are Toffoli in Los Angeles is playing very well, Muzzin in Los Angeles is playing very well, Stone in Ottawa is a very good player, Gallagher in Montreal. That's just to name a few of the guys that are getting our attention."

Armstrong said he and his management team, which consists of NHL general managers Marc Bergevin (Canadiens), Ken Holland (Detroit Red Wings) and Bob Murray (Anaheim Ducks), as well as Hockey Canada vice president Scott Salmond, will meet in person in January to "solidify" the 16-man roster for the March 1 deadline.

Armstrong and his group will conduct a handful of conference calls before reconvening at the NHL general managers meeting in March.

Armstrong discussed his management team's philosophy for choosing Team Canada's roster. Players like Toews and Crosby who have a resume of international success will obviously be a part of the team, but decisions on players 17 to 23 on the watch list will prove difficult.

"I'd say there's at least 11 guys that's been on everybody's list every time [the Canadian management team has met] and multiple guys that have been on it two of the three times," Armstrong said. "I think the really hard decision for Hockey Canada comes because of the depth of our player pool is that 17 through 23. What we're trying to do is also find out where the greatest competition is and then naming our 16 around that.

"So if we believe that there's more competition in the forward or a defense spot, maybe we'll name an extra goalie or an extra forward or extra defenseman to leave that flexibility into that area of real good competition for the team."

Armstrong was part of the management team for Canada's 2010 and 2014 Olympic teams, as well as some recent IIHF World Championships.

One big difference in constructing the World Cup team is the ice surface. All games will be played on Air Canada Centre's NHL-sized rink, as opposed to the larger international surface from those past tournaments.

Armstrong named Canada's coaching staff last week, opting to stay with Mike Babcock, who steered Canada to Olympic gold medals in Vancouver and Sochi.

Babcock and assistants Claude Julien (Boston Bruins), Barry Trotz (Washington Capitals), Joel Quenneville (Chicago Blackhawks), and Bill Peters (Carolina Hurricanes) will have input on the roster, Armstrong said.

"They have not been involved," he said. "But we are going to, at some point in the near future, share our list of watch players. Basically, we want them to see who we're watching, but we also want them to add any names that we might not have had. Obviously, the further you get away from the play, I think the more emotion that's gone from it from a man perspective. These guys are on the bench, they know these players as well as anyone, so if they want to add a name to the list, then we certainly want to listen to those guys."

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