10 NHL Players Currently Watching the 2014 Olympics Who Should Be Playing

Rob Vollman@robvollmanNHLContributor IFebruary 18, 2014

10 NHL Players Currently Watching the 2014 Olympics Who Should Be Playing

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    Which teams made roster selections that could cost them dearly? Whether it's USA's Bobby Ryan, Sweden's blue line or the Czech Republic's entire roster, there are certain alternative choices that could have made all the difference. Which selection committees are the most likely to have post-Olympic regrets?

    Looking at the weaknesses of the various Olympic teams, we looked for unselected players that would have best addressed them.

    Situations where there was a great player available but without a corresponding weakness to fill were ignored. While the Americans left their best goalies at home, like Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop for example, they're not suffering for it.

    Instead the focus is on which teams left players at home (or in the press box) that could have helped address either their early struggles or likely upcoming challenges. More specifically, this list is composed of players who would have changed the complexion of their teams and increased their chances of reaching the podium. Let's begin.

    Olympic statistics sourced from Extra Skater. All other advanced NHL statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.


10. Teuvo Teravainen, Finland

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    LUDVIG THUNMAN/Associated Press

    Why He Was Snubbed: There are only so many top-six spots on each team, and Finland's were all spoken for.

    While 19-year-old Teuvo Teravainen may some day develop into a well-rounded player who can play physically, defensively and take on different roles, right now he's useful only as a scoring-line option.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Finland needs scoring. They may have averaged five goals per game through the preliminaries but scored only one goal against the lone medal contender, Canada.

    Injuries to Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula left Olli Jokinen and Jussi Jokinen as Finland's only NHL players with 10 goals and/or 30 points. The risk of further injury, like the one to Aleksander Barkov, should have led to Teravainen's selection.

    Teravainen is leading Jokerit with 40 points this year in just 42 games. He's just eight points back of the SM-Liiga scoring lead. He was the league's rookie of the year two years ago and led the World Junior team to a gold medal with a tournament-leading 15 points.

    He's a truly gifted playmaker who would really help upgrade the Finnish power play. As it stands, Finland lacks the offensive firepower to get past the top teams.

    Whom He Should Replace: Finland selected the KHL's Sakari Salminen and Jarko Immonen as the scoring-line replacements for Valtteri Filppula and Mikko Koivu. 

    Currently, Immonen has two goals and Salminen is the odd man out even though he's younger and may actually be faster and the more consistent scorer of the two.

9. Jonas Brodin, Sweden

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: It is no insult to be left off a team as stacked as Sweden.

    The Swedish team is one of the tournament's favorites, and it opted to select defencemen with longer histories of top-four NHL success than 20-year-old Jonas Brodin.

    There may also have been concerns about his recent cold stretch, with just two points in his last 15 games, and a question as to how much his NHL linemate, Ryan Suter, was to credit for his great NHL numbers previous to that.

    Why It Was a Mistake: In such a highly competitive tournament, Brodin could have been the type of third-pairing upgrade that makes all the difference.

    The Swedes may have finished with the top seed, but they finished tied for fourth in goals against. And that's with Henrik Lundqvist in nets! Defensively, they're tied for sixth in shots allowed. They needed another top-pairing NHL shutdown defencemen, and in Brodin, they had one.

    Jonas Brodin is not your typical youngster. Selected 10th overall in 2011, Brodin scored four points in six games on Sweden's gold medal-winning 2012 World Junior team. In the NHL, he joined up with Suter last year, took on the toughest minutes against the top lines and led all rookies in minutes played. Even this year, Brodin's average ice time of 20:59 per game is second only to Erik Karlsson among Swedish defencemen.

    He may have only 101 games of NHL experience, but they have been solid ones defensively.

    Whom He Should Replace: Henrik Tallinder was brought along for some extra defence, but he has barely played 10 minutes over two games.

    He once was a legitimate shutdown defenceman, but not at age 35. Not only would Brodin be the right play today, but he's also the right development choice for the future.

8. Sergei Gonchar, Russia

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: Sergei Gonchar is 39 years old, and even in his prime, he wasn't known for being particularly physical or tight defensively.

