Hockey Canada named the Dallas Stars general manager as head of its management team for the 2015 tournament in Prague, overseeing a group that's made up of former Washington Capitals GM George McPhee, former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM Claude Loiselle, Arizona Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant GM Pat Verbeek and Hockey Canada's Scott Salmond.
Nill won gold at the world championships as director of player personnel in 2003 and GM in 2004, and while the tournament has changed a bit since then, it doesn't hurt Canada to have someone who knows how the process works.
"It's like the Olympics, you need to live it once to understand it sometimes," Nill said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's a short tournament and an intense tournament. I think that's where the experience really helps."
Nill, a native of Hanna, Alta., and members of his staff have been in contact almost daily as they've begun to consider what the roster will look like when Canada opens against Latvia on May 1. Tight playoff races in the NHL make it uncertain what players will even be available, and then there's the possibility of adding those who get eliminated in the first round.
In a perfect world, Nill said, management will have much of its team put together sooner rather than waiting until the last minute.
"You'd like to have the majority of the team picked before you head over to play the exhibition games," Nill said. "The quicker you come together as a team, the better your chance of success."
The world championships have become for Canada more of a showcase of young players than in the past, and this year will be no different. Natural targets are players 26 years of age and younger, of which there's no shortage of top-end talent.
"We're seeing kind of a turning of the page of the new generation of Canadian players," Nill said. "I think we're going to kind of see that as we put the team together. I think it's kind of a new generation of players that are taking the next step."
Nill would like to start with a few of his own players in Dallas. First-line forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are candidates to play for Canada, as is 26-year-old right-shooting defenceman Jason Demers.
Two of the more intriguing possibilities are Florida Panthers rookie defenceman Aaron Ekblad and draft-eligible junior star Connor McDavid. Nill said those players are "definitely options" and that he plans on reaching out to McDavid's agency to broach the topic, even while wishing the Erie Otters stay alive in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs and reach the Memorial Cup.
"I'm going to leave that door open, talk with his agent and just mention to him that there's a possibility," Nill said. "Preferably he can't, I hope they go to the Memorial Cup, good for him, but if something happens, it's something we'll reach out to (do)."
McDavid said Wednesday after practice that he hadn't given any thought to playing for Canada at the world championships. His focus is on Erie's upcoming series against the London Knights.
Nill said the process of choosing a coaching staff is just getting under way. Last year Dave Tippett of the Arizona Coyotes was the head coach, with Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets and Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils serving as his assistants.
Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Rob Blake ran the management team for the 2014 tournament in Minsk, with help from the Flames' Brad Treliving, Philadelphia Flyers' Ron Hextall and Hockey Canada's Brad Pascall, now one of Treliving's assistants in Calgary.
Nill said he'll count on McPhee's expertise this time around and lean on the others for varying viewpoints.
"Pat Verbeek, Claude Loiselle and Sean Burke all bring something different," he said. "The nice thing is they're out there seeing games every night. They know the players, they're well-respected in the game, a lot of them have international experience. It's a good group, they've done a good job identifying the players, so we're looking forward to it."
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