Scouts assess Olympic hopefuls

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:01 PM ET

The National Hockey League's army of pro scouts have criss- crossed the continent this autumn, watching the same 414 games as Team Canada's braintrust.

But the scouts might not reach the same conclusions as Wayne Gretzky and Co. this week in Philadelphia as the latter meet to pare the original list of 81 players closer to the final 23-man roster for the Turin Games.

Nick Beverley, a scout for the Nashville Predators, has seen all the wonderboys -- Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal and Jason Spezza -- and thinks one or all should get a shot.

"If you want to grow, you have to be ready to make changes," Beverly said.

"You can't always rely on the same guys. The chemistry of two years ago might not be the same today."

Craig Button of the Toronto Maple Leafs disagrees.

"If you're asking me if I'd take players who have played well in that pressure situation as opposed to taking those you hope will play well, then I'll take the former," said Button, the former Calgary Flames GM.

"(The medal round) is a knockout tournament and you need players who are unafraid in that environment."

All were in agreement the aging Steve Yzerman did the right thing by stepping aside this week, feeling he'd be a detriment. One scout who wished to remain anonymous wondered if Mario Lemieux would get the hint.

The same scout is not sure Gretzky will fill the Yzerman/Lemieux hole with Spezza, who was tied for tops in league scoring entering last night's games.

"Wayne just saw Carolina play his team and Staal scored an unbelievable goal. With Spezza, you have to contend with the Heatley factor (in other words, where would one be without the other). But if you put one of Spezza or Staal with Heatley and Jarome Iginla, that's your A line.

"There are going to be problems deciding on a second-line centre and who is going to be the top left winger.

"I wouldn't want to be one pulling the trigger picking this team."

Of players not there in 2002, Button thinks the Lightning trio of Vince Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis are ones who could make the jump. (Button, as Flames GM, released St. Louis in 2000.)

The defence appears to be more of a closed shop. Ed Jovanovski, Rob Blake, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer are expected to retain their jobs from Salt Lake City, while Wade Redden was on the 2004 World Cup champions. Scott Hannan and Robyn Regehr have made strides, which makes it that much harder for Toronto's Bryan McCabe.

"McCabe's not bad but I think the talk of him getting picked is being powered by the Toronto media," one scout said.

In goal, most scouts forgive Martin Brodeur's slow start with the Devils.

Beverly acknowledged Brodeur has struggled but pointed to the changes in both the game and the loss of Niedermayer and Scott Stevens as big adjustments.

"He's still the guy to beat," Beverly said.

Roberto Luongo and Jose Theodore have been mentioned most as the backups and/or challengers to the No. 1 job but 2002 vets Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour have also impressed the scouts.

"What's Luongo won yet?" one scout asked. "I don't think a guy such as Ed has played his way out of the picture."


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