    That's not to say that Gonchar is weak in his own zone. He's not sheltered, and until just this season, he always took his turn killing penalties.

    While he may still be able to do the job in the NHL, the concern was that he would have had some difficulty keeping up on the big ice, especially with players going wide. This might even aggravate his tendency to take a few too many penalties.

    Why It Was a Mistake: How can you turn down the services of a legend?

    Gonchar has competed in four previous Olympic tournaments, winning silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002. He also helped Russia take home bronze in the 2007 World Championships and silver in the 2010 tournament. He won the Stanley Cup in 2009, followed up with a season when he scored 50 points in 69 games. He has played in five NHL All-Star Games, was the first Russian defenceman to score 20 goals in a season and has led NHL defencemen in goals, assists and points twice apiece.

    Mike Green is the only active defenceman to surpass his single-season career high of 26 goals, and of the six other active blueliners to score 20 goals in a season, Sheldon Souray is the only other defenceman to do it twice. Of course, his sub-4.0 shooting percentage for the third straight season suggests Gonchar's twine-finding days are behind him. 

    Russia's high-octane offence has had some trouble getting started. The Russians have scored only seven goals, well back of the other big four hockey nations, which are averaging about 13. Having a skilled puck-moving defenceman who can make both breakout and set-up passes, especially on the power play, is something the team sorely lacks.

    Whom He Should Replace: Gonchar is not a top-pairing defenceman by any stretch. He's down to under 19 minutes per game in the NHL, with just 18 points in 52 games. Still, that's fourth among Russian defencemen.

    Rather than Anton Belov or 31-year-old KHLer Ilya Nikulin, the Russians may have been better served to include a veteran power-play specialist who can still play top-four minutes when required.

7. Bobby Ryan, USA

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: According to Brian Burke, it was a lack of intensity that left Bobby Ryan off the team. More pragmatically, Ryan was set aside because they already had Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel down the right side.

    The Americans also made a deliberate choice to craft more of a two-way team, with very few players that are more strictly offensive-focused. The emphasis was placed more on avoiding mistakes of their own than on capitalizing on those of their opponents.

    That's not to say that Ryan is a defensive liability, because he's not. He is, however, certainly not crafted by the same two-way mold of Ryan Kesler, David Backes and the bulk of the American lineup.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Bobby Ryan is certainly one of the top five offensive forwards the Americans had to choose from.

    He was one of only six players to carry four straight 30-goal seasons going into the lockout-shortened 2013 season. His career 0.38 goals per game is roughly the same as that of Zach Parise and Phil Kessel, the two players that lead all active American-born players in that department.

    Ryan also draws far more penalties than he takes, is 6-for-17 in the shootout over the past four years, had two points in six games for 2010's silver medal-winning Olympic team and had seven points in eight games in the 2012 World Championships.

    Ryan can score, but does the American team need more offence? The Americans may have dominated Slovakia and Slovenia, but they scored only two goals against the lone medal contender in their group, the Russians.

    Whom He Should Replace: Blake Wheeler would seem to be the offensive-minded reserve player that would become the odd man out. He has averaged just 5:36 of ice time per game so far. The alternative is Derek Stepan, who has only played a single game, and just 4:59 at that.

    Ryan would probably toil on the fourth line, except in situations where the Americans would have the man advantage or if they were to need a late goal, at which point he'd move up into the top-six. He would also be ready to step up if Kane or Kessel were to be injured or fatigued.

6. Sven Baertschi, Switzerland

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: It is unclear why Sven Baertschi was left off the Swiss roster, but one could speculate his age and defensive experience were factors.

    At 21, Baertschi would be a month older than Nino Niederreiter, the youngest player on Switzerland's roster. No one else is younger than 23-year-old Roman Josi.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Two goals in three games. That's all Switzerland could manage through the preliminary games, and then only a single goal against Latvia. Every team needs some scoring punch, and Sven Baertschi could have provided that.

    Baertschi led all WHL rookies in goals, assists and points in 2010-11, and he led the entire WHL in the 2011-12 postseason in assists and points. He has 24 points in 51 NHL games in 2013-14 and is behind only Damien Brunner and Mark Streit in points per game among Swiss players. 

