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Olympic Hockey 2014: Ranking the Top 50 Players in Sochi

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistFebruary 9, 2014

Olympic Hockey 2014: Ranking the Top 50 Players in Sochi

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Who is the best player competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics?

    The following slideshow answers not only that question but also who the second-, third-, fourth- and 50th-best players are in the tournament. Players were ranked with an eye toward Olympic performance, meaning that while items like contract and team had no influence on the order international play was weighted heavily. 

    Read on to see where everyone ranks.

     

    Statistics courtesy of NHL.com, BehindtheNet.ca, EliteProspects.com and Hockey-Reference.com and current through February 9 unless otherwise noted. 

50. Cam Fowler, United States

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    Heikki Saukkomaa/Associated Press

    Big picture: A gifted offensive defenceman, Cam Fowler is gifted both as a passer and as a puck-rusher, with straight-line speed that very few players possess. He fell to Anaheim in the 2010 NHL draft after being expected to go much higher due to concerns over physicality and his defensive game, but he has done much to improve in those areas since being drafted. 

    Recent trend: This looks a lot like Fowler's breakthrough season; he's playing nearly 24:00 per game for a top team, driving offence and doing a good job of holding his own against top opposition. 

    Bottom line: Fowler remains an imperfect defenceman, but his offensive ability is exceptional and valuable.

49. David Krejci, Czech Republic

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Big picture: David Krejci has been the top offensive pivot on a team that has gone to the Stanley Cup Final twice in the last three seasons. He's a gifted passer, an excellent puck-handler, and while he is not a point-per-game player, he has pretty consistently been around the 60-point mark over the last few seasons.   

    Recent trend: Krejci's having a good season with Boston; he's just a little behind the pace he managed in his career-best 2008-09 season when he put up 73 points.

    Bottom line: Even at the Olympic level, Krejci's a unique player and a guy who can put up points; he had three in five contests at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But while he can line up against anybody, he's going to be overmatched against some of the top centres in the tournament.

48. Patrick Marleau, Canada

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    Big picture: Patrick Marleau may have been on the bubble for Team Canada, but he possesses a lot of qualities that the national team typically likes.

    He's still big and fast, though he never developed the heavy physical game that would have really set him apart from other players. He's a gifted goal scorer. More than that, though, Marleau is a veteran player with a responsible game, which gave him the edge over some younger left wings. 

    Recent trend: Marleau is slowing with age, and his best days are likely behind him, but he's still contributing, scoring at a roughly 30-goal, 70-point pace. 

    Bottom line: Marleau is still a potent scorer, even if that part of his game has weakened in recent years. More importantly, he brings a little bit of everything to an Olympic lineup.

47. Alexander Radulov, Russia

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    Big picture: Alexander Radulov's name is decidedly checkered in North America, given his abrupt departure from the Nashville Predators and the problems caused during his return to the team. But the three-time KHL most valuable player has unreal offensive talents and a degree of experience with the game on the big ice that most comparable NHL attackers do not have.

    Recent trend: Radulov is having a surprisingly tough goal-scoring year, in large part owing to struggles on the power play. He fell from averaging 12 goals per season on the man advantage down to zero in 2013-14, according to the KHL's official website.

    Bottom line: Radulov may be mercurial, but he's one of the most lethal offensive players in the international game today.

46. Paul Martin, United States

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Big picture: Paul Martin is a versatile two-way defenceman who moves the puck with competence and plays a safe positional game. He's an exceptional skater who can play on either the left or right side of the ice and who leads a very good Pittsburgh Penguins team in ice time at 24:24 a night. He lacks a heavy physical game in front of his own net. 

    Recent trend: Martin's numbers this year aren't especially good, but he's playing tough minutes, getting primarily defensive-zone starts and lots of time against the other team's best players. 

    Bottom line: Martin is a legitimate top-pairing NHL defenceman and a guy who, despite middling numbers, does lots of things well and can handle tough minutes. What he lacks is a dominant offensive or defensive game. 

