Youngsters at the Olympics

By Brandon LeBourveau
It was definitely obvious from the beginning that the focus of this tournament was clearly on the hundred or so NHL players who were participating in this year’s Winter Olympics. However, there were some young prospects from different countries who were able to step up and make an impact on their team. These Olympics gave fans an opportunity to see some European players for the first time. Here is a look at how some of the youngsters did during this tournament.

Oliver Setzinger, C, Austria, 18 yrs old, Drafted: 3rd Rnd (2001) by Nashville
Setzinger was drafted in the 3rd round this past summer by the Nashville Predators, 76th overall. A talented playmaking center who has played the last three seasons in Finland with Ilves Tampere, scored 1 goal (his only point) and added 2 penalty minutes during 4 games at the Olympics, while also registering a -3 rating. Austria was one of the teams trying to advance past the preliminary round, but finished 3rd in Group A with a 1-2-0 record. Their only win was a close one, edging out highly-favored Slovakia by a 3-2 score. Austria had the least talent out of the four teams in their group (Slovakia, Germany and Latvia were the others), but managed to keep each game close. They lost to Latvia 4-2, lost to Germany 3-2 and beat Slovakia 3-2. After not failing to qualify for the next round, Austria faced Switzerland to see which team would finish in 11th place and 12th place. Austria came up short, losing 4-1 to the Swiss and thus finishing 12th out of 14 teams. Only Slovakia and France finished worse. As for Setzinger, his lone goal came in his teams’ first game, a 4-2 loss to the Latvians. While on the power play, Setzinger got the puck near Latvia’s net, between the red line and the faceoff dot. He caught Latvian goaltender Sergejs Naumovs out of position as he failed to keep his skate jammed up against the post. Setzinger was able to sneak a shot between the post and the goaltender’s skate for his first career Olympic goal. It was a fluke and a bad play by the netminder, but Setzinger certainly did not complain. Arturs Irbe was supposed to make the trip to Salt Lake to play for the Latvians during this game, but for odd reasons was not able to make the trip. That goal was Setzinger’s only real spotlight during the tournament, as he only tallied 7 shots on goal in his teams’ 4 games and failed to register any more points. They were hoping for more out of him, but he is still young and has a nice future ahead of him. If Austria has any chance of doing anything in the future as a team, Setzinger will be the man leading the charge.

Andre Lakos, D, Austria, 22 yrs old, Dallas Stars’ property
Lakos, a 6’6 240 defenseman, was originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 3rd round (95th overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Lakos came over to North America prior to the 1997-98 season, and spent that year and the following year playing junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. After being drafted by New Jersey, Andre made the jump to the AHL that very next season. He would go on to play two more years with the Albany River Rats and half of this year, before the Devils dealt him to the Dallas Stars a few weeks before the Olympics in return for veteran winger Valeri Kamensky. Upon being acquired by Dallas, Lakos was assigned to the Stars’ top minor league affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies. When the Olympics finally rolled around, Lakos was no stranger to the Utah area. In 4 games for the Austrians, Lakos registered no points, 6 penalty minutes and was a +1. He was only three players who managed to have a plus rating for team Austria. Lakos did not get much ice time, but he played his normal stay-at-home physical game when he got the chance. He will continue to play in the AHL, and appears to be a fringe NHLer. May develop into a number 6 or 7 defenseman, but don’t expect much more.

Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Russia, 18 yrs old, Drafted: 1st Overall (2001) by Atlanta
What a year it has been for this future superstar. Although he is technically no longer a prospect, he is younger than most players on this list and deserves to be recognized. In his rookie season, Kovalchuk is having a superb year and is leading the Thrashers in scoring. He has totaled 28 goals and 49 points in 58 games thus far, and expect him to reach close to 40 goals when this season is complete. As for his play during the Olympics, Kovalchuk was a key player for the Russians early in the tournament but his play and production slipped a bit during the elimination round. Playing mostly on a line with Sergei Fedorov and Sergei Samsonov throughout the tournament, Kovalchuk had a goal and two assists in six games, which included 14 penalty minutes and a -1 +/- rating. Two of Kovalchuk’s three points came in his team’s first game, a 6-4 win over Belarus. Kovalchuk made a beautiful pass to Samsonov who scored 1:45 into the game, and later scored his only goal of the tournament when his centering pass from the corner bounced off a defenseman’s skate and in the net. Although the Russians would probably have liked more from him, it does not mean it will hurt his potential. You don’t have to look farther than his excellent play this season. Expect Kovalchuk to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year, whether he’s the lone winner or shares it with teammate Dany Heatley.

