Sochi Olympics 2014: Latvia Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of urbanchristiannews.com.

The eve of the World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams jet into Sochi, make their final preparations, and strategise for the tough road ahead, Ice Nation UK is going to break down each and every roster in attendance.

Keep checking in over the next couple of days as we bring you the very best in analysis, and you might learn a thing or two about how the best hockey nations on the planet stack up against each other “on paper”.

Next up: everyone’s favourite little hockey-mad nation, Latvia.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of fansided.com.

    Berzins, Armands

  • Cipulis, Martins
  • Darzins, Lauris
  • Daugavins, Kaspars
  • Girgensons, Zemgus
  • Indrasis, Miks
  • Jass, Koba
  • Karsums, Martins
  • Kenins, Ronalds
  • Pavlovs, Vitalijs
  • Redlihs, Mikelis
  • Sprukts, Janis
  • Stals, Juris
  • Vasiljevs, Herberts

Defence (8):

  • Bartulis, Oskars
  • Freibergs, Ralfs
  • Kulda, Arturs
  • Ozolins, Sandis
  • Pujacs, Georgijs
  • Redlihs, Krisjanis
  • Rekis, Arvids
  • Sotnieks, Kristaps

Goal (3):

  • Gudlevskis, Kristers
  • Masalskis, Edgars
  • Mustukovs, Ervins

Notable omissions?

  • Image courtesy of The Pipeline Show.

    Pelss, Kristians – the tragic loss last summer of young forward Kristians Pelss shocked fans both in Latvia and in the cities of Oklahoma City and Edmonton, where he plied his tried for three years.  He would certainly have been in contention for the Olympic hockey roster, perhaps not the most gifted offensive player but a tireless worker and a bullet on skates.  His death should not be held over the Latvian team, but I do hope they honour him in some small way.

FORWARDS

Latvia Forwards Analysis – Scoring Stats

In order to analyse the forward selections, the first port of call is quite obviously their scoring numbers.  Hockey is won by the team that scores more goals, so what better way to evaluate the players whose job it is to do just that?

The following table displays each forward named to Latvia, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

LAT FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • This was never going to be a roster filled with household names!  Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres is the shining beacon of Latvian hockey right now, improving no-end since the beginning of his rookie year in the NHL.  It’s a shame he doesn’t have a better surrounding cast, and he’s likely too young at the moment to drag this team along with him, but it’ll be nice to see him front and centre.
  • The team is made up largely of the journeymen of European hockey, never the most talented players but probably some of the hardest working.  Vasilijevs and Indrasis are likely the two most reliable offensive players, and Daugavins has NHL experience, so they are not without talent.

Latvia Forwards Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each forward on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — some players are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams — but it does give some indication as to how Latvia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

LAT FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Time on Ice stats were obtained where possible for KHL players.  Girgensons is already part of an NHL penalty kill rotation, a fantastic feather in the cap of such a young player, and his ice-time in other areas should be dramatically different in this tournament given his talent relative to his team-mates.
  • Several of these players are pretty integral members of their KHL clubs (well, Dinamo Riga anyway), so again, they are not without talent, but clearly Latvia has failed to provide Europe with much in the way of top-level players.

Latvia Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Finally, let’s dig a bit deeper and explore these players’ underlying numbers.  Thanks to Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Latvia forwards.

LAT FWD - PUC

  • The bluer the bubble, the better the player’s Corsi number; the x-axis displays the offensive zone start percentage, and the y-axis is the quality of competition.
  • Pretty much nothing to show here, except for the fact that Girgensons is truly excelling in the NHL on a very bad team.  Could the Latvians have themselves a future star at hand?

The following table displays each forward, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.

LAT FWD - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Girgensons is outperforming his team by a significant margin at puck possession, and is suffering from bad luck too.  What a quality young player.

DEFENSE

Latvia Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Latvia, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

LAT DEF - STATS

  • There are some recognisable names here, most notably Sandis Ozolins who was an integral member of the Colorado Avalanche and their Cup-winning sides in the 1990s.  At age 41, he’s still proving to be a high-level puck-moving defender in the KHL.
  • Also notable are Oskars Bartulis, who spent time in the NHL with Philadelphia, Arturs Kulda who spent several years in the Thrashers/Jets system, and Ralfs Freibergs, a high-end NCAA performer who could very well wind up with an NHL contract following his college career, particularly if he performs well at this tournament.
  • When Freibergs and Ozolins aren’t on the ice, it seems the Latvians may struggle to move the puck, a distinct weakness against the fast and powerful teams from around the globe that will be coming at them.

Latvia Defense Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each defender on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players can be unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams or the way in which their coach manages their ice time — but it does give some indication as to how Latvia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

LAT DEF - TOI

  • Kulda and Ozolins are the workhorses on their KHL clubs, and Pujacs isn’t far off the pace either.  Overall though, they generally look to be depth KHL players.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies, the number most indicative of actual ability is likely even-strength save percentage.  By removing their numbers on the powerplay or while shorthanded, we remove the wildly fluctuating numbers, year-to-year, of special teams play and can focus instead on the discipline at which the vast majority of each game is played.  Unfortunately, for goalies outside the NHL it is not possible to find this statistic, so we’ll use total save percentage instead.

LAT GOAL - SV%

  • 21 year old Gudlevskis might actually be the go-to guy here; his numbers don’t look as good as Mustukovs’, but he’s been playing in arguably better leagues overall, and the Latvians may as well get their young guy some experience moving forward.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of Zimbio.

Latvia will likely struggle to win a single game during the Olympics, their only real chances probably coming against Austria and Slovenia, though even those countries have NHL stars like Thomas Vanek and Anze Kopitar to help them out.  In a few years perhaps Girgensons will be able to attain that status, but for now the Latvians will probably just have to be content with taking part.  They may be worth watching to see what is likely Sandis Ozolins’ last hurrah on the international stage.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk.

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