Toronto Maple Leafs

Which Toronto Maple Leafs Are Most Likely to Play in 2014 Winter Olympics?

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 10:  James van Riemsdyk #21 and Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a goal against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on October 10, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
John Russell/Getty Images
James OnuskoContributor IIIDecember 4, 2013

In the next six weeks, we will know which Toronto Maple Leafs will be playing for their respective countries at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

While a few Leafs are likely being considered for Sochi, at this stage, only two skaters seem to be locks.

Americans Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk have both had very good seasons to date. While this Leafs team play has not been very good of late, both Kessel and van Riemsdyk have been offensive leaders for the majority of this season.

Heading into Tuesday night's action, Phil Kessel has posted 24 points in his first 27 games. His 14 goals in 27 games is particularly good. It leaves him second only to Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, who has 16. 

Kessel's 24 points has him 23rd in the NHL in scoring and fourth among American skaters. While some believe Kessel is a liability defensively, he has paid more attention to his defensive play this season. The Leafs' top winger is plus-5, and this improving defensive play should allow him to play some important minutes for the United States . 

Kessel's relative Corsi number of -0.6 is not great, but the Leafs have been outshot in the majority of their games which necessarily influences individual's numbers. Kessel is the most likely Leaf to be skating in Sochi.

Kessel's linemate, James van Riemsdyk, also appears to be headed to Sochi in February. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma was quoted recently in the Toronto Sun:  

"Coming into the season, looking at the U.S. players and where they rank and what they can do — size, speed, skill, scoring ability — I think James has distinguished himself," Bylsma said. "That’s been something we've watched this year and watches him do what he’s doing. I’m not sure there’s too many more big-bodied guys who can score like him. I also think playing with Kessel has been a big thing for him. They've had some chemistry and some success there.”

JVR has played some excellent, hard-nosed hockey in Toronto this season. He has played over 20 minutes per night, has 20 points in 25 games and he's registered 24 penalty minutes.

He is a handful in front of the net, and the former first-round pick is really starting to see his game come together as many had predicted for him when drafted. With other big, talented forwards like David Backes and Ryan Kesler, the United States will be a challenge in the offensive zone.

JVR would have to completely lose his game over the next month, or sustain a major injury, to be left off the American roster.

Outside of these two players, Canadians Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Jonathan Bernier, and Swede Carl Gunnarsson may be on some long lists. They may be under consideration, but they are unlikely to crack either of the Swedish or Canadian Olympic rosters. 

The hockey tournament should be excellent in Sochi, but don't expect there to be many Leafs participating in 2014.

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