Players Improving Their 2014 Olympic Chances Early in NHL Season
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We’re barely one week into the NHL regular season, yet thoughts are turning to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
The Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs have had good starts, and unsurprisingly, these teams feature many of the players playing very well out of the gate.
Our list includes players who are not only improving their chances to play in Sochi, but creating the need to be considered seriously as well.
Honorable mentions go to: Marc Andre-Fleury, Mark Giordano, Mikhail Grabovski, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp.
All stats can be found on NHL.com.
Tomas Hertl: Czech Republic
NHL Team: San Jose Sharks
If you didn’t know who Tomas Hertl was as the season began, you weren’t alone. The former first-round pick has burst onto the NHL scene.
His recent four-goal outburst against the New York Rangers was the best single-game performance so far this year. While there is a lot of hockey to be played before the final Olympic team selections are made, Hertl is well on his way to making the team from the Czech Republic.
Hertl is just oozing skill, and at just 19 years of age, he will continue to develop over the first few months of the season. He just might be a star in Sochi next February.
Damien Brunner: Switzerland
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NHL Team: New Jersey Devils
Okay, Damien Brunner was going to make the Swiss team all along, but the way he has come out of the gate, he could be a name that opposing teams have to circle on the pregame board at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The former Detroit Red Wing has been superb in the early going for the Devils. His puck-handling has been steadily improving, and having spent some time in the Red Wing system, his puck-possession skills are great.
Switzerland should be considered an outside threat to do some damage at the Sochi Olympics, and Brunner could be front and centre for them. He may not keep up his point-per-game pace, but don’t be shocked if he does, given his new role in New Jersey.
Jonathan Bernier: Canada
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NHL Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Jonathan Bernier has been spectacular in goal for the Maple Leafs. While his name has not come up a lot for Team Canada consideration, it should, based on his play this fall.
Bernier has provided the Leafs with a final line of defence that has been close to impregnable when he has been between the pipes.
His sparkling .963 save percentage is unsustainable, but if he continues to play anywhere close to this good in the coming months, he is going to garner serious attention as one of Team Canada’s Olympic goalies.
Semyon Varlamov: Russia
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NHL Team: Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche are unbeaten in their first three games, and much of this is due to the outstanding play of Semyon Varlamov. While not as highly touted as last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, Varlamov has been brilliant to begin the season.
The former first-round pick of the Washington Capitals has posted a 1.00 goals-against average and save percentage of .967.
There is a long time between now and February, but expect Varlamov to stay motivated in the hopes of leading Mother Russia to Olympic gold in Sochi.
Joffrey Lupul: Canada
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NHL Team: Toronto Maple Leafs
Joffrey Lupul’s game continues to evolve and mature. The Leafs are off to a good start, and Lupul has been central to this in many ways.
While the Canadian Olympic team will be very strong down the middle, natural wingers, like Lupul, may get an opportunity to fill some of the depth spots due to familiarity with the position.
The former Medicine Hat Tiger has five points in his first four games and has been good in all three zones for the Leafs.
While Lupul would not be able to fill a top-line role for Team Canada, he has the size and the smarts to be an important role player with the ability to chip in with a timely goal.
Jeff Petry: United States
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NHL Team: Edmonton Oilers
Jeff Petry has had a great start to his year, despite the Oilers leaving something to be desired for their fans so far.
Petry has one goal in his first three games this year but has been contributing well at both ends of the ice.
He is the kind of mobile defender who could flourish on the Olympic-sized ice surface in Russia.
The United States has some excellent offensive defencemen at the top of the depth chart, but there is reason to believe that the Michigan native could be a shutdown defender in Sochi. His previous international experience could be another point in his favour.
Aleksander Barkov: Finland
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NHL Team: Florida Panthers
Aleksander Barkov might be one of the more complete 18-year-old players to enter the NHL in a few seasons. Because he’s competed against men in the SM-Liiga in Finland since he was 16, he seems well prepared for the NHL grind.
He’s 6’3”, and his size and reach have allowed him to dominate on a number of his shifts in the early part of the NHL season.
His vision on the power play is excellent, and his two points in three games are a sign of things to come this year.
Barkov has the chance to be something very special, and it would not be surprising to see him playing some significant minutes for the Finns in Sochi.
Matt Duchene: Canada
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NHL Team: Colorado Avalanche
Matt Duchene has played well for Canada on the international stage.
His performance at last year’s World Championships was excellent. His speed and creativity were on full display.
The young centre would not be a top-six forward for Team Canada, but he could emerge as the Jonathan Toews of the 2014 Olympics for Canada. Toews was the MVP of the hockey tournament in 2010 in Vancouver.
Duchene’s all-around game has developed to the point that he could be counted upon to play tough minutes against some of the top lines that other countries will be able to ice.