Players to Watch in the Olympics

February 17th, 2010 by Fantana Leave a reply »

If you haven’t joined an Olympic hockey pool yet or you just want to look smart in front of your hockey buddies, look no further. This is the blog that will lend you instant credibility and will make you look wiser the Shaq in front of lockerroom of reporters. Here’s my look at some of the top and most underrated players to watch during the Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament in Vancouver.

Jaromir Jagr (CZE) – Jaromir Jagr was one of the most dominant hockey players in recent memory – when he wanted to be. He’s the highest scoring European-born player (goals, assists and points) in NHL history and is very highly regarded by his younger teammates. His skill was never in question, but his motivation and desire usually was. At 38, it’s safe to say that this will likely be Jagr’s final shot at Olympic gold, so I’m sure motivation won’t be a problem for the Czech flagbearer over the next two weeks. I’d love to see one last flash of glory for the player whose long, curly hair captured the hearts of so many hockey mom’s in the 90’s.

Aleksey Morozov (RUS) – One of the reasons why I think many Canadian hockey fans are underrating the Russian team is Aleksey Morozov. He didn’t quite pan out as the Pittsburgh Penguins had hoped, where his best season saw him score 50 points in 74 games. Still, since returning to play in Russia, his game has dramatically improved to a point where he’s the best player in the world not playing in the NHL and has been for some time. Last season in the KHL, he scored 32 goals and 74 points in 49 games. I know it’s only the KHL, but Russia’s captain is much better than most give him credit for. Hypothetically, I bet if he were to join the NHL next year, he would easily be the most sought-after player on the free agent market this summer.

Ryan Getzlaf (CAN) – The big focus for Canada over the past 72 hours has been if Ryan Getzlaf will be in or out of the Canadian lineup. Well, he’s definitely in – for now. He stepped up to answer questions about the strength of his injured ankle Sunday night by scoring 4 points and guiding Anaheim to victory in his final tune-up game before the Olympics. If he can stay healthy, he adds a much more physical and dynamic presence to Canada – far moreso than a player like Jeff Carter. He also makes teammate (and probable linemate) Corey Perry immediately more effective, which will be big on that 2nd line.

Tomas Vokoun (CZE) – Tomas Vokoun had a bit of a lackluster season last year with Florida and this year has been so-so at best. But make no mistake about it – Tomas Vokoun is a very good goalie. He lead the Czech’s to a gold medal in the 2005 World Championships and a bronze medal 4 years ago in Turin. Anybody scoffing at that should think back to how Canada did in that same tournament. He could steal a few games for the Czech’s and that definitely makes the Czech Republic a dark horse in this tournament.

Patrice Bergeron (CAN) – Many were surprised to see Bergeron included in the Summer evaluation camp, and even though his name was buzzed about during the season, many more were surprised when Patrice was actually named to the Canadian Olympic team. The reason he made this team is because he’s a very useful and versatile player. If you’re surprised to see him on the top line with Sidney Crosby, don’t be. Think back to the NHL lock out year where he and Crosby played on Canada’s top line at the WJC. In fact, it was Bergeron who lit up the score sheet and won the tournament MVP award. With Crosby and Nash as linemates, Bergeron looks set to pile up the points.

Jonas Hiller (SWI) – Everyone is on the same page when it comes to the Swiss team – they are a dangerous team but they aren’t true medal contenders. It would be the shock of the Games if they finished on the medal podium. But having said that, I think the Anaheim Ducks management team will be watching Switzerland closely to find out if they chose the right goalie for their future. This tournament will really expose Hiller and we’ll find out soon enough just how good he really is. This tournament could be a big breakout party for Hiller and like Ray Ferraro said on Tuesday, I wouldn’t want to face Switzerland in a quarterfinal elimination game.

Evgeni Nabokov (RUS) – Burgundy says Russia’s great up front, but not so good on the defense and goaltending positions. I disagree and it’s time for ‘Nabby’ to put his money where his mouth is. A strong performance in this tournament would do a lot to elevate San Jose’s playoff prospects, as well as his UFA status this summer. So clearly, the motivation is there. But the big thing with Nabokov is that he doesn’t need to necessarily steal games for Russia, he just needs to hold them in the game if Russia’s offense stalls. Think Grant Fuhr in Edmonton’s glory days.

Peter Forsberg (SWE) – We’re all getting a little sick of Peter Forsberg aren’t we? He’s probably the only person in history who’s staged more career comebacks than Brett Favre. We’re constantly hearing about his annual comeback attempt to the NHL yet, he’s still a player to watch because this is only a two week tournament. Anyone who can miss an entire NHL season, return in the playoffs and flat-out dominate the way he did in Colorado in 2001-2002 is worth keeping on eye on.

