These 11 Olympians Have Been Pleasant Surprises
Friday, 02.26.2010 / 11:42 AM / News
By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Editorial Director
But surprise! There are indeed, shall we say, "developments" that show a player in a new light or perhaps are affording a longer skate through the spotlight.
Here are 11 players who have enjoyed eye-catching performances in Vancouver.
Pavol Demitra, Vancouver Canucks -- Injuries have made Demitra a forgotten man for the Canucks, having appeared in just 11 games this season. But the Olympics have seen him return to the ice and be a very effective player for Slovakia. In five games, Demitra has 2 goals and 5 assists. He scored the shootout winner in an upset of Russia in the preliminary round.
"He's playing his best hockey right now. It's maybe his last Olympics. So it's good timing for him," former Wild teammate Marian Gaborik said of Demitra.
His strong performance for Slovakia is harbinger of things to come, says Demitra.
"You're going to see it. You're going to see it every single game," Demitra told reporters. "I just have to play. I just have to play, play with right guys. You'll see lot more emotion."
Canucks fans will hold him to that promise.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks -- Now hold on, you say. Toews has been a touted player since joining the Hawks. True enough, but he has shown such a mature, productive side with Canada, that his 7 assists in five games seem unimportant. He was especially impressive in helping to shut down Alex Ovechkin in the quarterfinals.
"You have so much to lose there, so it's one of those tasks that you have to be willing to take on or else you're not going to have a chance at winning a gold medal," he told NHL.com of shutting down Ovechkin. "We did a great job and we're going to keep improving and going forward as a team."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has noticed.
"Jonny has played great," Quenneville said. "I've been very happy with everything he's done. I think game-in, game-out, he's getting better and getting more responsibilities as well. He's finding a way to take some leadership [roles] as well."
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Weber also gets props for playing a physical game against the Russians, and adding some offense during the tournament for Canada. He has 2 goals and 3 assists in 5 games, but his real value has been in shutting down the opposition.
"That's a pretty tall order and he did a great job," Predators coach Barry Trotz said of Weber's job on Ovechkin. "That's a real building block for his career."
Toews, Mike Richards and Scott Niedermayer rounded out the five-man unit that held Russia's top line of Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin off the scoreboard.
"That's the stuff you dream about as a kid, playing in those big situations against the best players in the world," Weber told NHL.com. "It's not an easy task by any means, but I thought we did a good job as a team."
"(Weber) is the one guy that we play against that makes it real hard against (Pavel) Datsyuk," Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said. "Pavel is one of the best players I have ever coached and Shea is such a big man that he makes it hard with and without the puck. We really felt that was an important matchup for us because of his size."
Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings -- After several seasons of anonymity playing in Europe, Rafalski has known little but success as a New Jersey Devil and now a Red Wing. He has four goals for Team USA in the tournament, along with a pair of assists. At age 36, he has won four Stanley Cups, appeared in five Stanley Cup Finals, and played in three Olympics.
"Raffie is on fire shooting the puck right now, so we're just trying to get him the puck," Team USA captain Jamie Langenbruner said.
"He's just a real solid player that does his job," Mike Babcock said. "He's not the guy you talk about."
In this tournament, you do.
Niklas Hagman, Calgary Flames -- The Flames acquired Hagman in the blockbuster Dion Phaneuf trade with the Maple Leafs hoping he would provide a jolt of offense.
If his tournament stats of 3 goals and 2 assists in four games for Finland is any indication, then the Flames made a wise move.
Richard Zednik, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl -- Our old friend from the Capitals, Canadiens, Islanders and Panthers has enjoyed a strong tournament with 2 goals and 3 assists in five games for Slovakia and appears completely recovered from the scary skate cut he suffered on Feb. 10, 2008 during a game in Buffalo when Olli Jokinen's skate cut his external carotid artery.
He has 6 goals and 12 assists in 35 KHL games this season.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks -- Hiller came to the Olympics shortly after signing a contract extension with the Ducks and his performance in Vancouver certainly justifies the deal. Hiller was one of the leading reasons why the Swiss enjoyed a strong tournament, posting a .918 save percentage. His goals-against average in five games for the Swiss was 2.47. Of the 13 goals allowed, 5 came on opposing power plays.
"He played very well," Anaheim GM Bob Murray said. "He kept the Swiss in every game and gave them an opportunity to upset both Canada and the U.S."
"He's confident in where he's at in the net and he's seeing the puck, he's blocking, he's made some big stops at key times for our group," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
Loui Eriksson, Dallas Stars -- It was a disappointing tournament for the Swedes, who were upset by the Slovaks in the quarters, but no one can be unhappy with Eriksson, who had 3 goals and 1 assist in four games.
"You don't see him a whole lot when he's out there, but then you look at the score sheet after the game, he always seems to have a goal or an assist," Swedish assistant coach Tommy Albelin told NHL.com. "It's the same in Jersey when we play them in Dallas. He is very hard to find, very slippery around the net. He's got a long reach, he's slippery and he finds rebounds."
Eriksson has been having a strong season in Dallas with 23 goals and 31 assists through 61 games.
"He's really a skilled guy with a sneaky long reach and really fast," Sweden forward Henrik Zetterberg told NHL.com. "When he gets his chances he usually puts them away. That's a good player to have in this kind of tournament."
Erik Johnson, St. Louis Blues -- Team USA veteran Chris Drury told NHL.com that the young defenseman's looks are deceiving.
"My wife, we get in the elevator at the hotel and she sees them and they leave the elevators and she says, 'That kid is not on your team, he looks like he is 9.' He's on my team and he is one of the best players in the world."
He is 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, the biggest "side of beef" -- as GM Brian Burke likes to call his big-bodied players -- on the American roster. Yet he entered this tournament with the reputation as an offense-first player.
"That's another thing that these tournaments bring out -- special abilities in players," teammate David Backes said. "He's been put it in that role a little bit and he has done a phenomenal job by blocking shots, sticks in lanes and shutting down other guys."
"I didn't know much about him before coming to this tournament," Brooks Orpik told NHL.com. "I think everybody has been really impressed with him and the way he handles himself. I don't know exactly how old he is, but he seems more experienced than he is."
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks -- Kesler, now a villain among his normal supporters in Vancouver, didn't have a point in Team USA's win over Switzerland in the quarterfinals, but he was vital in the Americans' success by doing all the dirty work successful teams need to win.
"Ryan Kesler was a warrior," Team USA GM Brian Burke said. "He competed in all areas. He was physical and used his foot speed. He was a pain in the ass to play against. I thought he was great."
Burke knew early that Kesler would be an integral part of any success his team would have in this tournament, and he has proven to be just that.
David Backes, St. Louis Blues -- He netted the game-winning goal to get Team USA off on a winning note in Vancouver and has played a snarling, physical game that has put a lot of pressure on the opposition.
"What David Backes does is he's big, but he can move his feet well, he's got proper levels of truculence and he's good on faceoffs," American GM Brian Burke said. "He does a lot of the pick-and-shovel things on a team well, and he's going to have to shut down people and bang later in the tournament."
"To me, there's no question he is the type of guy that can play in these short tournaments," teammate Erik Johnson said. "He can kill penalties, play in front of the net on the power play and shut down the other team's top players. He's been doing it on our team in St. Louis. He's kind of a jack of all trades and it was evident today."
Author: Phil Coffey | NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director