TORONTO (AP) " Skating with Brad Marchand over the summer made Sidney Crosby realize how much he would love to have him on his wing.
Coach Mike Babcock had the same idea and made that happen at the start of Canada's World Cup of Hockey training camp. Marchand, Crosby and Patrice Bergeron clicked right away and combined for three goals and four assists in the tournament opener Saturday against the Czech Republic.
Crosby and Bergeron played together at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, so that pairing was no surprise. But Babcock envisioned this trio well before the group got together, no experimentation needed.
Marchand has been a revelation for Canada, though his emergence as a top player didn't happen this month. He had a career-high 37 goals and 61 points last year with the Boston Bruins and has four more 20-goal seasons.
He also has the reputation of being an agitator who gets under opponents' skin.
"He's got to play on the edge, and he's a guy that nobody wants to play against but you want to have on your team," Crosby said.
That begs the question: How much would Crosby thrive with Marchand on his wing full-time? Marchand is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer and will command big money, but with the Pittsburgh Penguins coming off the Stanley Cup and their championship window wide open, the versatile left winger presents an intriguing possibility.
If a move with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury comes as expected before the Las Vegas expansion draft, Pittsburgh will have money to spend, especially if Chris Kunitz and others aren't re-signed. Crosby won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP with Patric Hornqvist and Conor Sheary as linemates, but Marchand has talent at another level.
That's why he's on Canada's World Cup team.
"Marchy is a good man, a good kid, obviously has developed into a real good player," Babcock said. "He plays with great speed and creates turnovers for those guys and with tenacity. The only time he ever gets in trouble is when he tries to do too much."
Alongside Bergeron in Boston or with Bergeron and Crosby for Canada, Marchand doesn't have to do too much. He can play a physical style of hockey that creates room for teammates and also score among the best in the NHL.
"That 37 goals should kind of quiet down any type of bad publicity that he gets or just the fact that he's a pest," Bergeron said Monday. "He's not just that. He's one of those players that makes his linemates better."
The 28-year-old Marchand is representing Canada in an elite world tournament for the first time and looks to be a perfect fit with Crosby.
"I think we both enjoy the play in the offensive zone down low, control the puck, play hard and forecheck and support each other," Marchand said. "He's obviously an incredible player, and he's very easy to play with."
Crosby isn't necessarily that easy to play with because as the best player in the world, he thinks about the game faster than most anyone else. The great Crosby mystery, which is beginning with 19-year-old phenom Connor McDavid, is how to find the linemates who can anticipate where he's going and what he's doing with the puck and move with him.
"He likes to play with guys with speed that turn over and guys with hockey sense," Babcock said. "The other thing is he wants to be on offense, so if you play him with one really intelligent defensive player, as well, like Bergie, it helps him out."
Marchand isn't a three-time Selke Trophy winner like Bergeron, who's one of the best all-around players in the NHL. But the Nova Scotia native is a responsible defender who can make sure opponents don't take extra shots at stars while producing like one.
"The way that he's always the first on pucks and his speed also, his smarts on his ice, his positioning and his shot " he gets the puck off quickly and he's very dangerous in the offensive zone," Bergeron said. "He creates a lot of things on the ice."
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This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings