WILMINGTON — By March 1, 2016, federations participating in next year’s World Cup of Hockey must announce at least 16 players to their rosters. One of the first names Hockey Canada will call is Jamie Benn, one of the NHL’s best left wings.
Brad Marchand could be next.
Canada’s strength is at center. Assuming good health, Olympic gold strikers Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, and John Tavares are guarantees. Steven Stamkos, Tyler Seguin, and Claude Giroux, who were not invited to Sochi, will push for invitations.
But if the Canadians consider players to skate in their natural positions, Marchand will join Bergeron in Toronto. The 27-year-old Bruin, once known as a fourth-line agitator, has developed into one of the league’s top all-situation left wings.
Asked if he was competing for a World Cup job, Marchand said, “Potentially, yeah. Maybe. But I think a lot of it will go on how the season goes and how each player performs.
“There’s a lot of really good players in this league, especially in Canada. Lot of talent, lot of competition. I hope I’m in the running. But time will tell.”
The hate that Marchand once drew around the league has softened to a grudging respect. He’s earned it.
In six games this season, Marchand has two goals and three assists while averaging 18:44 of ice time, fourth among Boston forwards after David Krejci (19:34), Loui Eriksson (19:31), and Bergeron (19:11). It is the most playing time he’s averaged as an NHLer.
Krejci (6), Bergeron (5), and Eriksson (4) are piling up points on the power play. Marchand is not. Only one of his 5 points has come in man-advantage situations, a laser he snapped through traffic and past Mike Smith in Tuesday’s 6-0 drubbing of the Coyotes. This is consistent with his usage.
Last year, Marchand recorded only 2 of his 42 points on the power play. He averaged 0.79 goals per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, a better rate than finishers such as Phil Kessel, Chris Kreider, and Bobby Ryan. Marchand has been delivering at even strength and on the penalty kill, which, by their nature, are more challenging situations than man-up play.
“Every year, he’s one of our leading goal scorers,” said coach Claude Julien. “On a lot of those occasions in the past, he really didn’t play that much power play. That’s a credit to him.”
It would be one thing if Marchand were producing while facing lightweights. With Bergeron as his center, Marchand has been taking on every top line. Usually, the two have done well.
Last Friday, Julien deployed Marchand, Bergeron, and Brett Connolly against Tavares, the Islanders’ best player. Tavares didn’t land an even-strength shot on net in the Bruins’ 5-3 win. Meanwhile, Marchand and Bergeron assisted on Connolly’s first-period five-on-five goal.
Bergeron’s line delivered a similar result against the Coyotes. Shane Doan, one of the line’s targets, recorded just one shot. Anthony Duclair, who also took shifts against Bergeron’s threesome, didn’t land any.
At the other end, Marchand set up a third-period Connolly goal. Naturally, the shift started in the defensive zone. Bergeron forced Tyler Gaudet to cough up the puck along the left-side wall. The turnover was enough to launch Marchand against Michael Stone and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Marchand’s straight-line speed turned a one-on-two rush into a scoring situation.
When Stone closed at the red line, Marchand chipped the puck down the left wing, bounced off the defenseman’s check, and raced into the zone. Bergeron drove to the net, taking Ekman-Larsson with him and opening up a passing lane for Marchand.
Connolly joined the rush, found the other end of the lane, and waited for Marchand’s dish. The puck arrived, Connolly fired, and the shot snapped past Smith to give the Bruins a 4-0 lead.
“I think he was kind of caught in between going to get it and trying to stop me,” Marchand said of Stone. “I was just trying to make a move on him. Luckily I was able to slip by him and not have him knock me off balance or anything. It ended up working out.”
That Marchand turned a defensive stand into a scoring chance has become a regular thing. According to puckalytics.com, Marchand has started 33.3 percent of his five-on-five shifts in the defensive zone, fifth-highest among Bruins after Joonas Kemppainen, Bergeron, Connolly, and Zdeno Chara. Yet Marchand has turned that defensive heavy lifting into a team-best 56.3 percent Corsi For rating, indicating he’s been controlling the puck more than chasing it.
“You want to be on the ice in every situation,” Marchand said. “You want to be a guy they count on to kill a penalty, finish a game off, or score a big goal. We’re excited about that challenge. We embrace it. We seem to play pretty well in those situations.”
Marchand will have Canadian competition, and not just from centers. Rick Nash has been playing left wing. Andrew Ladd, Taylor Hall, Patrick Sharp, and Jaden Schwartz also will be in the running.
Marchand used to be mostly about his reputation. Now, his game, not his mouth, will speak to his World Cup fate.
. . .
Kevan Miller and Kemppainen didn’t practice Thursday because of undisclosed injuries. They traveled with the team to South Florida and will skate on Friday morning . . . Dennis Seidenberg practiced with his teammates for the first time since undergoing back surgery. He is still limited in contact.