The Greatest Strength of Each Sochi-Bound New York Ranger

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIJanuary 27, 2014

The Greatest Strength of Each Sochi-Bound New York Ranger

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    The New York Rangers are sending seven players to the Sochi Olympics, across four countries.

    Each Sochi-bound Ranger offers a unique set of skills that will greatly benefit his respective country.

    That each of the seven should play important roles for their countries showcases the type of talent the Rangers have on their roster. 

    What is the greatest strength of each Ranger headed to Sochi?

    Read on to find out. 

Henrik Lundqvist: Workhorse

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Behind Henrik Lundqvist on the goaltending depth chart for Team Sweden is Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres and Jonas Gustavsson of the Detroit Red Wings.

    Seeing as both Enroth and Gustavsson are backups on their teams, expect Henrik Lundqvist to play every single minute of the Olympic tournament. 

    And since Team Sweden has golden aspirations, Lundqvist could be playing a lot of hockey. But that's exactly what Team Sweden wants. It wants to ride him like it did in 2006, when Tre Kronor won the gold medal in Torino.

    That's what Sweden wanted to do in 2010, but it lost unexpectedly to Slovakia in the quarterfinals.

    But on paper, this Swedish team is probably the most talented in the tournament. It has remarkable depth at every position.

    That said, it won't mean anything unless Lundqvist is at his best. And given how he's played in the last 10 or so games, Sweden should be feeling pretty good. 




Ryan Callahan: Energy

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    In reality, I could've used a number of buzzwords to describe Ryan Callahan's greatest strength: leadership, forechecking, hitting etc.

    I chose energy because I think that's the biggest role he's going to play for the Americans.

    Playing a third-line role, likely with David Backes of the St. Louis Blues and Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings, Callahan is going to be expected to forecheck hard, hit everything that moves and create chances. 

    I think that this could be one of the most important lines for the Americans, and it's because of the energy that Callahan will provide. This line will cycle a lot and create a lot of chances.

    It'll be the same thing for Callahan on the penalty kill, where Callahan will see a ton of time. He will dive in front of shots, risk his body and get his team going.

    He leads by example, with his fiery play setting the tone. His American teammates are going to feed off of it and increase their competition level. 

Ryan McDonagh: Steadiness

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    Everyone's talking about how many minutes Ryan Suter is going to play for the Americans, and it's true—he's going to play a lot. The Minnesota Wild defender averages nearly 30 minutes a game and could play 32-35 minutes in Sochi.

    But no one talks about how many minutes Ryan McDonagh is going to play. In my opinion, McDonagh is going to average nearly 30 minutes a game in Russia, playing in the most important situations and establishing himself as one of the most reliable defenders on the team.


    It's simple. McDonagh is one of the steadiest defenders in the league. His excellent skating ability means he's never out of position, and he is so technically sound that he makes tough plays look easy. His condition is superb.

    Other than Suter, who is truly fantastic, McDonagh is the best defenseman the Americans have to offer. And if they go as deep in the tournament as many observers expect, then the Americans will need McDonagh to shut down the best players in the world.

    Given how steady he is, that shouldn't be a problem for McDonagh.  

Derek Stepan: Playmaking

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    In all honesty, Derek Stepan is not going to play that much in Sochi.

    He's the fifth of five centers, and there's a pretty decent gap between the fourth center, Paul Stastny, and Stepan.

    The only way he'll play is if there is an injury or if the brass decides there needs to be a shakeup.

    If he does play, however, Stepan might be in a position to make some plays. That's his best skill. Not a natural scorer, Stepan is at his best dishing the puck and putting his teammates into a good position to score.

    Even though his numbers are down this year, his presence is a big reason why the line of Rick Nash, Chris Kreider and him has been so effective. 

    Stepan also has a chance to make plays on the penalty kill, where he's always effective. In his career, Stepan has four points while shorthanded.

    Again, it's important to remember that Stepan probably won't play much. If he does play, however, he's a good enough playmaker to make a difference. 

Rick Nash: Power

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    When he's at his best, like he has been in the last 10 games or so, Rick Nash is a force to be reckoned with.

    His 6'4", 213-pound frame allows him to shield defenders, especially if he moves east-west toward the net. You'll often see Nash turn his back to the defender and skate towards the net.

    With the larger intentional sheet, that type of skill is going to be very useful. Nash will be able to turn inside and create chances for his teammates.

    In all likelihood, Nash will be playing on the fourth line. There's just so much depth on the Canadian roster, especially on the wings. Nash is not going to overtake Steven Stamkos.

    But when he is on the ice, Nash is going to be able to use that power game to create energy and chances against third-pair defenders.

    And Nash has always been so good in international competition. In 54 games between the Olympics and the World Championships, Nash has notched 53 points. 

    The international sheet is perfect for Nash, and I think you're going to see a lot of cutting to the net to create quality chances. 

Mats Zuccarello: Passing

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    I've said it once, and I'll say it again: If Mats Zuccarello was 6'1", he would be one of the best players in the NHL.

    But even at his generous listing of 5'7", Zuccarello is an absolute wizard with the puck, displaying incredible vision and patience.

    He makes passes that most can't. He threads pucks into tight spaces, saucers it over flailing sticks and rifles it tape-to-tape.

    His play is a main reason why linemate Benoit Pouliot has left the doghouse to become a reliable and at times forceful player. Zuccarello has been the most consistent offensive player all year long.

    For Team Norway, which doesn't have the type of talent that most of its opponents will, Zuccarello will have to do it all. He'll need to quarterback the power play, kill penalties, set up teammates and score. He's by far the best player on the Norwegian roster, so opposing teams are going to do everything they can to neutralize him.

    Of course, that could work right into his favor. If opposing defenders are shading to his side, it just gives him more of a chance to make a fancy pass to a teammate. 

    Look, Norway is not going to get very far in this tournament. Zuccarello is the only NHL player on the roster. But his unique passing ability will help the Norwegians stay in games. 

Carl Hagelin: Speed

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Carl Hagelin is one of the fastest players in the NHL.

    He won the fastest skater award at the 2012 All-Star Game and constantly frustrates opponents with his speed.

    It allows him to cause havoc on the forecheck, leading to turnovers by the defense and allowing him to create chances. 

    It also helps him on the penalty kill, where he teams with Brian Boyle to form one of the best PK units in the league. The Rangers have the ninth-ranked penalty kill, and it's because of contributions from Hagelin and Boyle.

    "Prior to this year, I wasn’t with Hags killing penalties at all," Brian Boyle told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. "The main thing is just letting him go, use his speed to pressure the puck, and I’m there to make a read, use my reach with the stick and try and knock it down to get a clear."

    That's the exact role Hagelin will play for Team Sweden. He's going to be on the fourth line, providing energy on the forecheck and killing penalties. On the bigger international sheet, Hagelin's speed could be devastating. There aren't many players faster than Hagelin in the world, and he will consistently beat defensemen down low. When Sweden needs a big kill, it will be up to Hagelin to do it.

    A lot of people were probably surprised that Hagelin made Team Sweden, but observers of the Rangers were not shocked at all. His speed is going to a major asset for Tre Kronor.