By Allan Muir
Scouts show up in press boxes every night around the NHL, and while guessing why they're there is a time-honored tradition, it's hardly news.
Unless, of course, those scouts are from Team Canada. And they show up in the Center of the Hockey Universe.
With both Steve Yzerman and Peter Chiarelli set to be at the Air Canada Centre for tonight's Toronto vs. Anaheim tilt, it's fair to speculate on who they came to see.
The Ducks boast two players who will be in the Sochi mix: forwards Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
Getzlaf might be in tough because of Canada's embarrassment of riches at center, but he
has 18 goals in 58 points in his last 52 games and brings an imposing presence to the position. Perry is a natural winger and a pure sniper, a quality Yzerman has said he'll prioritize after Canada's offense failed to click in Torino.
The two obviously have great chemistry, something that might enhance their value as a two-fer given the lack of practice time before the Winter Games. Slide someone like Taylor Hall on their left flank and you'd have a quick, dangerous, physically imposing third line that would cause the opposition fits.
But honestly, there's not a lot to see there. Both players have an established body of work, and are already on the short list. The heavy scouting on them will probably come in the final few weeks before the roster deadline of Dec. 31, just to get a fix on their current play.
So who did the Canadian brass fly to Hogtown to see? How about Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier and forward Joffrey Lupul?
Bernier, who gets the start tonight against the Ducks, wasn't on Canada's radar to start the season, but he's played his way into consideration. And, from his perspective anyway, the scouts couldn't have picked a better night to see him. He's coming off a solid performance against the Blackhawks on Saturday night and was 2-1-1 with 2.28 GAA in four career starts against Ducks while with the Kings.
His .938 save percentage ranks third among Canadian stoppers, and his 2.14 GAA stands fifth. It's almost inconceivable that he would see action in Sochi, but he'd be an intriguing option for the third spot.
Lupul ranks fifth among Canadian forwards with 10 points through nine games and, like Perry, is a gifted sniper. He's not the quickest skater, and he tends to disappear for stretches, but when he's on his game he's as dangerous as they come, with a quick release and an eye for any opportunity to shoot.
Most of the forwards Canada takes will be centers, and most of them will be playing out of position. As a natural winger, Lupul might have some advantages that are, if nothing else, worth exploring.
Neither player was invited to Canada's summer camp, but team management made it clear that the real evaluation period would be the NHL's regular season. Based on how well they've played so far, both Bernier and Lupul deserve a closer look.