Los Angeles Kings - Battle Of California
Pack Your Bags
Michal Handzus, C, Team Slovakia
Team Slovakia is part of the Big 7 (Canada, US, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia) but I think it's fair to say that they're the weakest of the 7. They haven't finished higher than 5th place since the Olympics started allowing NHLers play and they're rapidly getting older. They do have legit NHL talent (Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Lubo!) but they don't quite have the depth of the other squads. Still, they're a very good team and one of my favorites.
Michal Handzus is a fairly big lock to play for Team Slovakia because he's always played when asked and Slovakia doesn't have very much center depth. Handzus will likely play 2nd line center and be counted on to fill the same role he fills for the Kings: defensive stopper and big man in front of the net.
Dustin Brown, RW, Team USA
I think I'm most excited about Dustin Brown potentially playing in the Olympics than any other player on the Kings. Brown has always played in a scoring role for the Kings but he will likely be put in a shutdown role alongside Ryan Kesler and someone else. (David Backes?) It'll be fun to watch because Brown's natural game seems more suited for a shutdown role than a scoring one. The times where he comes down and takes a terrible shot won't really be a big deal because he's keeping the puck away from the Ovechkin's and the Nash's of the world. When Brown isn't counted on for scoring the other parts of his game come out and that's where he shines. Plus, can you imagine a game where Brown and Ovechkin are banging away at each other (not like that, sicko) with the pride of their nations at stake? I just got chills.
Philadelphia Flyers - Broad Street Hockey
The pressure is on for the host country. After a disappointing showing in 2006 at Turin that saw Canada come home without a medal, anything less than the gold will be unacceptable north of the border.
- Chris Pronger: There's absolutely no doubt that Pronger will be representing Canada in Vancouver. He's an experienced Olympian, winning the gold with Canada at Salt Lake City in 2002. He also played for his country in the 2006 Turin games and the 1998 Nagano games, as well as in the 1997 World Championships and the 1993 World Junior Championships. Pronger, along with former Anaheim teammate Scott Niedermayer, will be expected to lead the Canadian blueline. Packing His Bags.
- Mike Richards: It's hard to see how Canada could keep Richards off the roster. The captain of the Canadian team that won the World Junior Championship in 2005, Richards has played internationally on three different occasions. Packing His Bags.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Pensburgh
Sidney Crosby (CANADA) - Canada, who suffered a disappointing 7th place finish in 2006, is eager to add a former scoring champion, NHL MVP and the youngest captain to ever claim the Stanley Cup to the club. Despite the snub in '06, Crosby's got international experience; he was the youngest player to ever score a goal in the World Junior Championships (WJCs) in 2004 and led Canada to a gold medal in that tournament in 2005. Crosby also ran with the Olympic torch through his home province of Nova Scotia. He's the lock of locks to be Canada's #1 center with two strong, sniping power forwards in Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla having the inside track to be the wingers.
Evgeni Malkin (RUSSIA) - The reigning Art Ross and Conn Smythe winner is a surefire Olympian for the formidable Russian team. Malkin's also a decorated international player: winning two silver medals in the WJC's in 2005 and 2006, and he's played in the World Championships (when not in the NHL playoffs) in 2005 and 2007. Further, Malkin scored six points in seven games for Russia in the 2006 Olympics in Turin (the season before he came to the NHL). During the summer he practiced at Russia's orientation camp on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk, which is frightening to think about what those two could put on display.