Projected Roles for Each Colorado Avalanche Player Going to Sochi
With Tuesday’s announcement of the Canadian Olympic men’s ice hockey team, we now have an idea of all of the power players who will be on the ice in Sochi, Russia, this February. Among those players are four members of the Colorado Avalanche—Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Semyon Varlamov.
It’s an impressive Olympic turnout for a squad that has greatly surprised the NHL with its performance this year. But unlike their day jobs, where all four players have significant roles in making Colorado a day-to-day contender, the four Avs will have wildly different roles in Russia.
Here are some thoughts on how each player might slot into their respective countries’ lineups.
Second-generation NHLer Stastny makes his return to the Olympics after scoring three points in six appearances for the United States at the 2010 Games. This will be the fifth time he’s played for Team USA in his professional career, including a torrid World Championships appearance that saw him score 15 points in 10 games last year.
Of course, World Championships rosters have to neglect most NHL playoff performers by nature, owing to the concurrent nature of the Stanley Cup playoffs, meaning that Stastny had a larger offensive role than he might have in these Olympics. Still, he’s used to playing on the larger international ice, and his vision for the game is his biggest asset on a larger surface.
The bad news for Stastny is that Team USA is stacked with bigger-name centers who will likely see more ice time in big moments. Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski and David Backes all have a chance to slot in higher than Stastny, relegating him to fourth-line duty. This would require Stastny to be more of a faceoff specialist and possession player; the good news is that he’s having the second-best season of his career when it comes to winning faceoffs, posting a .537 mark through 40 games.
Team captain and young phenom Landeskog made his way onto Sweden’s roster after posting 31 points through 41 games so far. It’ll be his first Olympic appearance and fifth Team Sweden appearance since 2009, including 18 games in the past two World Championships.
With his play this season and leadership characteristics, Landeskog has a chance to play left wing on one of the team’s top two lines. That could pair him with Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg, a lock for a top-six spot, and another winger like Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg or Boston’s Loui Eriksson (if healthy).
Any of those players would add extra creative elements that, alongside Landeskog’s game, could lead to a burst of scoring for Tre Kronor.
The biggest-name member of the Avalanche to be named to an Olympic roster is Duchene, whose point-per-game performance through this year justified his selection to Team Canada over other stars like Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis and Joe Thornton. Making the cut for such a stacked roster is a great honor and testament to Duchene’s skill against the unbelievable depth of Canadian talent available.
Duchene is a frequent Canadian selection, having won gold medals in two tournaments as an under-18 junior in 2008 and earning another gold (and All-Star team selection) in the 2012 Spengler Cup. He’s also appeared on three of Canada’s past four World Championship teams, so making the step up to Olympic competition should come naturally.
The bad news is that Canada has incredible depth at center. A majority of Canada’s forwards generally play up the middle in the NHL, meaning that Duchene may have to shift to the wing if he expects to play much in Sochi. His speed will prove to be an asset in that case, but as the rest of the Canadian center corps could make up an intimidating top six all by themselves, he may be playing toward the bottom of the organizational depth chart.
There’s no way that Varlamov, Colorado’s hot hand in net, won’t be the workhorse for Russia in its home Olympics. Sergei Bobrovsky is coming off of a month-long layoff for Columbus, and though the reigning Vezina Trophy winner’s groin is healthy, he’ll be hard-pressed to match the kind of season that Varlamov is currently having.
Meanwhile, KHL star Alexander Eremenko backstopped Dynamo Moscow to the past two Gagarin Cups, but nonetheless, he will likely be the team’s third goaltender.
For Varlamov, the game will be partially dictated by how well the defensive corps in front of him play. He’ll be behind Andrei Markov, Fedor Tyutin and Slava Voynov, among others, in Sochi. Though he’s worked wonders with an Avalanche squad whose Corsi ratings range from mediocre to abysmal, the caliber of the opponents he’ll be facing at the Olympic level is high enough that Russia cannot afford to get outshot in the same way.
Chris Leone has written for Bleacher Report since 2008 in multiple capacities. Follow him on Twitter @christopherlion.