Seth Jones Among Seven Candidates With Chance at 2014 Sochi Olympic Roster Spot
In a typical October, if Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman shows up in Detroit to catch a game that doesn't include his team, his presence would barely register on the local radar, let alone the national radar.
When he shows up at Joe Louis Arena as he did on Oct. 21 to catch the game between the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks, Yzerman's presence sends a ripple effect through the NHL as media and fans immediately consider the potential Olympic ramifications of his watching from the press box.
In addition to his role in Tampa, Yzerman is again the executive director of Canada's Olympic team. He's out there scouting when he can, as are the members of his managerial staff, as they prepare for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile and members of his staff for the United States Olympic team are doing the same. Scouts from other countries are compiling stacks of game credentials as well as they continue to monitor their Olympic team candidates from press boxes across the NHL.
The season isn't even a month old yet, but Tuesday marks the 100-day countdown to the Olympics and the evaluation process is in full swing. To celebrate the 100-day countdown to the Olympics, here's a list of who's hot and who's not among candidates to play in Sochi come February:
Matt Duchene, Canada
Duchene is among the plethora of centers available to Yzerman, but he should be close to the top of the list for the way he's playing so far for the Colorado Avalanche. He entered play Monday third in the NHL with nine goals and tied for 11th with 13 points. He's winning 54 percent of his faceoffs. Duchene is a big reason why Colorado is off to a hot start and leads the Central Division with 20 points. He doesn't have to be a center on the Olympic team. Duchene has played wing in the past and said during the summer he's comfortable there.
Alexander Steen, Sweden
Steen hasn't played in an international tournament for Sweden since 2007, but he's playing his way onto the Olympic team. Steen entered play Monday tied with Alex Ovechkin for the League lead in goals with 10. Second in goals among Swedish forwards this season is Henrik Zetterberg, who has six. Steen has 15 points and is playing more than 20 minutes a game, and in all situations for the St. Louis Blues. His versatility could be a boost to a Swedish team that likely has gold on its mind.
Marcus Johansson, Sweden
Johansson is considered the third wheel on the Washington Capitals' top line, but only because his linemates are Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. However, he's not playing like a third wheel. He's played a big role in Ovechkin's hot start as he has 10 assists in 11 games entering Monday. He's quickly become one of Sweden's top forwards and would be a natural to play with Backstrom at the Olympics.
Semyon Varlamov, Russia
Varlamov was Russia's third goalie at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He is establishing himself as Russia's No. 1 goalie for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Varlamov is 7-1-0 with a 1.76 goals-against average and .945 save percentage for the Avalanche. Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy last season and his numbers so far this season are respectable (2.60 GAA, .917 save percentage), but Varlamov is head of the class right now and an early Vezina Trophy favorite.
Seth Jones, United States
The future has arrived for the United States' blue line because Jones, 19, has been as advertised early in his rookie season. He's 20th among all defensemen and fourth among American defensemen in ice time per game, averaging 24:42 for the Nashville Predators. He has two goals and three assists, but it's his overall play that has earned rave reviews. He makes the smart, simple play and is adept at making the first pass to lead the Predators out of the zone. He's been paired up with Shea Weber, which means he's facing top competition on most nights and is holding his own.
Logan Couture, Canada
Couture entered the season high on Canada's list, but not a lock to be on the team. He should be now. Couture has 14 points in 13 games. The only Canadian forwards who have more points are Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos, and they're obviously locks for the Olympic team. In 5-on-5 situations, Couture has been on the ice for eight goals for and only two against, according to stats compiled by ExtraSkater.com. He's been as effective in the defensive zone as he has been in the offensive zone. He's also winning better than 52 percent of his faceoffs.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Canada
San Jose Sharks assistant coach Larry Robinson vouched for Vlasic in an interview with NHL.com and he made a lot of sense. Robinson said on the larger international ice a team wants players who can move the puck and skate and defend well. Vlasic has all of those qualities. Robinson pointed out Vlasic is a strong one-on-one defender and is excellent at using his stick or his body to break up a play. His skating and stick skills allow him to turn a strong defensive play into a quick offensive chance through transition. He has nine points and is a plus-11 this season.
SEVEN MORE ON THE RISE: Tomas Hertl, Czech Republic; Jonas Gustavsson, Sweden; Matt Niskanen, United States; Justin Braun, United States; Milan Lucic, Canada; Olli Maatta, Finland; Kevin Bieksa, Canada
Rick Nash, Canada
Nash, a two-time Olympian, would be a lock for Canada if he was healthy. He'd be part of the leadership core of the team, but he's missed seven consecutive games with a concussion and the team hasn't provided any hope for Nash's return to the lineup in the near future. The New York Rangers have not given a positive update on Nash's status over the past week and he has not resumed skating. The longer he remains out, the more in doubt his chances are of making the team despite his Olympic experience.
Nail Yakupov, Russia
Yakupov watched two games from the press box earlier this month as a healthy scratch. He hasn't responded the way the Edmonton Oilers would have hoped. Yakupov has a goal and two assists in seven games since being scratched, but he has been on the ice for six of the past eight 5-on-5 goals the Oilers have allowed, including all four goals in a 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals last week. The one goal he scored was on the power play.
Claude Giroux, Canada
Giroux put himself behind during the summer by choosing not to attend Canada's Olympic orientation camp because he was rehabbing from a freak offseason injury to his right index finger. He could have traveled to Calgary and continued his rehab at Hockey Canada's headquarters, but he did not. Couple that with the start of his season, including no goals, five assists and a minus-5 rating in 10 games, and a guy who was once considered a lock to be on the Olympic team now has some ground to make up if he wants to get to Sochi.
Pekka Rinne, Finland
Rinne wasn't a lock to be Finland's No. 1 or even its No. 2 goalie in Sochi before he was forced out of the Predators' lineup with a left hip infection that required arthroscopic surgery. He's expected to miss at least four weeks. Now, though, it's almost a certainty that Rinne will be trailing Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask on the Olympic depth chart, and there's a chance he may not make it at all because Kari Lehtonen has a chance to take it from him with a solid month for the Dallas Stars.
Jordan Staal, Canada
Canada has too much depth at forward for Staal to even be considered on the radar at this point in the season. He entered play Monday with three points and a minus-2 rating in 11 games. Staal doesn't necessarily have to score a lot to be an effective player in the NHL, but he needs to produce more if he's going to catch the eye of Yzerman and Canada's managerial staff. They won't take Staal just for his defensive prowess.
Brad Marchand, Canada
Marchand is in the same boat as Staal in that he just hasn't been effective enough to be considered on Canada's radar at this point. He has three points in 11 games and his ice time is down to 15 minutes per game. Canada isn't going to take Marchand just because he's an irritating player to play against. He has to be more than that, and so far this season he hasn't been.
Viktor Fasth, Sweden
With a strong start Fasth would have been a top candidate to be Henrik Lundqvist's backup in Sochi, but he wasn't playing well before sustaining an injury that has kept him out of the net since Oct. 16. Fasth has a 3.33 GAA and .877 save percentage in three appearances. Meanwhile, Jonas Gustavsson (four appearances, 2.12 GAA, .937 save percentage), Robin Lehner (three appearances, 2.41 GAA, .940 save percentage) and Jhonas Enroth (four appearances, 2.24 GAA, .932 save percentage) have fared much better.
SEVEN MORE ON THE DECLINE: James Neal, Canada (injured); Taylor Hall, Canada (injured); Ryan Callahan, United States (injured); Braden Holtby, Canada; Evgeni Nabokov, Russia; Derek Stepan, United States; Kyle Palmieri, United States
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Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer