Saturday, February 8, 2014

Players to Watch at the Sochi Olympics

zach parise olympics USA
National pride was on the line for Canada in Vancouver four years ago and a similar pressure exists in Sochi for the Russians. The added element to this year's Olympics should make for another memorable hockey tournament.

But there is more to these games than just Russian national pride and/or Canadian interloper heartbreaking. There are plenty of players with things to prove or compelling storylines of their own.

Here are some of the interesting players to follow during this year's Olympics.

P.K. Subban

It's unbelievable that Subban was such a controversial pick for Canada even after winning the Norris Trophy last season. With what could be a contentious contract negotiation this off-season, the Olympics are a big stage for Subban to put in an f' you pay me performance. You know Ed Snider is probably going to watch carefully and get his offer sheet ready in advance.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Ever since his decision to retire from the NHL, Russia has been waiting with patriotic glee for Kovalchuk to lead their country in the Olympics. I also wouldn't put it past Russian officials to be pumping Kovalchuk full of crazy drugs to turn him into a modern-day Ivan Drago. There probably isn't an athlete in the Olympics with more pressure on him than Kovalchuk. It's gold or gulag for Kovalchuk.

Phil Kessel

Only a bit part at the last Olympics, Kessel has blossomed into one of the league's most dangerous players over the past three seasons. He'll assume more of a primary role this year and should form a dynamic duo with Leafs teammate James van Riemsdyk. How the two perform with a true top line centre will be interesting to watch.

Daniel Sedin

The Sedins have been apart before. Daniel missed nearly 20 games in 2009-10 and Henrik responded with his most dominant season, scoring 112 points and winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP. There may have been another time that Henrik forgot to invite Daniel to dinner, but that's pretty much the extent of their time apart.

Now at 33, how will Daniel play without his freaky telepathic connection with Henrik? For almost the entirety of their careers you could slot anyone on their right wing and get a 30-goal season. Will Sweden have trouble finding the right chemistry on a line with Daniel when in years past they could have selected pretty much anyone?

Teemu Selanne

Sochi will be the sixth Olympics Selanne suits up for, and even though he's slowed down considerably at age 43, he's still a treat to watch. Enjoy the last Olympics Selanne ever plays in. Although you never know, Selanne might just have a little Chris Chelios in him and we might see him in South Korea in 2018.

Ryan Suter

Since the NHL began recording time on ice statistics in 1998-99, only two players have cracked 2400 minutes in a season, Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom. Suter is currently on pace to log more than 2446 minutes, which would be just slightly less than the record 2449 minutes Leetch played for the Rangers in 1998-99.

 As the linchpin of the American defence, don't expect Suter to get any reprieve in Sochi either. How the major minutes he played for the Wild during the first 59 games of the season affect him during the Olympics, and how the Olympics affect him during the stretch run will be interesting to keep an eye on.

Tomas Kaberle

Probably no one cares but me, but Kaberle is still kicking! He'll represent the Czech Republic after spending most of this season and last with Rytiri Kladno. As one of my favourite Leafs of all time, I still have warm feelings for Kaberle and am excited to see how my old pal is doing.

Roberto Luongo and Carey Price

There's no bigger positional battle in the Olympics than in net for Canada. Price has performed better this season, posting the highest save percentage of his career (.924), better than Luongo's .918 mark. But Luongo has the experience, backstopping Canada to a gold medal on home ice in Vancouver. But much like there was a changing of the guard in 2010 as Luongo took over for Martin Brodeur, establishing himself as Canada's premier goalie, the same might happen this year if Price takes hold of the job and pushes aside Luongo. 

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