Toronto Maple Leafs: Sochi Bound


Jan 7, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) celebrates with left wing James van Riemsdyk (21), right wing Phil Kessel (81), defenseman Morgan Rielly (44), and defenseman Paul Ranger (15) after scoring a goal in the first period against the New York Islanders at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

With the announcement that Nikolai Kulemin will be joining the Russian team for the Sochi Olympics, the Toronto Maple Leafs will now have three players representing their country.

In addition to Kulemin, Team USA selected forwards Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk to join them in their quest for gold.

With no players on the Toronto Maple Leafs making the Canadian roster, the most loyal of Leafs fans will have to make a particularly unappetizing choice. Do we forego the Canadian pride and cheer for the boys in blue? Of course we don’t, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be watching with intrigue as the tournament gets started.

I will breakdown what each player brings to their national team and make predictions concerning their overall impact on their team. I will start with the Americans.

Phil Kessel (Team USA)

Kessel is the Toronto Maple Leafs scoring leader, and he will provide his American team with timely goals if nothing else. While their forwards play a more physical brand of hockey, Kessel is just fine roaming around waiting to pounce upon a mistake.

He probably won’t be (but could be) a top line player for the team, but he will have plenty of ice time to show off his impressive offensive repertoire.

If the US team falls into a tough spot, such as going down a couple goals, Kessel’s effectiveness will fall, as he is not the player the team would need to scratch out a come from behind victory.  He is not an elite two-way player, and for that reason his time on the penalty kill will be non-existent, and he will have a tough time cracking the top line for the power play.

Look for Kessel to do well in helping the Americans out of the round robin and try to pick up their first gold medal since 1980.

James van Riemsdyk (Team USA)

Coming along with Kessel is van Riemsdyk, a solid, if unspectacular burly forward. It is easy to make the logical jump and assume that the two Toronto Maple Leafs will be paired together at some point, but van Riemsdyk looks to be more of an impact player when the US goes down a man.

While not the same level as Kessel offensively, his solid two way play will be integral to the team’s chances as they look to improve upon their silver medal from the 2010 Olympics.

Van Riemsdyk will need to be paired with a gunner like Kessel for him to be effective as having a player the other defence focuses on will allow him to slip under the radar.

On paper Team USA doesn’t look to be as solid as Canada or Russia, but the group includes 17 returning players from 2010, and I’m sure the taste of their loss to Canada in the finals still lingers.

Nikolai Kulemin (Team Russia)

Kulemin was the biggest surprise of the three selections, as he joins a Russian team stacked with amazing players. Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk will lead the way for this star-studded team.

Where Kulemin fits in isn’t exactly obvious. His scoring totals this year are negligible and his defensive acumen is not high enough to ensure he will get ice time in any situation.

He may very well be the 13th forward, and thus won’t be getting much ice time. He could surprise me and make the third line, but I honestly can’t see it happening.

Kulemin is a solid character piece for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Russian team is hoping he will be the same. As the selection came as a bit of a shock, Kulemin will just be happy to be there, and he will have the best seats in the house to see his stellar countrymen play.

The Sochi Olympics start on Feb 7 and men’s hockey starts on Feb 12. The US and Russia are in Group A. Their first games are on Feb 13 with the US going up against Slovakia, and the Russians taking on Slovenia