Consider the kid!

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:38 PM ET

Dion Phaneuf is a longshot to make the 2006 Canadian Olympic team in any capacity.

But that doesn't mean the Calgary Flames' rookie defenceman doesn't deserve to be there when Team Canada defends its gold medal in Turin this month.

With defencemen Ed Jovanovski out at least six weeks and Scott Niedermayer about to decide whether to have surgery before the Winter Games, Canada's management group is preparing a backup plan.

Toronto Maple Leafs blueliner Bryan McCabe will likely take Jovanovski's spot on the roster but even McCabe has been iffy with a partially torn groin, an injury from which he was set to return last night.

Phaneuf's name has been mentioned along with San Jose point man Scott Hannan, Florida's Jay Bouwmeester and Tampa's Dan Boyle as possible depth guys.

Age and experience are the elements that will probably keep Phaneuf, who is among the top 15 in defensive scoring this season, off the main or taxi squads in Italy.

His teammates think that would be unfair.

"People look at age a bit too much," said Flames grinder Darren McCarty. "This kid is beyond his age. He skates as well as anybody, he reads the play as well, he's as smart. Nobody shoots it as hard as he does. He can play in any situation.

"I think that with the experience that he's had in international play, even though it's at the junior level, he could fit right in and he could be an asset to that team."

Andrew Ference agrees with McCarty's assessment age shouldn't matter.

"I wish guys weren't so stuck on that. He plays in the toughest league in the world," said Ference. "The NHL is the toughest league in the world by far. He's a rookie, sure, but is he playing like it? No."

Robyn Regehr, already part of Team Canada along with Jarome Iginla, understands experience always will be a key component in any selection.

"It's probably going to be quite a big factor," said Regehr, who would still love to see Phaneuf become the third Flame on the roster. "It usually is when someone's deciding on a team that's gonna go into a situation like the Olympics where you have a very short tournament and extremely high-pressure tournament.

"But you never know."

Columbus Blue Jackets blueliner Adam Foote, part of Canada's Turin roster, said he's not surprised Phaneuf has been mentioned.

"Looking at his stats -- and what he's done in the past with the world juniors -- he's definitely having a good year," Foote said.

As for Phaneuf, the youngster is honoured to be mentioned but won't lose any sleep if he's left behind this time around.

"It's very nice to be mentioned in the same sentence as that team and to be recognized like that," said Phaneuf.


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