With the NHL and IOC (supposedly) close to an agreement to include the world's best players to play in Sochi on February, there will be much debate on who will be representing their respective countries on the world's biggest stage. In this series of blogs, I will tell you who I would have on my team if I was choosing and why. Just like most championship teams, I'll start from the goal and work my way out. I'll begin with the gracious hosts, Team Russia.
Starter: Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
This is a no-brainer. He was the best goalie in the best league last year, and no other Russian 'tender comes close. A big reason why Columbus even came close to a playoff spot last years is because of Bob. He's solid, young, and determined to make a splash on home soil. If Russia gets to the medal round, I have no doubt Bobrovsky will be a big reason why.
Back-Up: Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Ok, yes, I realize he didn't have a great year last year. But his defense was abysmal, and he battled through it. I've been a Varly fan since his Capitals days, and I have faith that under Patrick Roy, his game will improve. Add to that the lack of quality Russian goalies right now, and Varlamov is a lock for the back-up job in my book.
Third-Stringer: Andrey Makarov, Saskatoom Blades (WHL)
Before someone jumps down my throat for not having Bryzgalov in this spot, let me explain my logic here. The guy in this spot is highly unlikely to play any games. With Ilya being the train wreck he has been the last two years, and given his age, I see no benefit of having him on this roster. I wanted to have a young guy who would really benefit from the experience of the Olympics without the pressre or responsibiity of actually playing. Get used to this logic, because you will likely see it again in my upcoming blogs. I narrowed the the competitors for this spot to Makarov, his World Junior teammate Andrei Vasilevsky, or Anton Khudobin, and I personally really liked what I saw from Makarov.
Sergei Gonchar, Dallas Stars (NHL)
His experience speaks for itself. He has played in every Olympics featuring NHL players so far, earning a silver medal at the `98 games in Nagano, Japan and a bronze at the Salt Lake City games in `02. He may be old (he turned 39 in April), but he is still one of the best puck-movers in the game. He posted 27 points in 45 games last season, and would probably wear a letter for my Team Russia.
Andrei Markov, Montreal Canadiens (NHL)
A two-time Olympian, Markov is another veteran who brings experience and puck skills, both of which will be at a premium in Sochi. He was able to stay healthy in the lockout-shortened season, and that is a huge plus. Even at age 34, he will be playing top 4 minutes.
Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
Another two-time Olympian, Tyutin brings a more shut-down game than Markov or Gonchar. While his mobility isn`t spectacular, he was able to pot 22 points in 48 games for the Jackets last season. A big body that can stifle opposing offences make Tyutin a valuable asset.
Anton Volchenkov, New Jersey Devils (NHL)
The other half of the shut-down D pairing, Volchenkov`s specialty is penalty killing and shot blocking. Yet another two-time Olympian in Turin and Vancouver, Anton will not get many (if any) points, and at times has trouble moving the puck, but that is what Markov and Gonchar are for. He also has the ability to log tons of ice time.
Slava Voynov, Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
A rising star for the Kings, Voynov has built a reputation as one of the best young defensemen in the league. He is a skilled puck-mover and superb skater that can easily exploit the international ice. And, at just 23 years old, he has room to improve.
Anton Belov, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
Belov is regarded as the best D-man in the KHL last year, and signed a contract with the Oilers this summer. He had 26 points in 46 games last season with Omsk Avangard of the KHL, and is a young, all-around D-man with World Championship team experience.
Nikita Nikitin, Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL)
Nikitin has started to establish himself as a respectable rubber distributor in the NHL. His passing and mobility make him ideal for the bigger ice surface in Russia, and will compete with ice time with Belov and Voynov.
Honorable Mentions: Alexei Emelin, Dmitri Kulikov
Evgeni Malkin, Center, Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
I shoudn`t need to defend this pick. Malkin is arguably the second best player in the world right now. Nuff said. Moving on.
Alex Ovechkin, Right Wing, Washington Capitals (NHL)
Ovie had a great bounce-back year under Adam Oates in D.C., and would have still made the team if he hadn`t. Another easy pick.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Logged huge minutes last season with Jersey, playing in all situations, and succeeding. Say what you will about him essentially deserting the Devils to play back in Russia, he`s too good not to be on this team.
Pavel Datsyuk, Center, Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
If you can`t understand why Datsyuk is on this team, watch his YouTube videos. Then, realize that he is also a recent Selke trophy winner.
Alexander Radulov, Right Wing, CSKA Moscow (KHL)
While his NHL return a year ago was lackluster at best, he is still one of the best and most consistent scorers in the KHL. He`s a rock star overseas and while he may not care about a Stanley Cup ring, he certainly cares about representing his country, especially on home soil.
Nail Yakupov, Left Wing, Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
A controversial pick, I know. Yak City proved many things in his rookie NHL campaign. Above all, he showed he is as dangerous a shooter as they come and that he is deceivingly fast and slippery. He also showed that he has a knack for the dramatic and hates to lose.
Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing, St. Louis Blues (NHL)
Had a decent rookie campaign for a competitive team. He previously excelled on the larger ice, and his puck-handling skills are remarkable. He may be extremely young, but he oozes talent.
Evgeni Kuznetsov, Traktor Chelyabinsk (KHL)
He is young, fast, skilled, and has leadership skills to boot. Everyone should remember his dominance at the World Juniors. He loves playing for his country.
This blog is starting to drag so I`ll just list the final forwards.
Alex Semin, Left Wing, Carolina Hurricanes
Nikolai Kulemin, Left Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs
Artem Anisimov, Center, Columbus Blue Jackets
Andrei Loktionov, Right wing, New Jersey Devils
Sergei Shirokov, Right Wing, CSKA Moscow
Igor Milovzorov, Left Wing, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk
To recap, here is the roster:
Kovalchuk Malkin Ovechkin
Yakupov Datsyuk Radulov
Semin Kuznetsov Tarasenko
Kulemin Anisimov Loktionov
As always, any comments are appreciated. Thanks for reading.
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