With the 2013-14 NHL schedule hinging on the announcement of the NHL's participation in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, now seems like a good time to speculate who on the current Sabres roster could make an Olympic team. For the 2014 Olympics, there are 12 nations participating in three groups of four nations. Group A includes Russia, Slovakia, United States, and Slovenia. Group B has Finland, Norway, Canada, and Austria. Finally, Group C has the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, and Latvia. There are only a handful of players that really could be considered for Olympic rosters and some that could be considered a longshot.
Thomas Vanek - Austria
According to Hockey Reference, there have been six hockey players that were born in Austria that played in the NHL. Three of them are current players and it is expected that all three will figure highly on the Austrian Olympic team. Thomas Vanek will be one of those players. With 250 goals in 585 games, expect Vanek to be on the top line playing with Islanders' right winger Michael Grabner and Carolina's Andreas Nodl.
Austria is not known as one of the hockey powerhouses, so much of Vanek's international experience actually comes at the Division I levels of the IIHF World Championships. The last international tournament Vanek participated in was 2008 during the Division I World Championships. In 5 games, Vanek had five goals and five assists as Austria went 5-0 in the tournament and was promoted to Elite level.
Ryan Miller - United States
After leading the US to the Gold Medal game, Ryan Miller could still be considered one of the top American goaltenders currently in the game. Miller was solid in the 2010 Olympics with a 5-1 record, a .946 save percentage, and 1.35 goals against average. He was named MVP of the tournament and if wasn't for that golden goal, could have his own gold medal.
A lot has changed since 2010 though. The goaltenders on that 2010 roster were Miller, Tim Thomas, and Jonathan Quick. In the three years since Tim Thomas has retired, Jonathan Quick has won a Stanley Cup and Miller has quietly plodded along in Buffalo. While it is not a guarantee that Miller will be the number one goaltender, he will still be one of the three that will be invited to Russia.
Fighting For A Spot
Jhonas Enroth - Sweden
Winning the gold medal at the 2013 World Championship and being named the best goaltender in the tournament should hold some merit to Olympic committee selections. But, when the nation's best goaltender is Henrik Lundqvist, it might be a little bit tougher to get on the roster. Enroth was impressive during the World Championships with a .956 save percentage and 1.15 goals against average.
Enroth should be considered for one of the two remaining goaltending spots but there are two other solid Swedish goaltenders in Anders Lindback and Viktor Fasth that will be competing for those two spots as well. Enroth's playing time leading up to the games could be a deciding factor as well. Only three goaltenders can be on the roster, so someone has to be left off.
It Could Possibly Happen
Rasmus Ristolainen - Finland
The Finnish offense has some solid NHLers that are led by the ageless wonder Teemu Selaane. That would discount the likelihood of Joel Armia or Ville Leino making the Olympic roster. But, the Finnish defense is rather on the old side. Right now, a projected top six could look like Kimmo Timonen, Joni Pitkanen, Sami Salo, Toni Lydman, Sami Vatanen, and Sami Lepisto. Vatanen is the only player that is under the age of 28. If the Finns are interested in trying to get younger on defense, they make take a look at Ristolainen as a seventh or eighth defenseman to play a game or two.
Ristolainen has some international experience as he has played in the under-18 and under-20 tournaments for Finland. During last season's junior championship, Ristolainen had two goals and four points in six games played. In 13 career games in that tournament, his career line is two goals and seven points.
The Buffalo Sabres roster isn't chock full of Olympic talent but it could be well represented in Sochi in February.