45. Alexander Steen, Sweden

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    MISHA JAPARIDZE/Associated Press

    Big picture: A good skater who engages physically despite relatively small stature, Alexander Steen's best attribute is a highly disciplined two-way game. He has generally hovered around the 40- to 50-point mark over the course of his NHL career, but he takes care of his end first. 

    Recent trend: Steen is having a career-best season; despite missing a few games, he is already at point totals that would represent a decent season for him, and he has set a career high in goals.  

    Bottom line: If only this season were considered, Steen would be much higher on this list as a top-flight defensive forward scoring at a point-per-game pace. However, he lacks the scoring history of other top forwards, and it seems likely that his current numbers don't reflect his true talent level.

44. Jamie Benn, Canada

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    Vesa Moilanen/Associated Press

    Big picture: Dallas Stars' captain Jamie Benn is an intriguing player because he marries an extremely good offensive toolkit to a willingness to play a heavily physical game. Capable of lining up at centre or left wing, Benn is the kind of power forward every team can use.  

    Recent trend: Benn's offensive game has taken a step forward this season, as he has found chemistry with newly acquired pivot Tyler Seguin. Playing with Canada's offensive talent should suit his game nicely. 

    Bottom line: Benn's aggressive edge gives him something that a lot of offensive players lack. At this level he isn't a special offensive player, but he should thrive in a complementary role.

43. Alexander Semin, Russia

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    Big picture: The criminally underrated Alexander Semin is one of the NHL's best pure offensive players, an extremely gifted scorer who can do it all in the offensive zone and play on either wing. His speed and agility make him a terrific weapon in the NHL, where the flow of the game is more north-south; he should be even better playing a more east-west style on the big ice in Sochi. 

    Recent trend: While the criticisms of Semin's defensive game tend to be overblown, there is no question that he can be a liability when he doesn't have possession of the puck. More importantly, he's struggling through a difficult season in Carolina where his scoring has dropped off significantly. 

    Bottom line: Semin is a flawed player. He's also an offensive threat uniquely suited to playing on European ice. 

42. Patrick Sharp, Canada

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    Martti Kainulainen/Associated Press

    Big picture: A classic late-bloomer, Patrick Sharp has come into his own over the past few years with the Chicago Blackhawks. A swift skater who plays a strong defensive game, Sharp also has the versatility to play at either centre or on the wing (where Canada will use him). More than that, his offensive game has continually evolved over the years to the point where he's now an outstanding scorer in his own right. 

    Recent trend: Sharp is having the best season of his career and will likely finish with career highs in both goals and points. 

    Bottom line: As a scoring winger who plays a solid defensive game, Sharp is exactly the kind of skater Canada was looking for in a complementary role. The only real question with Sharp is whether he'd be as good playing with lesser forwards.

41. Jeff Carter, Canada

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    Big picture: Jeff Carter combines a massive frame, an elite shot and exceptional speed into a single package. He plays the game with a singular focus on generating shots; he has nearly 50 more career goals than assists, a bizarre split in a league that awards more of the latter. 

    Recent trend: Carter continues to reliably top a 30-goal pace on a Los Angeles team that struggles to score. 

    Bottom line: Carter isn't a complete player, but he has incredible physical gifts and a shooter's mentality.

40. Patrice Bergeron, Canada

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Big picture: Patrice Bergeron is one of hockey's most respected two-way players. He is one of the NHL's best faceoff men and back-checks ferociously with surprising speed and power for a player who is neither big nor flashy. He has a reputation second-to-none when it comes to playing through pain.  

    Recent trend: Bergeron's scoring rates are down a little this season, to the low end of his established 50- to 65-point range. 

    Bottom line: Bergeron lacks the offensive upside of other players in this tournament, but nobody is a safer bet for a defensive-zone draw.

39. Ryan Kesler, United States

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    Big picture: Ryan Kesler is a throwback player, the kind of forward who can play the game any way an opponent wants it. Big, strong and physical, he has the ability to play a power game in the offensive zone and outmuscle opponents in defensive-zone battles. Fast, smart and surprisingly skilled, he also plays an intelligent positional game defensively and can generate high amounts of offence.   

