Hockey Stars Who'll Benefit Most from Larger Ice Surface at 2014 Sochi Olympics
When the Canadians won the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics, they did so on a NHL-sized rink. When they head to Sochi to defend that medal for the 2014 Winter Games, they will be doing so on an international-sized rink.
On paper, the differences between the two don't seem like much. Brady MacDonald of the Los Angeles Times broke down the differences between the two rinks prior to the 2010 games, and the graphic still applies.
According to MacDonald, the NHL's ice surface is 15 percent smaller overall. NHL players are used to rinks that are 15 feet narrower, while both surfaces come in at 200 feet long. Where things get tricky is with the depth of the zones.
The NHL's offensive zone is six feet deeper than that of the international offensive zone, which tends to cause defenses to play more passively. The international ice surface also features eight extra feet to work with in the neutral zone.
While the offensive zones are more shallow, they are wider, which give fleet-footed defenseman even more room to work with laterally. There's also more room to work with coming off the boards, which places a premium on stick-handling and puck control.
There's also a little bit more room to work with behind the net, which bodes well for the more shifty players that will be in Sochi.
All statistics appear courtesy of Hockeydb.com.
Thomas Vanek is one of the silkiest players in the NHL, and the extra space in Sochi will only give him more room to work with. He's outstanding peeling out of the corners and working behind the net as it is. While his speed isn't elite-level, he still moves well enough that the extra space will benefit his game.
When you give a guy like Vanek a few extra feet of room, he just becomes more deadly. He has a reputation for playing on the outside of the slot, but Vanek does his fair share of work around the net as well.
One of the more underrated players below the hash marks in the NHL, it'll be a blast to see what Vanek can do for Austria in Sochi. The team will be leaning on him heavily for offensive output, so he'll likely be playing maximum minutes from the very first game.
Few players in the NHL can conjure fear in defenders like Patrick Kane winding up in the neutral zone. He's a spectacular skater and one of the most outstanding danglers in the league. The extra width of the rink will be a huge boost for Kane, who will be able to push the offense toward the net with his speed and stick-handling.
The United States features several very capable skaters, and Kane will be at the heart of the offense for this team as it tries to bounce back from a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Canadians for the gold medal in 2010.
Kane has added new dimensions to his game over the last four years. He's stronger than he was back then and plays with a lot more focus and confidence. We can't wait to see what he can do with the extra space in the offensive zone.
Alex Ovechkin grew up playing on the larger ice surfaces in front of sellout crowds in Russia, so he'll be right at home once the Winter Olympics roll around. He's a force of nature regardless of what kind of rink he's playing on, but Ovechkin has always excelled on the larger international surface.
For instance, he posted 40 points through 31 games with the Moscow Dynamo during the lockout. Nineteen of those points were goals.
While he's deadly from just about anywhere in the offensive zone, his one-timer from the left circle is the stuff that legends are made of. With wider passing lanes and more room to work with through the defensive schemes, we're likely to see at least two or three of those rockets from No. 8.
Of course, he's no slouch behind the net, either. Or when he gets going through the neutral zone. Yeah, there may not be a scarier player on the larger surface than Ovechkin.
After Nicklas Lidstrom retired, the NHL needed a new lovable Swedish defender to light up the highlight reels. It didn't take long for Erik Karlsson to assume that mantle, and while he doesn't have the same defensive wherewithal as Lidstrom—let's be honest, who really does?—few players in the league can walk the blue line better.
If he can score 78 points in 81 games on an NHL ice surface, what kind of damage can he do on an international sheet that emphasizes skating and lateral movement?
A lot of damage is our official guess.
Karlsson moves with the same fluidity that you'll see at the Olympics from world-class figure skaters like Kim Yu-Na or Carolina Kostner, making him a deadly addition to Sweden's already vaunted attack scheme.
Steven Stamkos was one of the fastest players in the NHL as soon as he played his first game in 2008. For proof, look no further than the 51st goal he scored in 2010. It's rare that an empty-netter is worthy of a mention, but Stamkos shows off his superior skating and desire to score on that play.
Those are other professional players that he's destroying in foot races for loose pucks, right? It's hard telling sometimes with Stamkos.
His ability to make all but the quickest defensemen look silly is almost second to none, and he'll have even more space to work with in Sochi. To make matters worse, it's likely that he'll be lining up with the man he finish tied with for the goal-scoring crown in 2010.
"Sidney Crosby to Stamkos, he scores!" will be a phrase that will be heard several times in Sochi, thanks in no small part to the larger ice surface.
Another outstanding skater that will be able to do a lot with just a little extra room, P.K. Subban could end up quarterbacking one of the most ridiculous power-play units ever assembled on Team Canada.
He won the Norris Trophy based on his presence in the offensive zone, and while he's no slouch in his own end, Subban makes his paycheck in the NHL because of his ability to produce points. He'll make an impact on the outcome of games in his first Olympics in the same fashion.
Like Erik Karlsson, Subban is a great skater that will be able to take advantage of the extra room on the blue line. Canada will possess a lot of dangerous weapons, but Subban walking the line and launching slap shots will chief among them.
Martin St. Louis
Shockingly, Martin St. Louis isn't a shoo-in to make Canada's roster. The team has invited an embarrassing amount of talent to battle for a limited number of spots, and the reigning scoring champion could end up in the same position in 2014 as he was in 2010.
Which, as Sportnet.ca's Luke Fox puts it: "...(an) understudy status to the likes of Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau."
St. Louis isn't getting any younger, but he isn't slowing down one bit, either. It's possible that he could have breached the 100-point barrier for the second time in his career in 2013 had the season been a full one.
That's a tough sort of talent to leave in the press box for two straight Olympics. Especially with the larger ice surface.
According to the CBC, Steve Yzerman is looking for players with speed and skill. He told the site that "...there is a priority and importance in being able to get around the ice to skate... there will be more of a premium price on skating."
If that's the case, then St. Louis should have no problem making Team Canada.
If anyone will be more dangerous than Alex Ovechkin on the international ice surface, it'll be Pavel Datsyuk. Given his Nightcrawler-like ability to disappear and reappear out on the ice, his tendency to steal the puck from opposing players and his ridiculous creativity, the puck magician should be able to make magic happen in Sochi.
He already pulls filthy tricks like this and this behind the net in the NHL. Give a player like Datsyuk a few extra feet to work with around the net and suddenly, goals like this become a bit more common.
We could link Datsyuk clips all day and be pretty content, but you get the point: Few players will be more fun to watch once the Winter Games are up and rolling.
Players like Pavel Datsyuk immediately come to mind when thinking about players that could utilize the extra space of the international sheet of ice for offense. There's more to hockey than just puck-handling and deking, though, and the United States will be bringing a bit of grit to Sochi.
Dustin Brown is one of the most ferocious open-ice hitters in the NHL, and with more space comes more responsibility for puck-carriers. More responsibility to keep their heads up, that is.
With the larger neutral zone, the quicker forwards will have more time to gather speed heading into the offensive zone. That could make it a shooting gallery for guys like Brown, who can make an impact on games by lowering the boom.
No one in the history of the game has scored more Olympic points than Teemu Selanne. He's represented Finland in five Olympics already. Sochi will be his sixth—an astonishing achievement for one of the all-time greats.
Given his international expertise, there isn't anything that Selanne hasn't seen at this point. While he's a little less flashy than he was in the early '90s, there's still no doubt that this is one old-timer than can get the job done in the offensive zone.
Selanne is still a great skater and can find holes in the defense as well as anyone. He knows how to use the extra space on the international ice surface, because he's spent more time than just about anyone on it, and he will have an advantage in Sochi because of it.