The New York Rangers will have a busy February, even with the NHL schedule resting, as the club figures to send seven players to the 2014 Sochi Olympic hockey competition. That’s a full third of the roster, and having so many key players participating in the 2014 Olympics could either benefit or come back to haunt the club once the NHL season resumes.
Three prominent members of the Rangers will be shifting from Broadway Blue to the Red, White and Blue, as captain Ryan Callahan, a returning Olympian from the 2010 Vancouver team which took home silver, Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh are all slated to be on the Team USA Olympic hockey squad.
McDonagh figures to play most prominently of the three, as a key cog of the defense. Callahan and Stepan will both be in rotation, Callahan perhaps as a third line player, and Stepan potentially centering the fourth line. Callahan and Stepan are each known as two-way players, especially Callahan, who should see time both at full strength and on the penalty kill.
The King, Henrik Lundqvist, will of course be reprising his role as goaltender of the Swedish Olympic hockey team. In 2006, Lundqvist helped lead the team to gold, although they missed the medal stand in 2010. He has a 7-2 record in Olympic play, with a .927 save percentage and 2.00 GAA.
At Sochi, he should be joined by speedy forward Carl Hagelin. Hagelin could be a third or fourth line player for the Swedish Olympic hockey team, and if gets hot he could play a major role for them. Through December 2, he has 11 points in 17 games as he’s battled injuries this season, but stride for stride, few players can keep pace with him on open ice, something he should see plenty of with the roomier and less physical conditions of Olympic hockey.
Rick Nash is finally getting into a groove after an extended stay on the shelf with concussion symptoms at the start of the year. He has 9 points in just 10 games played this season, including goals in three straight games to close the month of November.
Team Canada will certainly benefit from that, and Nash will likely be on the second line for their loaded squad. Like Lundqvist, this will mark his third trip to the Olympic games. In Turin in 2006 he had a minor role with Team Canada, but at Vancouver, he notched 5 points as the Canadians took home gold.
Mats Zuccarello will make his second showing with the Norwegian Olympic team. Zuccarello has really improved on his play this season, with 15 points including 12 assists for the Rangers thus far, and like Hagelin, he should benefit from the Olympic style of play. He had a goal and two assists for Norway at the Vancouver Olympics, and figures to be a key contributor for them at Sochi.
Notably on the outside looking in are defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, both Canadians, and Anton Stralman, a Swede.
Staal has not yet been able to regain the form he had as a breakout player several years ago, missing so much time first due to a severe concussion he suffered on the wrong end of a check from his brother Eric, and then a potentially career-threatening puck to the face.
Girardi and Stralman just seem to be too far down the totem pole to make the cut for their teams. However, particularly in Stralman’s case, injuries or poor performance could always shake up the Olympic roster for any country, and there’s still a month until final decisions need to be made.
Still, that’s a solid seven Rangers players who will be participating in the 2014 Sochi Olympic games. On the upside, it’s a chance for many of them to test and showcase their skills in an elite setting, and strong performances at the Olympics could certainly ignite play back in the NHL once the season resumes.
On the other hand, any postseason hope for the Rangers depends upon a strong, rested Henrik Lundqvist in May and June. Luckily, this season, rookie backup Cam Talbot has been lights out, giving Lundqvist an early season reprieve. Considering Lundqvist has had an up and down year thus far, by his standards, the Olympic environment may serve him well, as should removing the burdens and expectations of leading his country to medal contention.
It’ll be a busy February for the Rangers, and any Broadway Blueshirts fan should be tuned into the 2014 Sochi Olympics to see how all of these guys perform on the global stage.
*This article was first published on Yahoo Sports on December 4, 2013.