    Recent trend: After missing much of 2012-13 with injury, Kesler has bounced back, though admittedly his offensive performance still leaves something to be desired.

    Bottom line: Kesler gives an honest effort and adds value in all three zones. Health has been a problem, and he's had some trouble finding the range offensively since a 40-goal 2010-11 campaign.

38. Martin St. Louis, Canada

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    Big picture: One of the best stories in the NHL today, Martin St. Louis is an exceptionally gifted scorer who has used his considerable offensive prowess and freakish lower-body strength to overcome a diminutive frame. He can set up plays and finish them with equal aplomb, and he's a crafty skater. 

    Recent trend: St. Louis was a late addition to the Canadian roster. He was having a solid campaign but found another gear after being snubbed for a spot on the team, which resulted in his getting the call when teammate Steven Stamkos was unable to go. 

    Bottom line: St. Louis is not going to win the Selke Trophy anytime soon. Even so, he's a solid possession player and an exceptional offensive weapon.

37. Andrei Markov, Russia

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    Big picture: Andrei Markov is always one of the smartest players on the ice at any level he plays. His ability to think through the game comes in handy when playing without the puck, but when he has possession, it manifests itself in a keen ability to advance the puck himself or via a pass to a teammate. He's very good in the NHL, and he's been better internationally. 

    Recent trend: Markov is logging heavy minutes in Montreal, including taking on a significant amount of work on the penalty kill. He's a 25-minute-per-night workhorse with very healthy offensive production. 

    Bottom line: If he were a little younger and a little bigger, Markov would rank even higher on this list. As it is, he's going to be the backbone of Russia's defence corps.

36. Joe Pavelski, United States

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    Big picture: Joe Pavelski plays both centre and wing but will almost certainly play up the middle for a healthy Team USA. He isn't the world's best skater, but he does play a dedicated defensive game and scores as well as anyone. 

    Recent trend: Pavelski is in the middle of the best season of his career, flirting with the point-per-game mark, thanks to a goal-scoring gear he's never been able to find before now. 

    Bottom line: Pavelski provides the American side with another gifted two-way pivot, which is a team strength. It will be interesting to see if he is as effective in Europe as he has been in the NHL this season.

35. Carey Price, Canada

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    ANDERS WIKLUND/Associated Press

    Big picture: Despite some ups and downs along the way, Carey Price has emerged as one of the NHL's elite goaltenders, having found a way to be successful, despite playing in the toughest market in the league today. He does everything well; not only is he big and fast in net, but he's also a gifted puck-handler. 

    Recent trend: Price is having a strong season, posting a 0.924 save percentage behind a Montreal defence that allows high-quality opportunities

    Bottom line: Price is a top-end NHL goalie and a viable starting option for virtually any country.

34. Roberto Luongo, Canada

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Big picture: For whatever reason, Roberto Luongo's public reputation as a goaltender consistently seems to lag behind his performance in the crease. Luongo has consistently posted outstanding numbers in net, first for a terrible Florida Panthers team and more recently in Vancouver. 

    Recent trend: With Cory Schneider's departure, Luongo is once again the undisputed No. 1 for the Canucks, and he's played very well. 

    Bottom line: Canada's incumbent starter won gold last time out. Given his age and the quality of his backup, he's likely to be challenged this time around.

33. David Backes, United States

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Big picture: Few players in the NHL are more deserving of recognition they don't get than David Backes, the superb power vs. power centre with the St. Louis Blues. The Blues captain is a prototypical NHL pivot, with incredible size, strength and defensive awareness complementing his robust offensive game. 

    Recent trend: Backes is having the finest scoring season of his career on the powerhouse Blues. 

    Bottom line: Backes is a complete player who would be ranked higher if this tournament were held in North America. However, his lack of top-end speed and the somewhat lessened importance of physical play in an Olympic tournament drop him a little. 

32. Niklas Kronwall, Sweden

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    Big picture: Despite being undersized, Niklas Kronwall plays a "take-no-prisoners" style that has left him with a worldwide reputation for dealing clean—but devastating—body checks. He is far more than just a physical defenceman, though, providing the Detroit Red Wings with high-end two-way play in the absence of Nicklas Lidstrom. 

    Recent trend: Playing more than 24 minutes per game, Kronwall ranks second to only forward Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit scoring. 

    Bottom line: A legitimate No. 1 defenceman at the NHL level, Kronwall adds a well-rounded presence and an explosive physical dimension to Sweden's blue line.  

31. Ryan McDonagh, United States

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    Ronald Zak/Associated Press

    Big picture: A well-rounded defenceman, McDonagh has emerged as the most important piece of the New York Ranger's defence corps over the last few seasons. He plays a physical game against top opponents, and, at least as importantly, he's a possession defender, capable of both moving the puck out of his own end and making sharp pinches to sustain the attack when the situation calls for it.  

    Recent trend: The 24-year-old McDonagh is in the middle of a career year, playing nearly 25:00 per game and on a pace that will blast his previous career-best offensive numbers out of the water. 

    Bottom line: McDonagh's game is especially suited to the Olympic ice, where possession of the puck is paramount.

30. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Sweden

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    Big picture: If the Olympics are going to mark the emergence of any one player in the national consciousness of NHL writers, it might well be Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Playing in the obscurity of one of the NHL's smallest markets, his intelligence and speed are easy to overlook, and those qualities make him ideal for the big ice.

    Recent trend: Like a lot of players making their Olympic debuts, Ekman-Larsson is in the middle of a season that should see him shatter previous career benchmarks. 

    Bottom line: Ekman-Larsson likely still isn't as strong and savvy as he will be in his prime, having only turned 22 last summer. Even at this age, though, he's an impressive two-way defender.

29. Ryan Miller, United States

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    Big picture: The reigning Olympic most valuable player, Ryan Miller has been the picture of consistency year-to-year in net for one of the NHL's worst teams in Buffalo. The man who displaced Dominik Hasek as the Sabre's all-time leader in wins (though he still trails in save percentage) is a big and surprisingly fast goaltender who has a long-term track record as one of the NHL's best goalies. 

    Recent trend: After rumblings over the summer that Miller might not make Team USA, the veteran goaltender has been nearly the only bright spot during the Sabres' collapse this year.

    Bottom line: Though Miller faces a stiff challenge from Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick, he is likely Team USA's best option in net.

28. Thomas Vanek, Austria

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    Peter Klaunzer/Associated Press

    Big picture: Perhaps no player in these Olympics has more pressure to single-handedly carry his team than Austria's Thomas Vanek. On a roster of largely undistinguished professionals, Vanek stands out as a sniper of unrivaled talent. By world standards, the Austrian captain is exceptional, having topped the 40-goal mark multiple times in the NHL.  

    Recent trend: Vanek isn't going to eclipse his goal-scoring marks this year, but since a trade to the New York Islanders, he has flirted with the point-per-game mark that has generally eluded him over the course of his major league career. 

    Bottom line: Vanek can be guilty of defensive lapses. Even so, his incredible offensive abilities make him a special player—even by Olympic standards.

27. Nicklas Backstrom, Sweden

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    Big picture: Often derided as Alexander Ovechkin's assist machine, Nicklas Backstrom is a superb centre in his own right, with good vision and an underrated defensive game. He has proven able to produce without Washington's captain, too, posting six points in four contests at the 2010 Olympics and dominating the KHL during the 2012 NHL lockout. 

    Recent trend: Backstrom has been scoring at just a hair under a point-per-game pace in the 2013-14 campaign after hitting that mark last season.

    Bottom line: Backstrom is not a finisher, but his intelligence and vision should make him nicely suited for the Olympics.

26. Marian Hossa, Slovakia

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    Big picture: Everyone knows that Marian Hossa is a special offensive talent, though that part of his game has waned a little since his 100-point days in Atlanta.

    What people forget is just how good a two-way player Hossa is, one who is capable of scoring 30 goals and hitting the point-per-game mark while taking great care of his own end of the ice. He has 25 points in 15 career Olympic games spanning three tournaments. 

    Recent trend: Hossa's scoring has rebounded somewhat after a mildly disappointing 2013 campaign. 

