Sochi-Bound Red Wings
There are almost two years until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia however the gears of preparation are well into use. Canada has tapped Red Wing legend Steve Yzerman to return as executive director for Canada. Wings GM Ken Holland will be a key member of Yzerman's support staff, however it's doubtful Yzerman and Holland will be the only two people with Red Wing ties at Sochi.
Of course rosters change and the Red Wings are in for a moderate overhaul over the next two seasons but there are some shoe-ins to be Olympians, some players who would be on the bubble if selections were today and some youngsters that may push for a bid as they develop.
Either Pavel or Evgeni Malkin will be the first line center for Russia as they seek gold in their homeland and I don't envy whoever has to make that decision. Pavel will be 35 by the time the Olympic torch reaches Sochi but there's no reason to think he won't still be the dominant two-way force he is now. Although he didn't have a 'C' or 'A' on his sweater in Vancouver, I'd be surprised if Datsyuk doesn't have a share of the captainship in 2014.
The other Eurotwin is a surer lock to captain his country's squad in Sochi. Zetterberg's offense dipped for much of this season but when Datsyuk went down with knee problems, Hank stepped up and led the Red Wings' offense. Zetterberg still draws matchups against the opponents' top lines and will more than likely be the captain of Tre Kronor unless Daniel Alfredsson and/or Nick Lidstrom are still active and selected.
Flip is having the breakthrough season Babcock, Holland and Nill have been prophesizing for years. He's tied with Zetterberg for the team lead in points and should become a more consistent threat over the next two seasons if he continues to shoot more. Several of the top Finns (Selanne, Koivu, Timonen) are aging and may not be in Sochi which could give Filppula a chance at an 'A' in his second Olympics.
The Mule will be counted upon as a scoring threat in his second Olympic campaign for Sweden. Although he's struggled with consistency, Franzen has a knack for key goals and when he's hot, he's red hot. He should fit in as a power forward on the 2nd line and a member of the power play unit in Sochi.
As much as it pains me to imagine and type, Kronwall will more than likely be the only Nick from Detroit manning the blue line for Sweden in 2014. With Lidstrom probably retired and Mattias Ohlund at 37 years old, Kronwall will be the #1 defenseman for his nation. The Swedish brass may even bestow him with an 'A' but that could go to Douglas Murray from San Jose. Kronwall's offense continues to improve and his penchant for bone-crushing hits is ever present. He will be called upon to lead a younger Swedish defense corps than they've iced in recent Olympics.
The Bubble Boys
Happy was a particularly striking snub at the 2010 Olympics. Several other Czechs in the KHL were chosen over him which some attributed to his poor previous international play. Jiri is on pace for close to a career year offensively and more than likely will be chosen in 2014 as a second line forward. It will be interesting to see if his countryman Jaromir Jagr can fight time and play in his fifth Olympics.
It's not often that a Red Wings goalie is mentioned in talks of playing in the Olympics but Howie has a real strong opportunity to wear the stars and stripes in Sochi. Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller are sure bets to return for America barring injury but Tim Thomas will be 39 and his time in Boston may be coming to an end with the great play of Tukka Rask. Howard is a workhorse and would be a very dependable option for USA. His biggest competition is Cory Schneider (VAN) and Craig Anderson (OTT).
Ericsson's bubble is by far the closest to bursting. He's a preferred whipping boy of myself and many other Red Wings fans however he has an outside track to a spot. The Swedes will be looking to replace at least 2-3 defensemen from the 2010 squad and Ericsson is a big, strong body that can play the penalty kill well. He's not going to provide any offense but could give Sweden an experienced 3rd-pair stay at home defenseman that can play forward in dire situations.
The You Never Knows
I suggest that Helm contact ex-Wing Kris Draper to get a crash course on making the Canadian national team as a fast, defensive-minded center. If Helm can improve his stickhandling and become a more dangerous threat offensively he could reach bubble status easily. He's one of the fastest players in the NHL right now and keeps opponents on alert when he's out on the penalty kill. If he improves in the faceoff circle and can reach 15-20 goals in the future he might just join his fellow Red Wings in Russia.
Unlike his brother Ryan, Drew has a difficult path to making the American team. The Americans often seek as many scorers as possible to counter the perenially stacked offenses from the Great White North and Russia, however Miller could be a 3rd/4th line grinder option. Drew may never be a 20 goal scorer but when he does score it's almost always a crucial goal for Detroit. This is a quality not lost on coaches and GMs and if Miller continues to provide sound defensive play and the occasional key goal he could get a ticket to Russia.
He's the second biggest long shot of this group but there's nothing wrong with shooting for the stars. Nyquist will have his first season with Detroit next year and has been tearing up the AHL this year. Sweden has a solid group of forwards that will return but if Nyquist hits the ground running over the next season and a half he could be the youngest member of Tre Kronor in 2014.
Smith has the hardest road of any player in this category to get to Sochi. Like Nyquist, he has yet to play a full season in the Winged Wheel but he's from the most talented nation, Canada, and plays a position with less slots, defense. Smith has impressed in his short stint with Detroit over the past few weeks and may have a chance to vie for a spot in the playoffs. Canada will probably only lose two defenseman from their 2010 squad (Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer) but there are many defenseman who have been in the league that are ahead of Smith. If Smith has an exemplary true rookie campaign next year, he could get a look but it's still very doubtful he'll be an Olympian before 2018.
Abby is a very similar case to Helm. Where Helm brings speed, Abdelkader provides grit. He's also more used to playing center or wing than Helm who almost always lines up as center. If Abdelkader can score a few more goals and become a more physical player, he has a chance at playing on America's fourth line.
Mursak's chances at a spot on Slovenia's squad rests far less with his play and more with the possibility of his nation actually securing an Olympic bid for the first time. Currently only him and Anze Kopitar (LAK) represent Slovenia in the NHL. He would be a definite member if Slovenia makes it to Sochi.
You may be doing the same eye roll you did when you saw Ericsson's name and I wouldn't blame you. The Czech Republic isn't very deep on defense but Kindl hasn't done much to impress either. Kindl will be mired in a fight for playing time with Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson and Brendan Smith next year and possibly this spring once the playoffs begin. He still has potential and may need a bigger role somewhere else to fully develop but if he does grow he could join Jiri Hudler in Russia for the Czechs.
Surprised? Although Lidstrom is just returning from his longest time out due to injury in his career, the Perfect Human is still unrivaled in durability and is still a top-10 defenseman in the NHL at 41. He would be 43 by the start of the Opening Ceremonies in Russia and few think he will play more than one more season but only Nick knows what Nick wants to do. Lidstrom announced after the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver that they were his last but a guy can dream right?
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