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3 Olympic Hockey Players That Could Play In The NHL

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I suppose we shouldn't be terribly surprised to see the semifinals of the Olympic hockey tournament full of teams that are NHL-centric – USA, Canada, Finland, and Slovakia have a total of 80 forwards and defensemen, only two of whom are players who aren't current or recently departed members of the National Hockey League. Sweden and Russia, who just missed the semis, have five such players.

What about the opposite ends of the spectrum? Germany, Latvia, Belarus, Norway, and Switzerland have a total of 16 out of 100 skaters with any amount of NHL experience, so that means they're doomed, right? Well, for the most part yes — those teams played several rather terrible games. However, there were some diamonds to be seen in that rough, and there may be a smart general manager who could take a crack at some serious talent once these Olympic games are over:

Roman Wick / Getty ImagesRoman Wick (SUI) — Far and away the top player on this list. Wick was actually drafted once, in the 5th round of the 2004 Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. That was, of course, the draft before the lockout. Wick headed to the Western Hockey League to play some Canadian junior hockey and acclimated himself well. In two seasons with two different teams, Wick tallied 53 goals and 65 assists in 127 games before heading back to play National League A hockey in Switzerland.

Wick was a very large part of the tough time the Swiss gave to both the US and Canada –  he has great size (6'1" 195), speed, and vision, and could be a legitimate top-6 forward for some GM willing to pursue

Julien Sprunger (SUI) — Wick's partner in crime during Switzerland's rise to the middle of the international pack, Sprunger is a little bit raw but has serious potential. You can't teach size (6'5") or scoring knack, and Sprunger has both, and may even have a nose for the power play (his good shifts may or may not have been because he was playing alongside Wick). His lone gaping hole is that at his height, 198 pounds is simply not enough bulk to handle the physical play of the NHL. If he were willing to bulk up a bit, he could also be a staple in some lucky team's top two lines.

Nikolai Stasenko (BLR) — Belarus did not have as poor an Olympic showing as Latvia or Norway, but if you ignore their handful of NHL players, Stasenko was one of only two players to tally multiple points as well as a +/- above zero. His technical skills are not the most incredible, but he is a large (6'2", 210) lefthanded defenseman who at age 23 still has some room to grow into his game. He is not afraid to do whatever dirty work is asked of him, and that mix of skills and mentality has to be appealing to some GM out there.

Other notables:

Marcel Muller (GER) — A big, lean forward not unlike Sprunger, but much less polished on both ends of the ice, and tries to do too much and overreach to compensate. Potential, sure, but some team would need to be patient with him.

Mathis Olimb & Mats Zuccarello Aasen (NOR) — I bunch these two together because they are very similar players. Olimb (5'10" 175) is a tad bigger than Aasen (5'7" 160) but they play a very similar game – very technically gifted in terms of scoring, especially Zuccarello Aasen and his gorgeous wrist shot, but both catch flak for their lack of defensive ability/desire, which is certainly due in some part to their lack of size. Useful NHLers, but perhaps not durable/versatile enough to be top-end forwards.

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  • nicolas

    I think, to be fair, “too old” is a pretty relative term. Obviously when I wrote this I ruled out any players older than 25 because a team would want a player younger rather than older because they could still be…well, rewired.

    Wick and Sprunger may not be young at 24, but they’re certainly far from the end of their careers, and later success is certainly not unprecedented.

    The Sedin twins didnt really start having success until after the lockout, by which point they were 25. Martin St Louis didn’t hit his stride as a perennial 30-goal scorer until his fifth NHL season at age 24. Tomas Plekanec didn’t find his current offensive groove until his age 24 season.

    I think Wick, Sprunger, and Stasenko could all, if they joined NHL teams this offseason, be productive players at that level by the following season. They have the size to be physical and even some room to bulk up, and they already have strong offensive skillsets, which is half the battle. I mean hell, look how much time Ovechkin spends cherry-picking instead of playing defense, and he’s still a superstar.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Cool article.

    Stasenko is probably pretty happy making KHL money at the moment (tax free!) and probably won’t be looking to jump to the NHL anytime soon, but I agree that he’s a heck of a player. I think he might be already too old to jump to the NHL in any sort of meaningful way, too.

    Wick probably has as good a chance as any out of this list (save for maybe Müller), but even he might be a little too old at 24 for a club to take a risk at molding him to the NHL style of play. It’s hard to get out of that “big ice mode” and a lot of NHL clubs, especially with such a complicated CBA, are reluctant to take risks on new players to the NHL system that are north of 20.

    Nice article and good job highlighting some of the good international talent out there. It just goes to show you that the NHL ain’t the only game in town with respect to quality players.