    Bottom line: Hossa likely won't be the same difference-maker he was in his youth. Even so, he remains a world-class player in all three zones.

25. Ilya Kovalchuk, Russia

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    Big picture: Ilya Kovalchuk is an all-purpose offensive weapon, with both an intimidating shooting arsenal and the ability to set up plays too. He left the NHL while still in the heart of his career, still capable of scoring at a point-per-game pace in the world's top league. 

    Recent trend: Kovalchuk did not post particularly impressive counting numbers in the KHL this season, but he was lethal at this past summer's World Championships. 

    Bottom line: Kovalchuk was heavily critiqued for his defensive game in the NHL, though the criticisms were decidedly overblown. While not perfect defensively, his ability to change a game with offensive tools and sometimes physical play make up the difference and then some.

24. Daniel Sedin, Sweden

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Big picture: Daniel Sedin is one-half of the twin brothers act that has kept Vancouver in contention the past few seasons. While Henrik is more of a passer, Daniel is an impressive finisher, though he's also more than capable of making a passing play himself. He excels at controlling possession in the offensive zone, frustrating opponents with his ability to maintain the cycle. 

    Recent trend: It has been a difficult season for the Canucks, and that extends to Daniel. A career 11.9 percent shooter, his shooting percentage has fallen to 6.8 percent this year, heavily impacting his goal totals. 

    Bottom line: Daniel will have to make plays without Henrik, who will miss the Olympics owing to injury. Even in a down year, he adds a crafty offensive weapon and capable two-way play to Sweden's roster.

23. Anze Kopitar, Slovenia

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    Big picture: If there is a player in these Olympics who means more to his team than Vanek does to Austria, it is Anze Kopitar. Kopitar—an elite two-way centre with size, speed and an impressive array of offensive tools—is the engine that will power Slovenia however far the country can go in these games.  

    Recent trend: Kopitar's scoring is down a trifle from the last few seasons, but of late he's been the only part of the Los Angeles Kings' offence delivering goals, so it would be a mistake to read too much into that. 

    Bottom line: Kopitar is a good enough centre to go head-to-head with anyone in the tournament and come out on top. He doesn't have the elite offence of some other top NHL pivots, though.

22. Alex Pietrangelo, Canada

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    Big picture: Evolving defenceman Alex Pietrangelo is one of the top young rearguards in the NHL today, with a huge frame, outstanding offensive skills and a defensive game that allows him to play against top opposition night after night. He's also good enough to drag his partner's numbers up in the process. 

    Recent trend: Playing more than 25 minutes per game in St. Louis, Pietrangelo is on pace to shatter his previous career-high point total. 

    Bottom line: Just 24 years of age, Pietrangelo still makes youthful errors. However, his complete game and high upside compensate for that and then some.

21. P.K. Subban, Canada

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    Big picture: An underappreciated franchise defender, P.K. Subban makes everybody on his team better when he's on the ice. Despite a modest frame he plays a physically aggressive game and is capable of highlight-reel hits; he's also gifted when passing, shooting or carrying the puck. 

    Recent trend: The NHL's defending Norris Trophy winner has persevered through a tough year in Montreal, providing quality play for 25 minutes per night and adding offence both at five-on-five and the man advantage. 

    Bottom line: Subban does have his weaknesses; like any puck-mover he occasionally gives the puck away, and while his gaffes aren't especially common—given his workload—they tend to be well-publicized. Despite that, his presence enhances his team as a whole, and the same is likely to be true overseas.

20. Phil Kessel, United States

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    Big picture: Phil Kessel has always had two qualities that every team loves in its players: elite skating and a wicked shot. He has diligently worked to round out his game, though, adding a playmaking touch to complement his shooting and evolving into a better two-way player. 

    Recent trend: Currently second in the NHL in goals and fourth in points, Kessel has served notice both this season and the last that he is now one of the top offensive weapons in the league. 

    Bottom line: Kessel is often criticized for his awkwardness with the media and "soft" play. While columnists with an agenda focus on those weaknesses, everyone else just enjoys one of the best forwards in the NHL.

