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Photo Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Mangiapane should be a strong candidate to make Team Canada at the 2022 Olympics

The Calgary Flames have a budding star on their hands in Andrew Mangiapane.

The 25-year-old winger is currently tied for second in the entire National Hockey League with 15 goals in 19 games this season.

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Who else has 15 in 19? Why, none other than Alex Ovechkin, who recently passed Brett Hull for fourth place on the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring leaderboard.

Ovechkin has been a mainstay at or near the forefront of the Rocket Richard Trophy race for nearly every season of his lengthy NHL career. Edmonton Oilers cornerstone Leon Draisaitl, who currently leads the league with 18 goals in 17 games, is a former 50-goal scorer who also has an Art Ross Trophy to his name.

Mangiapane is, of course, far less decorated a player than his two closest goal-scoring contemporaries. Forget 50 goals in a season: Mangiapane just surpassed the 50-goal threshold for his career earlier this month. He’s never received a single vote for any NHL award (although that will likely soon change).

Also, let’s be real: Mangiapane is unlikely to continue scoring at his current pace. Through 19 games, he’s taken 48 shots and has scored on a league-leading 31.3% of them. Mangiapane is a good finisher — a great one, even — but he’s not that good.

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That said, Mangiapane’s baseline almost certainly doesn’t resemble that of a third- or even second-line NHL forward. His production has steadily improved since he broke into the league and he scored at a borderline first-line rate last season despite ranking sixth among Flames forwards in average ice time (ATOI) per game.

Shockingly, Mangiapane is playing even less this season, although the Flames have generally opted for a more equitable distribution of playing time under new head coach Darryl Sutter. He still ranks sixth on the team in total ATOI but that figure has shrunk to just 15:07 in all situations.

Mangiapane has seen a similar reduction at 5-on-5 play, going from an average of 12:56 in his 56 contests last season to just 11:10 to start the 2021–22 campaign. For some reason, the likes of Tyler Pitlick and Trevor Lewis have averaged more ice time than Mangiapane at full-strength this season.

Lewis and Pitlick have been two of the Flames’ least effective forwards at 5-on-5 this season, particularly in the offensive zone. Among Flames skaters with at least 10 games played, their on-ice expected goals for per 60 rates (xGF/60, using Natural Stat Trick‘s model) respectively rank second- and third-last on the team. They also haven’t been strong enough defensively to offset their offensive shortcomings.

Mangiapane has been slightly more impactful defensively than both Pitlick and Lewis but his offensive results have blown those of almost everybody else on the Flames out of the water.

With Mangiapane on the ice at 5-on-5, the Flames have outscored their opponents 14 to 8 and have controlled the expected goals margin 11.24 to 7.5. His 3.18 xGF/60 figure currently places second on the Flames. It’s been smooth sailing all around for Mangiapane this season.

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Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) model makes a similar case for Mangiapane. The GAR model assesses players with isolated values reflecting their contributions in six different categories: even-strength offence (EVO), even-strength defence (EVD), power-play offence (PPO), shorthanded defence (SHD), penalties taken, and penalties drawn.

He currently ranks second on the Flames — behind only Elias Lindholm — with 6.9 total GAR, 4.3 of which comes from his even-strength offensive value. Only 18 players in the entire league — including Ovechkin, Draisaitl, Lindholm, and Johnny Gaudreau — have higher EVO GAR ratings.

Mangiapane has also been a strong penalty killer for Calgary, with his 0.7 SHD GAR currently ranking as the best among all Flames forwards. Somehow, Mangiapane currently has a 41.12 on-ice expected goals percentage in his 30 minutes of shorthanded ice time this season. That’s a ludicrously high figure for that game situation, even considering the sample size.

Overall, Mangiapane has been one of the most valuable players in the entire NHL this season.

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Hockey Canada has already committed to taking two NHL forwards to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. Along with defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, centres Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby will be making the trek overseas (provided Canada doesn’t boycott the games, which is hardly a given at this point).

We already know Hockey Canada has considered Mangiapane for a spot on the Olympics roster since before the 2021–22 season started, particularly with his MVP performance at the 2021 IIHF World Championship still fresh in everybody’s mind. After his red-hot start to the year, there’s no way Mangiapane has been cut from the long list (yet) — but he’s still far from a lock to make the team.

A few other Canadian forwards are practically guaranteed to join McDavid and Crosby in Beijing. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron will almost certainly be there, likely as wingers on a tried-and-true line with Crosby. Barring injury, you can be confident proven superstars Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan O’Reilly, Mark Stone, and Brayden Point will all attend.

From there, things become more difficult. Team Canada will bring 14 forwards to the 2022 Olympics; McDavid, Crosby, Marchand, Bergeron, MacKinnon, Huberdeau, O’Reilly, Stone, and Point make nine. Who will fill those last five spots?

Steven Stamkos is still a fearsome offensive player who deserves to play in his first Olympics after missing Sochi 2014 with a gruesome leg injury. Sean Couturier is a recent Selke Trophy winner who is off to another nice start this year. Mitch Marner has consistently been an elite offensive player in his career. We’ll pencil them all in for spots.

At this point, our roster probably looks something like this:

Huberdeau – McDavid – MacKinnon
Marchand – Crosby – Bergeron
Stamkos – Point – Stone
O’Reilly – Couturier – Marner
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Five names immediately come to mind as candidates to fill those last two spots: Mathew Barzal, John Tavares, Mark Scheifele, Claude Giroux, and Mangiapane. (When hockey analytics commentator JFresh polled Twitter to pick Canada’s roster on Monday, those five respectively placed 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, and 16th among forwards; O’Reilly and Couturier respectively finished 12th and 14th in voting).

Mangiapane is the only winger in that group but he’s having the best season of them all — by a mile. His 6.9 total GAR ranks third in the entire NHL this season. Tavares ranks second of those five with 2.7 GAR.

If there’s anybody on that list to remove from consideration, it’s probably Barzal. He’s driven play to a reasonable extent this season, even if the results (eight points in 15 games) haven’t quite been up to snuff — particularly when compared to Mangiapane’s output.

However, Barzal has noticeably faltered in his own end this season. With Barzal on the ice, the Islanders have surrendered a team-worst 3.35 expected goals per 60 minutes (via NST, among players with at least 10 GP). He’s also struggled to generate much of anything on the power play.

At least Barzal’s defensive struggles have been a relatively new development — at least, to this extent. Mark Scheifele has long been a poor defensive player and his production this season simply hasn’t been good enough to mask that fact.

Scheifele has just two goals in 12 games this year and is now in his fifth consecutive season with a negative EVD GAR rating. His -1.4 EVD GAR ranks as the 22nd-worst among NHL forwards this season.

Giroux and Tavares have been NHL stars for over a decade. Regardless of how well Mangiapane performs this season, there’s a pretty good chance they have the inside track as long as they continue scoring at a point-per-game rate (or close to it). Neither of them kill penalties as Mangiapane does, but they also don’t hurt their teams in the defensive zone.

For now, Tavares and Giroux get the nod over Mangiapane on our mock Team Canada squad; that said, it’s very close. Mangiapane could very well have a leg up over Scheifele and Barzal at this point due to his two-way play and production. No Canadian NHL forward has as many goals this season as Mangiapane’s 15.

The Olympics are still a few months away and we likely won’t learn Canada’s final roster until early January. There’s still plenty of time for Mangiapane’s candidacy to weaken — or become stronger. Injuries may also become a factor.

Either way, Mangiapane has undeniably forced his way into receiving legitimate consideration to represent Canada in Beijing. Even if he doesn’t make the team, the 25-year-old forward has a bright future — and a hefty new contract — ahead of him.