    Whom He Should Replace: Ryan Gardner was likely chosen for his size, experience and scoring instincts. However, the 35-year-old is a little too slow and has consequently suited up for just two preliminary games, and just 4:33 per game.

    If he had been placed on the roster, Baertschi could have battled Simon Moser and/or Roman Wick for a top-six scoring-line opportunity.

5. Jiri Hudler, Czech Republic

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Why He Was Snubbed: The Czech Republic must have felt it had enough top-six scoring without Jiri Hudler.

    Though he just turned 30, age was obviously not a concern to a team that selected 42-year-olds Petr Nedved and Jaromir Jagr and 10 other players older than Hudler.

    Unlike other roster choices, Hudler probably couldn't adjust to a defensive and/or physical role, and he doesn't kill penalties. If not slotted in for a scoring assignment, there's no space for a player like Hudler.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Hudler is a great offensive force, a gifted playmaker and would instantly upgrade the Czech power play. The extra scoring could be invaluable to a team that averaged just two goals per game in the preliminary round, which tied Slovenia for seventh.

    Hudler currently leads the Flames with 43 points in 58 games, the third-highest-scoring Czech in the NHL this year. His average power play ice time of 3:23 per game is second only to Jakub Voracek, and his 15:56 at even strength is second only to Jaromir Jagr.

    He also has good international experience with the Czechs, scoring five points in eight games in the recent 2013 World Championships, and with 11 points in 17 games, he is the country's second-leading all-time scorer in that tournament.

    Whom He Should Replace: Petr Nedved has had a long and distinguished career, but he's no Jaromir Jagr.

    He's 42 years old, slow, is a huge penalty risk and hasn't played in the NHL since 2007. In fact, he scored only 37 points in 93 games in his final two NHL seasons, back when he was "only" 35.

    Of course, Hudler wouldn't be slotted in place of Nedved on the depth line. Hudler would instead look great on that top line and second power-play unit with Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr. That would allow Jagr's buddy Roman Cervenka, who was scoreless in three preliminary games, to drop down the depth chart instead.

4. Victor Hedman, Sweden

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    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: As stacked as the Swedish blue line is without him, whatever reasoning was used to omit Victor Hedman can't be explained with analytics.

    There's really nothing that can justify his exclusion outside of a concern about chemistry and/or team fit. Sweden opted for NHL linemates for two of its three pairings, gambling that it's better to use players who are comfortable with one another than to introduce a better player with a guy he's never skated with.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Hedman is a highly skilled two-way defenceman who would perfectly round out Sweden's top-four.

    Offensively, Hedman is highly underrated. He has always had one of the highest per-minute scoring rates among Swedish defencemen, and his overall scoring totals has exploded since he was used more on the power play.

    He had 11 points in eight games going into the break, giving him 37 points in 51 games so far this year, second only to Erik Karlsson among Swedish defencemen. He's quietly climbed his way to 12th among NHL defencemen in scoring over the past two seasons.

    And Hedman is far from a one-dimensional offensive force. For the last three years, the job of taking defensive-zone shifts against Tampa Bay's top opponents has been his.

    Sweden may have finished first in the preliminary round, but it was fourth in both goals scored and goals allowed. The inclusion of a player like Hedman on the second pairing is the type of upgrade that could improve the medal that will almost inevitably be hanging around the Swedes' necks.

    Whom He Should Replace: Assuming Henrik Tallinder's defensive depth role could have been better served by Jonas Brodin, Victor Hedman could play with Niklas Kronwall on the second pairing.

    Rather than send Jonathan Ericsson to the press box, and if the Swedes were comfortable breaking up one NHL pairing, then they could break up the other. Ericsson could form an effective shutdown pairing with Niklas Hjalmarsson, leaving Johnny Oduya (or Alexander Edler) as the odd man out.

3. Jan Hejda, Czech Republic

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: It's not clear why the Czech Republic's best shutdown defenceman was left off the roster.

    It's not because of his age, because the blue line already features two other 35-year-olds and a 37-year-old. Those three are also the ice-time leaders, with the oldest, Marek Zidlicky, averaging a whopping 26:28 per game, five minutes more than anyone else.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Hejda was perhaps the best defensive option at the Czech Republic's disposal. He can take on all the tough minutes and could've helped share Zidlicky's heavy load.