19. Corey Perry, Canada

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    Big picture: The NHL's most valuable player in 2011, Corey Perry adds a little bit of everything to a roster. Not only is he big, but he plays an occasionally borderline physical game and agitates constantly. He's a capable defensive player, but his real calling card is offence, in particular his finishing skills. 

    Recent trend: Perry is on pace for a 41-goal, 41-assist campaign, and his penalty minutes are down substantially. 

    Bottom line: If Perry has a weakness, it is his tendency to lose self-discipline; as much as he can drive opponents wild, he also spends a lot of time in the penalty box. It's generally a small price to pay for a player who does the tough work in the corners and in front of the net and who can score goals like few in the league.

18. Zach Parise, United States

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    Big picture: Team USA captain Zach Parise brings a little bit of everything. He has tremendous work ethic both with the puckfighting through traffic for better opportunitiesand without it, back-checking ferociously and always presenting a threat to the other team's possession. 

    Recent trend: Parise's offence has fallen off over the last three seasons; a 94-point player in 2008-09, he's on pace for just 54 this season. 

    Bottom line: Parise's total game makes him far more valuable to Team USA than a more one-dimensional player with similar scoring numbers. With that said, it does seem that Parise's days as an elite point-producer are in the rearview mirror.

17. Ryan Suter, United States

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    Big picture: After years of playing in the shadow of Shea Weber in Nashville, Ryan Suter has revealed his qualities in Minnesota. He has an incredible ability to log heavy minutes, and more than that, he does everything well, from defending the front of his team's net to setting up plays in the offensive zone. 

    Recent trend: No player in the league is leaned on more heavily than Suter, who plays a ludicrous 29:49 per game in Minnesota. 

    Bottom line: The big fear is that at some point, all this ice time is going to lead to fatigue and mistakes against. So far, though, Suter is holding his own in all three zones. 

16. Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden

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    Big picture: Sometimes overlooked, owing to playing on the same team as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg is one of the finest two-way players in hockey today. A gifted passer and tenacious possession player, Zetterberg manages to produce a point per game (or better), while remaining one of the most committed and capable defensive players in the NHL. 

    Recent trend: Even in a tough year for Detroit, Zetterberg has excelled. His 48 points give him a 12-point edge for the team lead and for good measure he also boasts a plus-19 rating. 

    Bottom line: At age 33 Zetterberg isn't as fast as he once was, and his goal scoring has fallen off with age, too. Despite that he's the very model of a power vs. power player, capable of beating the best players in the game all over the ice. 

15. Henrik Lundqvist, Sweden

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    Big picture: No single goaltender in the NHL has done a better job of providing his team with high-end play year after year than Henrik Lundqvist, who took the New York Rangers' starting job in 2005-06 as an NHL rookie and has never let it go. He is a calm goalie who blends disciplined positioning and exceptional reflexes. 

    Recent trend: Lundqvist's struggles early in the season raised eyebrows, but he has recovered nicely with a 0.937 save percentage over 14 games in the new year. 

    Bottom line: Lundqvist's ups and downs this season have raised some doubts about how he will perform in Sochi, but his long-term track record suggests he will be just fine.

14. Shea Weber, Canada

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    Big picture: Very few players in the game represent the "complete package" the way Nashville's Shea Weber does. The 6'4", 234-pound Weber is an imposing physical presence who dishes out punishment in front of the net and thwarts opposition cycle plays. He also has one of the hardest and most accurate shots from the point in the league today. 

    Recent trend: Weber's usually airtight defensive game has slipped a little this year by the numbers, but then he also spent half the season playing beside a 19-year-old rookie. 

    Bottom line: Weber's play with the Predators this year opens up the suggestion that he's something less than the sum of his parts, but that would be a misguided take. He combines imposing physical tools with a disciplined and intelligent two-way game. 

13. Drew Doughty, Canada

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    Big picture: Drew Doughty, while universally acclaimed as a top defenceman, sometimes gets devalued relative to his peers because he lacks the frame of a Weber or the offensive production of a Subban. He is, however, an incredible possession player, one who excels at getting and keeping the puck and one of the very best in the league in tough situations. 

