Dare to dream, Winnipeg Jets fans.
If everything goes according to plan — and that's a mighty big "if" given the unpredictable state of our world — the puck is set to drop on the 2022 Winter Olympics hockey tournament exactly one year from now. For the first time since 2014, NHL players are slated to take part.
And it says right here a whopping 10 current members of the Jets organization are in contention to hit the ice in Beijing.
Woah, woah, woah, you might be saying. Sure, Winnipeg's 7-3-1 start to the season is encouraging, but let's not start putting all these guys on a pedestal. Or, in this case, a podium. To which I would argue that perhaps we take for granted the wealth of talent that call Bell MTS Place their home, and how they stack up on an international stage.
So let's dust off the ol' crystal ball and take a gaze into the not-too-distant future, shall we, on who looks like a sure-thing, who has serious potential and who might be on the bubble to carry the proverbial torch and compete for gold, silver and bronze on behalf of the Jets.
And, for added fun, I'll give you my projected Canadian and American rosters at the end.
G CONNOR HELLEBUYCK, United States — Not only is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner a lock, you can hand him the keys to the crease as the nation's No. 1 netminder. This isn't exactly a deep position for Canada's top rival, but Hellebuyck is the cream of the crop. Candidates to back-up the 27-year-old Michigan product include veterans John Gibson (Anaheim), Ben Bishop (Dallas, currently injured) and Thatcher Demko (Vancouver). ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 100 per cent
F KYLE CONNOR, United States — Another slam-dunk. Connor, 24, has quickly developed into one of the best pure scorers in the NHL, and I'd expect to see him on the left side with Toronto's Auston Matthews, with perhaps Patrick Kane on the right, as the No. 1 line. Won't that be a whole lot of fun? The Americans look to have a deep roster, and Connor, the pride of Shelby Township, Mich., should play a pivotal role. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 100 per cent
F MARK SCHEIFELE, Canada — He's likely not going to be on the top line, but such is the price you pay for being from a country that is rich with offensive talent. But there's no question the Ontario product will have a spot on the roster, even if it might mean sliding over to the wing. Scheifele, 27, lit up like a Christmas tree when asked about the prospect earlier this week. "Obviously, it’s always in the back of my mind. You see them talking about it on TSN so it fires you up a little more. It pushes you to be your best and obviously be selected to that team," said Scheifele. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 100 per cent
D LEON GAWANKE, Germany — You're forgiven if your first reaction is "Who?" But the 21-year-old blue-liner, selected by the Jets in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, quietly had a terrific rookie season with the Manitoba Moose in 2019-20 (four goals, 22 assists in 48 games). The QMJHL grad, who had 57 points in 62 games with Cape Breton in 2018-19, My advice: Just give the puck to Leon Draisaitl and let the reigning NHL Hart Trophy winner do all the work. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 100 per cent
F BLAKE WHEELER, United States — I suspect this will be a hotly-debated pick by yours truly, which is why I'm going to couch this carefully. The Blake Wheeler we're currently seeing play for the Jets has no chance of making it. But I truly believe he's playing through some kind of injury, which has hampered his movement on the ice and made him a defensive liability at times. If that's the case, I think there's a a few more miles left on the 34-year-old from Minnesota — and potentially a spot on the wing. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 60 per cent
D JOSH MORRISSEY, Canada — Eighteen months ago I would have told you Morrissey would absolutely be a 2022 Olympian. Now? I'm not so sure. The 25-year-old from Calgary struggled last season, and he hasn't looked right through Winnipeg's first 11 games this year. Rather than the confident, aggressive defender we got used to seeing, he's much more tentative these days. Canada's blue-line will be stacked, and competition is tough. He'll definitely need to pick up his play, and fast. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 50 per cent
F PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS, Canada — He is not on Winnipeg's active roster just yet, but make no mistake: Dubois, 22, is a hell of a hockey player. Perhaps he has to wait until 2026 to make his Olympic debut, but the sky appears to be the limit for the big, fast, highly-skilled two-way centre from Quebec who is expected to start wowing Winnipeg fans next week, now that he's finally emerged from quarantine after the blockbuster Patrik Laine trade with Columbus. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 40 per cent
D VILLE HEINOLA, Finland — This is going to grind the gears of many Jets fans, considering he can't even get into the NHL lineup right now. (Quick disclaimer: The one game he played this season, on the top-pairing with Josh Morrissey in a 4-1 win over Ottawa, was Morrissey's best game. I'd like to see the duo get another look). But the 19-year-old Heinola is certainly on the radar. Given his tender age and lack of experience, it may be as a depth guy — think seventh or eighth defenceman — but the recent star of the World Juniors has an extremely bright future . ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 30 per cent
D NEAL PIONK, United States — A bit of a dark horse candidate, for sure. But consider this: The 25-year-old from Minnesota was the 10th-highest scoring defenceman in the NHL last season, and is currently tied for 12th in that category early in this season. He's also part of Winnipeg's top-pairing so far, with the steady Derek Forbort. His play is definitely opening eyes around the league. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 20 per cent
F ANDREW COPP, United States — A big dark horse candidate, for sure. But how can you not love the way the 26-year-old from Michigan has developed from a pure defensive specialist to a legitimate two-way player who makes any line better, can shift from the wing to centre, can kill penalties and be a net-front presence on the power play, and has tremendous leadership skills. He's earned his way into the conversation. ODDS OF MAKING THE TEAM: 10 per cent
You may have noticed one prominent name missing from this list — Nikolaj Ehlers. And while there's no denying he has Olympic-level skill, Denmark has never qualified for the Winter Olympics in hockey. If only they could find a way to clone the speedy, skilled 24-year-old.
Here's how I see Team Canada and Team USA shaping up, with 14 forwards, eight defencemen and three goaltenders on each, along with a handful of guys who likely just miss the cut.
MCINTYRE'S TEAM CANADA
FORWARDS: Mathew Barzal, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan MacKinnon, Brad Marchand, Mitch Marner, Connor McDavid, Ryan O'Reilly, Brayden Point, Mark Scheifele, Steven Stamkos, Mark Stone, John Tavares
ALSO IN THE MIX: Sean Couturier, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Taylor Hall, Bo Horvat, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
DEFENCE: Thomas Chabot, Drew Doughty, Cale Makar, Josh Morrissey, Alex Pietrangelo, Morgan Rielly, Shea Theodore, Shea Weber
ALSO IN THE MIX: Aaron Ekblad, Dougie Hamilton, Kris Letang, Colton Parayko
GOALTENDERS: Jordan Binnington, Carter Hart, Carey Price
ALSO IN THE MIX: MacKenzie Blackwood, Darcy Kuemper
MCINTYRE'S TEAM USA
FORWARDS: Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, Alex DeBrincat, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Jake Guentzel, Patrick Kane, Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, J.T. Miller, Max Pacioretty, Joe Pavelski, Matthew Tkachuk, Blake Wheeler
ALSO IN THE MIX: Blake Coleman, Andrew Copp, Jack Hughes, Anders Lee, T.J. Oshie, Brady Tkachuk
DEFENCE: John Carlson, Quinn Hughes, Seth Jones, Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, Jeff Petry, Jaccob Slavin, Zach Werenski
ALSO IN THE MIX: Adam Fox, Ryan McDonagh, Neal Pionk, Jacob Trouba
GOALTENDERS: Thatcher Demko, John Gibson, Connor Hellebuyck
ALSO IN THE MIX: Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.