Konstantin Koltsov, LW, 21 yrs old, Drafted: 18th Overall (1999) by Pittsburgh
An excellent skater with breath-taking speed, Koltsov was injured early on in the tournament and was sent home to heal by the team. He appeared in 2 games registering no points or penalty minutes but did manage 8 shots on goal. He suffered a concussion in Belarus’ 2nd game of the preliminary round against France and unfortunately could not continue playing. During the 2 games he did play, Koltsov was a key player for the team and looked very good. He played on their top power play unit and arguably would have been their best offensive player had he not been injured. His speed was very apparent, especially on the large ice where he used it effectively to chase down pucks and blow by defenseman. He had a breakaway chance against France and goaltender Cristobal Huet (a Kings’ draft pick) but lost control of the puck while trying to deke the netminder. Koltsov has returned to Russia and once he heals, he’ll suit up again for Spartak in the Russian Super League, the same team that produced Ilya Kovalchuk. Koltsov was dealt from Ak-Bars Kazan and to Spartak early this season in return for Igor Knyazev, a highly skilled defenseman who was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round this past summer. It remains to be seen when Koltsov plans to come over to North America but once he does, he should have no problems making a smooth transition to the NHL. He has the potential to be a solid offensive player for the Penguins and with other youngsters such as Kris Beech and Milan Kraft on the team, Pittsburgh will have no problems finding offense once Mario Lemieux and others hang up the skates.

Jan Lasak, G, 22 yrs old, Drafted: 2nd Rnd (1999) by Nashville
A second round pick by the Predators back in 1999, Lasak has been developing in the minor leagues for the past few years. Lasak was supposed to be Slovakia’s starting netminder but sat on the bench for the first few games while Pavol Rybar was in the nets for the Slovaks. In 2 games, Lasak allowed 6 goals on 44 shots and looked nervous. He was constantly caught out of position and the opposition made him pay. He finished with a 3.81 GAA and a .864 Save%, clearly not the numbers that Lasak or Slovakia had hoped for. Slovakia was unable to keep their puck out of their net throughout the preliminary round and that was one of the main reasons why they were unable to advance. Slovakia will look forward to a more mature Lasak and youngsters such as Peter Budaj and Peter Hamerlik, two young goaltenders drafted by Colorado and Pittsburgh respectively, to lead them in future international competition.

Dennis Seidenberg, D, 20 yrs old, Drafted: 6th Rnd (2001) by Philadelphia)
Seidenberg was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 6th round (172nd overall) this past year. He was a key player on defense for Germany, who played a 1-4 formation with one player up ice trying to get control of the puck and the other four standing at their own blue line waiting to defend their own zone. In 7 games, Seidenberg tallied a goal and an assist, along with 4 penalty minutes, 10 shots on goal and a +2. He showed he was capable of handling opposing players in his own end and possibly has a future in the NHL as a 6th or 7th defenseman if he continues to develop. The experience at the Olympics was a valuable one for this youngster, as well as the whole German team who many thought had no chance of advancing past the preliminary round.

Christian Ehrhoff, D, 19 yrs old, Drafted: 4th Rnd (2001) by San Jose
A talented, young defenseman scooped up in the 4th round in 2001 by the San Jose Sharks, Ehrhoff was arguably one of Germany’s best defensemen throughout the tournament despite his young age and lack of experience. He failed to tally a point in 7 games and registered a -2 +/- rating, but played sound defensively and rakced up lots of ice time. The Sharks had to have been happy with his performance against the greatest players in the world, and hopefully for them he’ll pan out and become another German to play for their organization.

Christoph Schubert, D, 20 yrs old, Drafted: 4th Rnd (2001) by Ottawa
Out of the three young defenseman on team Germany (Schubert, Ehrhoff and Seidenberg), Schubert was the most impressive. He played tough and physical throughout the whole tournament and managed to shut down some of the top forwards in the world. He was constantly being praised by many for his play and certainly is making the Ottawa Senators look good for selecting him over the summer. In 7 games he tallied 1 assist, 6 penalty minutes and was a -4, but the minus rating was a result of seeing a ton of ice time against teams stacked with talent such as Sweden, Canada, USA, etc. At 20 yrs old, Schubert may spend a few more years back home in Germany before trying his luck in North America. Watching him closely during those seven games, I’d say Schubert has the potential to be a physical number 4 or 5 defenseman in the future.

Henrik Zetterberg, C, 22 yrs old, Drafted: 7th Rnd (1999) by Detroit
The Detroit Red Wings do not have many good prospects in their system, but Henrik Zetterberg is the best of the bunch. A surprise selection to team Sweden, beating out other high-profile players such as Fredrik Modin and Kristian Huselius, Zetterberg proved the team made a wise decision and looked extremely comfortable on the ice during the tournament. In 4 games, Zetterberg was a +2 and tallied 1 assist. The one assist came in Sweden’s first game, a 5-2 win over Canada. He picked up a loose puck and used his excellent speed to beat a defenseman wide and then passed the puck in front of the net to a cutting Kenny Jonsson who easily beat Curtis Joseph with the one-timer. Zetterberg is a highly-skilled two-way player and was an absolute steal by the Red Wings in the 7th round three years ago. Expect him to make the Red Wings next season (provided he signs a contract) and have similar success to Pavel Datsyuk, although Zetterberg might take a little longer to find his niche.