    Recent trend: Doughty is performing in the same range he normally does, on pace for 40 points again as he takes on the toughest assignments on the Kings' blue line. 

    Bottom line: An unappreciated two-way gem, Doughty's modest frame and good—but not great—offensive totals should not keep him from being seen for the difference-maker he is.

12. Patrick Kane, United States

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    Big picture: Since the start of the 2012-13 NHL season, only Sidney Crosby has recorded more points than Patrick Kane, and Kane plays in a tougher conference. Kane is fast, agile and boasts one of the most diverse offensive skill sets in the tourney. 

    Recent trend: Kane's current pace will have him flirting with the 40-goal and 90-point marks. 

    Bottom line: Kane comes with some defensive deficiencies, but he's a pure offensive wizard with few equals in the hockey world today. 

11. Erik Karlsson, Sweden

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    Big picture: Probably the best offensive defenceman currently in the NHL, Erik Karlsson will make his Olympic debut as the linchpin of the Swedish blue line. During the NHL's last full 82-game season, Karlsson led all defencemen in scoring by a whopping 25-point margin.

    Recent trend: Karlsson again is likely to lead all major league rearguards in points; he presently has a seven-point lead on second-ranked Duncan Keith of Chicago. 

    Bottom line: Karlsson's ugly plus/minus (minus-14) leaves him open to criticism of his defensive game, but that number dramatically overstates his weaknesses in that department. He can be overwhelmed by big forwards in front of the net, but his smarts and offensive game make up for that.

10. Duncan Keith, Canada

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    Big picture: Duncan Keith is one of the best skating defencemen in the league, and he combines that speed with elite hockey sense and a natural aggression that every team likes to see from its rearguards. While capable of putting up big point totals, Keith plays a well-rounded game that hurts his scoring a little but helps Chicago win games.  

    Recent trend: For the first time since his 2009-10 Norris Trophy win, Keith is putting up major numbers offensively; he is on pace to finish with 67 points this season. 

    Bottom line: A savvy defender who does everything well, Keith is either the best defenceman in the world or awfully close to it.

9. John Tavares, Canada

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    Petr Josek/Associated Press

    Big picture: Drafted as a goal-scoring machine, Tavares has developed into much more than that. A brilliant offensive player who can set plays up and finish them off alike, Tavares has worked on evolving his defensive game, too. He's now a franchise forward waiting for a team to be built around him. 

    He is particularly lethal at the international level; he scored 42 points in 28 Swiss-league games during the lockout and has 16 goals in 22 career World Championship contests.  

    Recent trend: Tavares is scoring at a career-best pace this season and is poised to crack the 90-point barrier for the first time in his young NHL career. 

    Bottom line: Occasionally critiqued for middling speed, Tavares has demonstrated that the weakness doesn't hold him back.

8. Ryan Getzlaf, Canada

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Big picture: The top scoring forward in the NHL not named Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf's frankly ridiculous scoring totals demonstrate his quality as an offensive player. Much of the damage has come at even strength, where his 49 points trail Crosby's 50.

    Getzlaf is a complete player, an imposing physical presence at either end of the rink and, as we've seen, a dominant point-producer.  

    Recent trend: Right now, Getzlaf has a very good argument as the best player in the Western Conference. 

    Bottom line: If Getzlaf has a weakness, it is an occasional tendency to take bad penalties or make sloppy plays with the puck. That occasional lack of discipline is a small price to pay for a power centre who scores at such a ridiculous rate.

7. Tuukka Rask, Finland

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    Big picture: Thirty-eight NHL goalies have averaged at least 25 games per season since Tuukka Rask's rookie campaign, and none of them have a better save percentage than Rask's 0.927. The 6'2" Finn is just 26 years old, still in the prime of his career and, at this point, has assumed the mantle as the NHL's best goalie.  

    Recent trend: Rask's save percentage over the last three seasons has varied between 0.928 and 0.929; that's a rock-solid performance. 

