2018 Olympic Men's Hockey Preview: NHL Passes On Pyeongchang
2018 Olympic Men’s Hockey Gold Medal Favorites
Olympic Athletes Russia - +104
Russia will possess the best fleet of forwards in the Olympics, powered by ex-NHLers who now toil in the KHL. Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk provide star power, while Vadim Shipachyov adds NHL-level punch to the top six. Many of the players hail from SKA St. Petersburgh, which reduces the time required to gel as a team – crucial during a short tournament format.
Some prognosticators believe that Russia’s defense will be a weak spot, but the rearguards consist of the very best KHL defenders. Ultimately, OAR looks like the strongest team on paper, and they might overwhelm the competition through the strength of their offense. Teams will need to beat Russia through near-perfect defense and goaltending. This squad will also feel motivated because comrades have been “banned” from the Olympics. Russia plays in Group B, the group of least resistance.
Canada - +277
The Canadian national team features a who’s who of players who remind you they were in the NHL. Derek Roy earned 427 points in 529 NHL appearances, including an 81-point campaign for Buffalo in 2007-2008. Wojtek Wolski scored 20 goals twice during his injury-riddled career in the NHL. Ben Scrivens started 73 games for the Leafs, Kings, Oilers and Canadiens. Rene Bourque notched 75 goals for the Flames between 2008 and 2011.
Since all the best Canadians play in the NHL, Canada enters the Olympic men’s tournament as an underdog. Players like Linden Vey and Maxim Noreau aren’t popular names, but they’re skilled international players who’ve proven themselves in previous tournaments, such as the Spengler Cup. Everyone wants to win a Gold Medal, but these players will feel additional motivation because of the unexpected opportunity to represent their country.
Sweden - +525
Sweden will be one of the more interesting teams to watch because of the potential of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He already made his mark with the World Junior team, and now he’ll receive the opportunity to represent his home country on the biggest stage. Many will tune in to watch this highly-touted prospect, a likely number one pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Viktor Stalberg might be the most recognizable ex-NHLer for Sweden, winning a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013. Forwards Stalberg, Oscar Moller and Linus Omark will enjoy success as top-six contributors, but scoring depth may pose an issue. If Dahlin lives up to his billing as an elite young talent, Sweden may possess one of the best top fours in the tournament. Jhonas Enroth earned plenty of experience in the NHL, offering Tre Kronor top-level netminding. Sweden will have the defense necessary to compete with Canada and OAR.
Finland - +900
The Finnish pro league doesn’t feature the depth of Russian or Swedish leagues, increasing the impact of the NHL deciding to avoid Olympic hockey. Finland will rely on young prospects like Eeli Tolvanen to create the offense required to advance in the tournament. The team doesn’t feature a proven producer at the NHL level, reducing the odds of an Olympic breakthrough.
Goaltending will give them a chance to forge an upset against the big three of Sweden, Canada and OAR. Karri Ramo played six serviceable seasons in the NHL, earning five shutouts and a .906 SV% over 146 starts with the Flames and the Lightning. Finland’s defense will serve as a tightly knit unit, cobbled together from the KHL and Finnish big leagues.
Czech Republic - +1000
Similar to most teams in this tournament, the Czech Republic will rely on defense to overcome long odds of beating hockey superpowers. Martin Erat probably rings a bell, but the team lacks proven high-end scoring talent needed to break open the tournament. Erat, a former Nashville Predator, enters this tournament at the age of 36, lacking the same breakout speed which helped him notch 176 goals during his North American career.
That being written, this team will feature prospects who look forward to leveraging the Olympics into another stint with the NHL. Roman Horak used to play in Alberta with the Flames and Oilers, while Jiri Sekac was a member of four franchises in two seasons, never settling into a groove. If these two forwards contribute enough to lift the Czechs into the semis, they could score another contract. Just don’t expect this team to have enough firepower for a Gold Medal.
USA - +1000
The Americans will be one of the most fascinating teams in the tournament due to the mix of ex-NHLers, international pro standouts, and NCAA superstars coalescing into a plausible dark horse candidate. University standouts Ryan Donato, Troy Terry, Will Borgen and Jordan Greenway may turn into a handful on the wide-open rink, utilizing their speed to outpace older Olympic athletes.
Speaking of whom, 39-year-old Brian Gionta will captain this squad after turning down NHL contract offers to compete for the United States in Pyeongchang. His steady leadership will bring more than a 1000 games of experience at the highest level of hockey, along with vets like James Wisniewski, Matt Gilroy and Jonathon Blum. The only question mark is goaltending depth. Netminder Ryan Zapolski’s been one of the best goalies in the KHL, but if he falters, the U.S. will end up relying on relatively unknown backups from Europe’s lesser pro leagues.
Olympic Hockey Long Shots
Perhaps the most remarkable team in the Olympic hockey tournament, the Republic of Korea combines the best hockey players from the DPRK and South Korea under a united front. A single win in this tournament would be a miracle, but they’re not considered the longest shot of the Olympics. The Republic of Korea features a line of +38500, enjoying home advantage over Slovania, given a +43500 line to win Gold in 2018.
Frankly, any of these teams proceeding past the group stage would be a big surprise, as well as a major accomplishment. The talent and experience gap between these six underdogs and the top six contenders will be considerable, requiring another “Miracle On Ice” for any shot at a medal. Be wary of placing money on these squads.
- Switzerland +3400
- Germany +7200
- Slovakia +8800
- Norway +11700
- Republic Of Korea +38500
- Slovenia +43500
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