Forwards – Canada
As an American whose team lacks an elite centerman it’s extremely depressing to glance at the Canadian roster and see the excessive amount of talent down the middle. With the exception of Sweden, team Canada has five centerman (Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf, Tavares and Stamkos) who are talented enough to lead any other countries top line, and yet there are only three center spots open on Canada’s roster (we’re assuming Bergeron has the 4th line spot secured). That leaves Canada with the envious decision of moving two of those players (Tavares and Stamkos in all likelihood) to the wing for Sochi.
The other thing that team Canada has decided to bring along to the Olympics is chemistry. Crosby-Kunitz (Pittsburgh), Getzlaf-Perry (Anaheim) and Toews-Sharp (Chicago) are all linemates for their NHL squads and will likely play alongside one another in Sochi. Other countries have similar pairings (US has Backes and Oshie while Sweden has the Sedin twins) but the Canadians have done this at a higher level. The three pairings from above just so happen to be the three highest scoring linemates in the entire NHL (Crosby-Kunitz = 110, Getzlaf-Perry = 92, Toews-Sharp = 90). What makeshift defensive pairing wants to deal with that type of production for three periods?
Of course their biggest asset is their depth. Outside of the obvious world class players on the roster they have players like Duchene who, with the added space of an olympic ice sheet, could emerge as the breakout player of the tournament. Then there is Jamie Benn who went from training camp snub to Olympic lock in half a season after feeling slighted by the selection committee. The truth is, any forward on Canada’s roster has the talent to rip apart an opposing defense and that’s something that only team Canada can claim.
Defensemen – Sweden
The Swedes snubbed two of the best young defensemen in the NHL (Jonas Brodin and Victor Hedman) and somehow they still sit atop of the defensive mountain. Why? Because no group is more prepared to play on the large rink quite like Sweden is.
Take Oliver Ekman-Larsson as a prime example. The 22 year-old is a master of the break-out, using his speed, intelligence and skill to push the puck out of his own zone at a rapid pace. Add the extra space that the Olympic sized ice sheet will give him and the idea of him leading a break-out is downright terrifying for an opposing coach. And that’s just OEL. Alex Edler and Niklas Hjalmarsson are just as capable of doing the exact same thing. Depending on how the pairings play out the Swedish team could have a defensemen on every pairing who is capable of kickstarting an offensive rush out of nowhere.
Then there is the x-factor, Erik Karlsson. The NHL’s best offensive-defensemen is nearly unstoppable when he joins the offensive zone in an NHL sized rink which raises the question; what can he do with the space of the Olympic games? For opposing teams it will feel like Sweden is playing with a 4th forward, which they essentially will be doing. Karlsson will eat up any space that is offered to him which will leave the opposing team scrambling to catch up. His speed is just too much when it comes to this style of play.
Goalies – United States
Experience, talent, depth, versatility; the US has it all when it comes to the netminders. Jonathan Quick is the reigning #1 US goalie and if you looked at the regular season stats you’d wonder why. Well, when it comes to rising to the occasion, there isn’t another goalie in the world quite like Quick. Over the past few seasons he has turned into the best big game netminder and has the Conn Smythe to prove it. If he plays aware near that level, or even Ryan Miller’s 2010 level, the US will be in good hands.
Speaking of Ryan Miller, the king of 2010’s Vancouver games is going to Sochi as the team’s backup. Heading into the 2013-14 season his spot on the roster was in jeopardy after suffering through a treacherous 2012-13 campaign. He’s rebounded nicely this season (although his stats don’t reflect it due to Buffalo being terrible) which is why he is heading to Sochi. Unless Quick stumbles or gets injured he’ll sit on the bench but with his history in the tournament he might be the best backup at the Olympics this year.