Prior to the Red Wings’ Super Bowl Sunday tilt against the Washington Capitals, forward Gustav Nyquist had already put himself on the short list to replace teammate Johan Franzen on Team Sweden for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
After the game, he had all but punched his ticket and on Monday, Team Sweden made it official.
Nyquist turned in the best performance of his NHL career with a hat trick rounding out a four-point explosion at the Verizon Center and he will now have an opportunity to dazzle the world in Sochi.
Though Nyquist’s heroics weren’t quite enough to get his team a victory, he displayed the kind of game-breaking prowess that his play-to-date has suggested he’s capable of but wasn’t fully realized until today.
Nyquist has emerged as one of the few notable highlights of the Red Wings’ 2013-14 season and has ensconced himself as permanent part of Detroit’s future.
His skills will be a perfect complement to a Swedish Olympic team that already boasts five of his teammates in Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Jonas Gustavsson.
However, as Bleacher Report’s Isaac Smith recently argued, these five players might very well consider following Franzen’s example and forego a trip to Sochi in light of all their recent injury history.
Smith makes a solid argument, noting that the prospect of playing for their country could force some players to play through lingering injuries when they should be sitting out, and as the Detroit Red Wings are paying their salaries, the organization should consider asking players like Zetterberg and Alfredsson to sit out.
Having so many Red Wings headed to Sochi (Nyquist makes 10 in total) is certainly a mixed bag.
On the one hand, the organization can take pride in being so well represented on what is arguably the world’s largest hockey stage.
On the other, having 10 players, most of whom have been dogged by injuries, expose themselves to further wear and tear—not to mention the mental and emotional fatigue endured by an intense Olympic—could prove costly for the Red Wings upon their return.
Detroit will need to battle the rest of the season to extend its 22-year-old playoff life; having to do so on the backs of weary, injured and aging players fresh off an Olympic roller coaster is not an ideal situation for the team.
However, when considering Nyquist's addition to Team Sweden, it stands to reason that the youthful enthusiasm, energy and growing offensive confidence he’s brought to his team in Detroit might prove more intense upon his post-Olympics return.
What’s more, traveling to Sochi with so many of his veteran teammates will give Nyquist a greater sense of responsibility and leadership among his peers. In fact, the same could be said for fellow young teammates-turned-Olympians in Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco (Slovakia).
To this point in his career, Nyquist’s contributions offensively have been more pleasant surprises than expected results. This season, that trend has quickly been turned on its ear, and Nyquist’s offensive output is now counted as something on which to be relied upon.
Allowing the young Swede to keep his offensive fire stoked in Sochi as opposed to smoldering in Detroit will only mean good things for the Red Wings down the stretch.
Will the Detroit Red Wings benefit from their players' Olympic participation?
As for exposing himself to injuries, Nyquist’s style of play (particularly when put on an international ice-surface) and youth make that far from even a nominal concern. For a player of Nyquist’s skill, the extra space will undoubtedly help him display his abilities in impressive fashion while avoiding the kind of abuse he’d typically receive in the NHL.
Were the Detroit brass to sit Alfredsson or Zetterberg down and ask them to rest their weary bodies for the good of the team that pays them, the request would be reasonable given their importance to the team and injury history this season.
However, Nyquist should be all but pushed onto the plane by general manager Ken Holland as the experience of plying his trade for his country is bound to give him experience and confidence that could prove infectious upon his return to Detroit.
While the value of sending their older players to Sochi is understandably questionable, having future stars such as Nyquist participate will be nothing but a positive thing.