    In the NHL, Hejda is playing an average of 19:23 per game at even strength, the most among Czech defencemen. It is a full minute more than Zidlicky and two more minutes than Zbynek Michalek. His 3:04 of average penalty-killing ice time is second to Michalek and the typical level throughout his career.

    Hejda is a big 6'4", physical defenceman whose hitting and shot-blocking rates both consistently exceed 5.0 per 60 minutes. He has 49 games of World Championships experience, just one shy of making the Czech Republic's all-time top 10. He was on the Olympic team in 2010 and won back-to-back World Championship medals in 2005 and 2006 (gold and silver, respectively).

    Whom He Should Replace: Tomas Kaberle is 35 years old and ceased being an effective top-four force in the NHL a couple of years ago.

    Hejda would make a much better partner for Zbynek Michalek on the third pairing, which could easily prove to be one of the tournament's top shutdown units.

    Given the Czech Republic's lack of puck-moving defencemen, it might actually be wise to keep Kaberle but use him sparingly. In this case, defensive-minded KHLer Lukas Krajicek would be the logical odd man out.

2. P.K. Subban, Canada

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Why He Was Snubbed: Why select the defending Norris Trophy winner for the team, only to have him watch from the press box? P.K. Subban has played just a single game, and for just 11:41 at that, far less than the 25:00 he's currently averaging in the NHL.

    Subban is not elite defensively and does occasionally lose discipline and take penalties, but he is certainly strong enough to handle all but a few opposing lines.

    The main reason why Subban has been scratched is quite possibly because he's fighting for playing time against arguably the best blue line ever assembled on a single team.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Subban is potentially the league's best power-play specialist and is an amazing puck-moving, offensive force, with a game highlighted by end-to-end rushes and exuberant play. He's an aggressive and physical player, with great possession numbers and an incredible shot.

    Canada required overtime to pot a second goal against Finland and managed only three against Norway. It needs all the offence it can get.

    If they're trailing the U.S., Sweden or Russia late in a game, the Canadians are going to wish they had Subban available, especially if they draw a power play. His 77 points in 101 games over the past two years is the most among the NHL's defencemen.

    Whom He Should Replace: Subban could work on the third pairing with the red-hot Drew Doughty, pushing Marc-Edouard Vlasic to the press box and Dan Hamhuis back home.

    They're both great defencemen, but given the rest of the roster, neither one is the first called upon either for scoring or for shutdown play, unlike Subban.

1. Radim Vrbata, Czech Republic

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Why He Was Snubbed: The Czech Republic's roster selection has already been picked apart. Suffice it to say that the Czechs had their own unique strategy that will make them look like geniuses if the team medals. It would also take the pressure off the players if they disappoint.

    Why It Was a Mistake: Radim Vrbata is a great offensive force with excellent speed and puck-handling ability. Despite being focused on scoring, Vrbata is highly disciplined and not irresponsible defensively, taking on decent NHL opponents and recording good possession numbers.

    His 39 NHL points is one back of Mike Ribeiro for Phoenix's team lead and also one back of Jakub Voracek for the fourth highest-scoring Czech this season. The 32-year-old had three goals in four games going into the break and would give the team a fifth player who has topped the 35-goal mark at least once in his career.

    Vrbata's average even-strength ice time of 14:53 per game is fifth among Czech forwards, and his 2:52 on the power play is sixth. He has topped 4.0 points per 60 minutes on the power play for five straight seasons.

    Do you believe in clutch play? Vrbata is also 25-for-55 in the shootout over the past several seasons, and he led the NHL in game-winning goals in 2011-12. He has played in four World Championships for the Czechs, recording 17 points in 27 games and winning the gold in 2005.

    Whom He Should Replace: It's perfectly reasonable to limit the number of top-six forwards on the Olympic team and fill the remainder of the lineup with capable two-way players and/or checking lines. But that strategy requires selecting the best top-six forwards.

    Roman Cervenka was not an ideal selection for a precious top-six roster spot, or for the second power-play unit. Based on analytics, Radim Vrbata was a clearly superior option in both cases. 

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.


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