Finland might again be the surprise country that finds its way onto the Olympic medal stand.
The Finns are the only group that has done it three times since NHL players started participating in the Olympics in 1998, and the way some of their young -- and old -- players have been playing of late things are looking up for them as the 2014 Sochi Olympics draw closer.
A pair of teenagers, Olli Maatta and Aleksander Barkov, have stepped up their games in the past few weeks. The old superstar, Teemu Selanne, has found his offensive touch again with four points in his past three games after he went the previous 16 without a goal or an assist.
And, of course, Finland's goaltending might be the best in the Olympic tournament with Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. That doesn't even include Pekka Rinne, whose chances to play in the Olympics appear slim because of his hip infection.
Two of these promising Finns made it into the Stock Up part of the weekly Olympic Stock Report. The Finns don't have anybody who landed in the Stock Down section this week.
Here is the latest Olympic Stock Report:
He's 19 years old, but he's resembled a veteran since the Penguins sustained all of their injuries on defense. Maatta has received more ice time in the wake of injuries to Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi. He is regularly playing more than 20 minutes a game and contributing offensively with two goals and five assists in his past 11 games. But it's not production that has given Maatta a chance to represent Finland. Instead it's poise. He has shown it in spades early in his NHL career and has become a contender for the Calder Trophy.
Barkov was on the Stock Down list two weeks ago because his production had waned and it appeared he had hit a wall in his rookie season. The 18-year-old has picked up his play significantly over the past six games with two goals, three assists and a plus-5 rating. His age may be a deterrent, but Barkov has been scouted by Jarmo Kekalainen, the general manager for the Columbus Blue Jackets who is serving as an assistant GM for Finland. He is forcing Finland to give him a long look for the Olympics.
There has been plenty of Olympic talk around Seguin's linemate, Stars captain Jamie Benn, and rightfully so. Benn has played well, but it's possible that Seguin has been giving Steve Yzerman and Co. a lot to think about. He has 12 points in the past eight games, including a pair of four-point games, and leads the Stars with 18 goals and 35 points. The problem for Seguin is he's a natural center and Canada is loaded down the middle. It's also not clear if Canada put him on the Olympic long list prior to the season. Players have to be included on that list to be eligible for the Olympics. Canada has not made its long list available to the public.
Assuming Carey Price and Roberto Luongo are Canada's top-two goalies, there is still an opening for a third Canadian goalie to go to Sochi. Smith might be taking the lead in the race with his play of late. He didn't get off to a strong start, but Smith has been better in recent games, including a 37-save performance in a 4-3 win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. A few more solid performances and he might be the guy that gets the nod.
Fowler has played his way into contention and maybe even onto the team with his steady, reliable, productive play all season. Fowler leads the Ducks in ice time (24:07 per game) and he is fourth among American defenseman with 21 points. He has a good shot, moves the puck well, has dramatically improved in the defensive end, and has always been a strong skater. He might be perfectly suited to play on the big ice in Sochi.
Hertl has had a promising rookie season and was playing his way into the Olympics, but he'll be out for at least the next month with a knee injury he sustained last Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson did not rule out the possibility that Hertl could miss the remainder of the season. He said he won't know that until the swelling subsides and further tests are taken. Hertl has 15 goals and 10 assists in 35 games.
Phaneuf had a better game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings with a goal and a plus-2 rating in a 5-4 shootout loss. However, Phaneuf's possession numbers have not been good this season as he is on the ice for nearly half the game and the Maple Leafs spend a lot of time in their defensive zone, giving up an average of 35.9 shots per game.
Letang is out of the lineup with an upper-body injury. He might be able to return shortly after Christmas, but there might not be enough time for him to impress Yzerman and Canada coach Mike Babcock. Letang has been in and out of the lineup because of injuries, but he simply hasn't been good enough when he's been in to land one of eight coveted spots on Canada's Olympic blue line. He has 11 points and is a minus-6. Letang has been turnover prone partly because he takes risks. They might not be risks Canada wants to take on the big ice.
It might be surprising to find Ryan on this list, but he's here because he hasn't been a good enough scorer of late to mask some of the other areas of his game which aren't as strong. Ryan has three goals in the past 13 games. He needs to score to help the Senators snap out of their slump. If he does he should be a lock to make the U.S. roster. But it's not like the Americans are short on scoring wingers with the likes of Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Zach Parise.
Semyon Varlamov was likely Russia's No. 1 goalie even before Bobrovsky sustained a groin injury that has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 3. However, Bobrovsky's injury and his inconsistent play might be enough to keep him off the Olympic roster altogether. Ilya Bryzgalov has played well for the Edmonton Oilers so he might have his spot back, potentially over Evgeni Nabokov. Russia might also want to take a goalie from the Kontinental Hockey League. Konstantin Barulin and Vasily Koshechkin were at Russia's pre-Olympic hockey camp in August.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
|Back to top|