The Biggest Concern for Each New York Ranger Headed to Sochi

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIJanuary 20, 2014

The Biggest Concern for Each New York Ranger Headed to Sochi

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    The New York Rangers have seven players headed to Sochi. It's a testament to how much talent is on the roster.

    But there's also cause for concern. Every time one of the seven steps on the ice, there's an increased chance for injury and exhaustion.

    Each of the seven players faces these concerns. Some face them more than others.

    What are the biggest concerns facing each Ranger headed to Sochi? Read on to find out. 

Henrik Lundqvist: Workload

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    Sweden is, to my mind, the odds-on favorite to win the gold medal. And if they do, it will be because Henrik Lundqvist steals the show.

    We all know Lundqvist started the season off rough, and it shows in his 17-17-3 record.

    But we also know that January has been quite kind to him, as he's posted a .935 save percentage. He is starting to look a lot like the Henrik Lundqvist everyone is used to.

    This is a great thing for Lundqvist, the Rangers and Sweden. But it also means Lundqvist will be ridden hard in Sochi, and that could hurt his play when he comes back to America.

    When Sweden won gold in 2006, Lundqvist posted a 2.33 GAA. When he came back to the U.S., he struggled, losing eight of 13 games played in March and April. He gave up 13 goals in three postseason games.

    That was eight years ago, and he's obviously a more mature and experienced goalie. But it's something to keep an eye on. If Sweden goes as far as many expect them to, then Lundqvist will play against the world's best.

    When he comes back to New York, he may be a bit tired. His focus, which seemingly disappeared in the beginning of the season, could suffer.

    The Rangers need Lundqvist if they want to make the playoffs and thrive. Sweden needs him if they want to win gold. It's possible he may be stretched too thin. 

Ryan McDonagh: Workload

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    Ryan McDonagh plays just under 25 minutes a game for the Rangers.

    Down the stretch, that number will only go up.

    He's one of the most important Rangers, and his success is paramount for New York.

    The same goes for the U.S. team. McDonagh will easily play between 25 and 30 minutes a game, against the best players in the world. In my mind, he's the best defenseman on the roster besides Ryan Suter.

    I have no doubt McDonagh can handle it—he's a terrific skater, he plays with poise beyond his years and is always in the right place on the right team. But the Rangers should be more worried about what happens when he comes back. Will his body be able to handle the increased workload? And what happens if the Rangers make the playoffs and make a deep run? His body may combust.

    McDonagh is a rising star in this league, and he will prove that on the biggest stage. But he will be forced to do a lot, and that could hurt his play for the Rangers. That's the last thing the Blueshirts need. 

Ryan Callahan: Injury

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    Ryan Callahan is going to be relied upon heavily by the American team for his defense and penalty-killing.

    He's going to be on the ice for every close situation, and he's going to be banging in the corner for pucks. When the Americans have a one-goal lead in the last minute of game, Callahan will be on the ice.

    He's going to block shots and risk his body for the good of the team. It's what makes him such a good player.

    But it also makes him more likely to get hurt. He's played in just 33 games this year due to a myriad of injuries and has never actually played a full season in his career.

    Maybe it'll be a Zdeno Chara slapper or a Shea Weber bomb, but Callahan will put his body on the line for the good of the team.

    But by doing so, he could easily get hurt. If he gets hurt, the Rangers will lose a very important cog on their roster.

    Of course, he could come back fine, but playing the style he does against that quality of competition could lead to injury.

Derek Stepan: Wasted Trip?

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    There are five American centers headed to Sochi, and Derek Stepan is fifth on the depth chart.

    He's behind a talented group of pivots in Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Joe Pavelski and Paul Stastny. T.J. Oshie can also play center. 

    So the big question is: Will Stepan even play? And if he doesn't, is this a wasted trip?

    Look, Stepan is obviously going to benefit from practicing and being a member of one of the best teams in the world. But to travel to Russia and not play? It's the cherry on top of what has already been a disappointing season.

    After notching 48 points in 44 games last year, Stepan has just 31 in 50 games this year. After scoring 18 goals in 44 games last year, Stepan has just nine in 51 games this year.

    Yes, missing training camp due to his holdout didn't help, but now that we're in January, that should be behind him. 

    But apparently not. Stepan was one of the last players to make the team. He'll only play if there is an injury. 

    Hopefully, Stepan can gain a lot from this trip and apply it to his work with the Rangers. If not, however, it'll be a wasted trip. 

Mats Zuccarello: Can He Handle the Pressure?

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    Mats Zuccarello is easily the best Norwegian player in Sochi and, in fact, he's probably the best Norwegian player ever.

    He's enjoying a career year with the Rangers, scoring 13 goals and adding 22 assists. "The Hobbit" has been one of the Rangers' best and most consistent offensive threats.

    And while Norway is not expected to contend for a medal, there is no doubting that they are going to rely heavily on Zuccarello. He will be the media darling, the quarterback of the power play, the lead penalty-killer and the top offensive threat.

    It's a lot to handle for one person. Unlike most countries, there aren't a lot of stars to go around on the Norwegian hockey team. He is probably also the biggest star in the country.

    So can he handle it? Can he find the relative anonymity that New York offers him? And when he comes back, will all of the attention go to his head? Will he be able to stay grounded?

    Granted, these are all minor concerns, but they are something to keep an eye on. Zuccarello has quickly become of the Rangers' most important players. If his game suffers, the Rangers will too. 

Rick Nash: Can He Continue His Resurgence?

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    It's been an interesting year for Rick Nash.

    He suffered a concussion in the third game of the year and missed more than a month. When he returned, he scored five goals in nine games and then proceeded to score just three times in December.

    But things are looking up for Nash. He has scored seven goals in January and has played the type of dominating game that made the Rangers covet him.

    Can he continue this type of play in Sochi? He has experience on the big sheet but may end up playing more of a checking role, seeing how Canada is so deep.

    If Nash goes and dominates like he did in the Vancouver Games, where he had five points in seven games, then he will come back to New York and thrive. However, if he travels to Sochi and struggles, it could be difficult for him to readjust.

    Many observers think Nash didn't deserve to be on the team. Many think that Martin St. Louis would be a better choice. While I do think St. Louis is deserving, I also think Nash plays the type of game that will flourish on the international sheet.

    I think Nash will do big things in Sochi and translate it to New York. But if he doesn't, it could be an issue for the Rangers. 

Carl Hagelin: Will He Play?

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    I'll admit: It's hard to find too much that will go wrong for Carl Hagelin at the Olympics.

    He's playing on a star-studded team that could easily win gold. He'll play in a penalty-killing and fourth-line role, the type of role he succeeds in. His speed will be fantastic on the big ice.

    The only real question is if he'll play. With all of the talent on Sweden, it would not be a shock if he doesn't see the ice. For example, it wouldn't be surprising if Marcus Kruger gets more time over Hagelin.

    That will obviously be a disappointment. But I do think this is the type of event where Hagelin can shine. He won't be asked to do too much. 

    If he struggles in the first game, then look for Kruger to take his place on the fourth line. If not, this could be the type of experience that can really help propel Hagelin's NHL game.