Here’s to a great tournament. Let the best team win and for the aforementioned players to make me look good!

Your Reporter in the Field,

Fantana

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8 comments

  1. GelatinousMutantCoconut says:

    hey, it’s not just burgundy. I said it too!

    Nabovkov isn’t bad. And your right, he just needs to be solid enough to win. But can he be that solid against Crosby, Nash, Iginla, Getzlaf, Staal, The Sedins, Zetterberg, Backstrom, Franzen, Forsberg, Alfreddson, Parise, Kane, Ryan and Kessel? It’s not like he has a bunch of Stanley Cup runs to fall back on.

    He’s not in the same league as Luongo, Brodeur, Lundqvist, or Miller.

    And the Russian defense is a mirror of the Russian offense…top heavy with no depth. Gonchar and Markov are all-world talents with the puck, but weak without it. Volchenkov can shut down the best, but after them, there’s no one to compare to with Pronger, Niedermayer, Boyle, Weber, Keith, Seabrook, Doughty, Lidstrom, or Kronvwall.

    As for that much lauded offense….you know what they say about too many cooks in the kitchen. Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Semin all want to shoot the puck. yes they have Datsyuk and Malkin to set them up, so yes they’ll be lethal. But Canada and Sweden are much deeper and have their own share of game-breaking talent. I’ve listed them above.

    The Russians are massively overrated.

  2. Champ says:

    After last night I would have to say Jerome Iginla has now made it onto that list. He looked real good.

  3. Burgundy says:

    I don’t want to base everything on one game, but I was underwhelmed with the Russians. Canada appeared far stronger and aggressive in their respective game.

    I barely noticed Datsyuk or Volchenkov last night, too. And Nabokov’s 2nd goal against was pretty bad. Of all the Russians that impressed me most last night (other than Ovechkin, of course), it’s either Morosov or Afinogenov.

    @ Champ – Iginla played great last night, but are you shocked? When you play with Crosby and other world class talents, a guy like Iginla will tear it up. Nice to see!

  4. Fantana says:

    It should be an interesting tournament and I’m eager to see how Russia stacks up against some of the stronger teams in this tournament. The thing about their lineup that makes them dangerous is that they DO have depth but nobody seems to want to recognize it. I don’t understand this. Alex Radulov and Max Afinogenov are both strong playmakers and I believe that Sergei Fedorov can still be an impact player in a checking capacity.

    Their defence isn’t as strong as Canada’s, no question there, but with such a fast offence and transition game, I think it will be good enough to win.

  5. Burgundy says:

    With the kind of defence Russia has (or lacks), I question how strong their transition game will be. I don’t think their D can keep up with their forwards.

    Good points on Afinogenov and Radulov… pretty obvious why people have forgotten about Radulov… most people never knew who he was when he played in Nashville. Ray Ferarro made a good point on Afinogenov’s effort level for his Country being much higher than for any standard NHL club.

  6. Sens19 says:

    After watching the Russia game, I have to say their firepower was amazing but come to think of it we matched their goal production and we didnt let any goals in (and no offense to Latvia but imo Norway is considered a somewhat stronger team). If Russia wins gold, Nabby has got to perform heroics for the team. He’s done it before but I have a feeling that if he goes through one bad game that’s the end of him.

    Also, another player that I feel raises the level when it comes to international play is Kovalchuk for Russia or maybe its just cause he’s been playing for Atlanta for so long….

    And oh I agree with Burgundy just cause ;)

  7. Burgundy says:

    Yessssssssssssssss!!

    We talk a lot about Russia’s forward depth … is it a good thing? I barely noticed Malkin (except that goal he got) or Semin all game. Malkin, Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are all used to playing entire powerplays. I wonder if that hurts these players getting into games (except Ovechkin. He’s always in the game). I understand Russia has changed their PP lines for tonight’s game. Should be pretty nuts to watch.

  8. Fantana says:

    Hey Burgundy,

    Malking and Semin were barely noticeable all game – true. But isn’t that the point of having depth in a lineup? Depth is really just a safeguard to mitigate an ‘off-game’ from one of your top line players.

    So if Malkin and Semin don’t show up to play or just aren’t effective, other players like Morozov or Radulov can step up and put some pucks in the net.

    I still feel like Canadian fans in general aren’t aware of how strong the Russian team is. It will be very, very difficult for Canada to beat them, should these two teams square off.

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