    Bottom line: Finland's roster isn't as deep or replete in high-end talent as others, but Rask gives them a chance to win every game. One item worth noting will be how he performs without Boston's defence in front of him.

6. Zdeno Chara, Slovakia

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    Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

    Big picture: What is there left to say about Zdeno Chara? The 6'9", 258-pound monster has an unparalleled wingspan and provides a rock-solid physical presence in front of Slovakia's net that no other team has.

    More than being big and physically aggressive, he's a surprisingly nimble skater who makes good decisions with the puck. He has never failed to post an even-or-better plus/minus at the Olympic or World Championship level, despite not playing for one of the big four internationally.

    Recent trend: Chara's offensive numbers are down a touch this season, but he's still playing the toughest minutes—and lots of them—averaging nearly 25:00 per game for Boston. 

    Bottom line: The most imposing physical specimen at this year's Olympic hockey tournament, Chara adds a little bit of everything to Slovakia's blue line.

5. Pavel Datsyuk, Russia

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Big picture: Three-time Selke trophy winner Pavel Datsyuk may not be the absolute best defensive forward in the NHL, but if so he isn't far from that title either; he never gives up on the play. He is also an extremely dynamic offensive player, typically surpassing the NHL's point-per-game mark. Pound-for-pound there likely isn't a player in hockey who is more difficult to remove from the puck. 

    Recent trend: Datsyuk has missed some time this year but is sticking in the point-per-game range. 

    Bottom line: On a Russian team known for attacking forwards, Datsyuk adds both offence and some much-needed defensive acumen. Age and injuries are starting to slow the 35-year-old, but he is still capable of excelling in all situations.

4. Jonathan Toews, Canada

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    Big picture: The Canadian answer to Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews combines an offensive toolkit with an impeccable two-way conscience. According to ExtraSkater.com, no player in the league faces tougher opposition, and despite that, Toews contributes offensively. He was named best forward at the 2010 games. He has never been a minus-player over the course of an NHL season.   

    Recent trend: Toews' goal production is down slightly this year, but again he's hovering around the point-per-game mark. 

    Bottom line: Big, fast, committed and capable in both zones, Toews' performance is going to be critical to Canada's medal hopes.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Russia

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    Big picture: The scariest thing about Evgeni Malkin, who has twice led the NHL in scoring and was named league MVP in 2011-12, is that he might be even better internationally.

    Big, fast and creative, Malkin ripped apart the KHL during the 2012 NHL lockout, posting 65 points in 37 games. At his last World Championships (in 2012), Malkin led Russia to gold, recording 11 goals, 19 points and a plus-16 rating over 10 contests. 

    Recent trend: Malkin has suffered some injuries in the NHL this season, but when healthy he has scored at better than a 100-point pace. 

    Bottom line: Malkin is ranked third on this list, but given his past performances on the big ice, it's possible that no other player in this tournament outperforms him.

2. Alexander Ovechkin, Russia

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Big picture: No player in the NHL has been a better goal scorer since the 2004-05 lockout than Alexander Ovechkin, who boasts both an elite shot and a refreshing willingness to hammer the puck at every opportunity. Nobody in this tournament is the equal of the three-time NHL MVP as a sniper. 

    Recent trend: Ovechkin has already scored 40 goals, nine more than second-ranked Phil Kessel. 

    Bottom line: Ovechkin isn't a perfect player, though his defensive problems are nowhere near as serious as critics focused on his plus/minus seem to think. He is unparalleled as a shooter, save perhaps by Steven Stamkos, who will miss the Olympics with injury.

1. Sidney Crosby, Canada

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    Big picture: The only question with Sidney Crosby, the consensus pick as the world's best player, is how long it will take him to adjust to the Olympic ice surface. He has played in only one tournament internationally at the senior level, the 2006 World Championships, and he dominated there, leading the tourney with 16 points in nine games. 

    Recent trend: Crosby is, barring injury, a shoo-in for this year's Hart Trophy. He has 78 points in 58 games, giving him an 11-point lead on second-ranked Ryan Getzlaf.  

    Bottom line: Crosby does everything well; he's the most dominant player in hockey today when he's healthy.

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