Sochi Olympics 2014: Slovenia Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of canada.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: the Men’s Hockey tournament may be well underway, but we will continue our series of roster analyses until the bitter end. Enjoy!

The World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams 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: the nation known as “The Lynxes” and participating in their very first Olympic tournament, Slovenia.

WARNING: This article contains much Kopitar-love.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of thirdstringgoalie.blogspot.com.

    Bostjan Golicic

  • Ziga Jeglic
  • Anze Kopitar
  • Anze Kuralt
  • Jan Mursak
  • Ales Music
  • Ziga Pance
  • Tomaz Razingar
  • David Rodman
  • Marcel Rodman
  • Robert Sabolic
  • Rok Ticar
  • Jan Urbas
  • Miha Verlic

Defence (8):

  • Blaz Gregorc
  • Sabahudin Kovacevic
  • Ales Kranjc
  • Ziga Pavlin
  • Matic Podlipnik
  • Klemen Pretnar
  • Mitja Robar
  • Andrelj Tavzelj

Goal (3):

  • Luka Gracnar
  • Andrej Hocevar
  • Robert Kristan

FORWARDS

Slovenia 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 Slovenia, 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.

SLO FWD - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • As is well known, the Slovenian team don’t exactly boast a great deal of NHL talent.  Superstar Anze Kopitar and strong minor leaguer Jan Mursak are the two most notable players on the team.
  • Kopitar is regarded as one of the top centers in the NHL, so by Slovenian standards he’s the equivalent of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux’s offspring.  To put it into perspective for UK fans, imagine if Tony Hand decided to remain in the NHL and flourished.  That’s how much better Kopitar is than his Slovenian peers.
  • Mursak has enjoyed a very good minor league career, and managed to break into 46 NHL games with the powerhouse Red Wings, posting 4 points.  Everywhere else he plays, he is a strong performer offensively, though not elite.
  • Elsewhere, the remaining Slovenian forwards tend to bounce around Europe quite a bit, several of them landing in the Austrian league, though the likes of Sabolic, Urbas and Jeglic have made appearances in some of the strong European leagues.
  • Overall, this team does actually show some fairly decent offensive ability, scoring at an average of 0.68 points per game, even if it is in lower league competition.  Playing against the less accomplished Olympic teams such as Latvia, Austria and Norway, this team could cause damage given half a chance.

Slovenia 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 Team Slovenia might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

SLO FWD - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Further proof of how effective Kopitar is at the NHL level.  On one of the NHL’s best defensive teams, he plays incredibly heavy minutes in every situation, cementing his reputation as one of the league’s best two-way players.
  • Mursak also sees significant time overall in the KHL for Amur Khabarovsk, though it is perhaps worth pointing out that they are sitting at the very bottom of the league, so it’s not as if he’s plying his trade for a champion.  Still, he’s a Slovenian playing significant time in arguably the second best league in the world, something to admire not admonish.

Slovenia 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 Slovenian forwards.

SLO 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.
  • Kopitar dominates tough competition, though he does receive a fairly significant zone-start push.  The Kings put him in a position to succeed, and that he does.

DEFENSE

Slovenia Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Slovenia, 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.

SLO DEF - STATS

  • Once again, very few players skating in top European leagues.  Robar, Pavlin, Kranjc and Gregorc would appear to be the cream of the crop, putting up decent numbers in strong leagues.
  • This is also a fairly young group, with two players only just over 30 and the youngest at 21, so inexperience is also likely to be a factor to consider.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies in leagues other than the NHL, perhaps the best method is to examine their save percentages; numbers above .910 can generally be considered pretty solid, depending on the league.

SLO GOAL

  • The oldest goalie Slovenia is bringing with them also looks to be their best, putting up very good numbers in better leagues than the other two.  Having represented his country his entire professional career, and winning various World Championship awards, he will be looked upon to help lead the team as deep as it can go.
  • Gracnar looks like a strong prospect for the team, though whether he’ll see much playing time is up for debate as the more experienced Hocevar has been a long-serving and successful representative of the team.

CONCLUSION

Image courtesy of fansided.com.

Well well well.  I’m not sure anyone expected this, let alone myself.  The Slovenians put up a great fight against the powerful Russian team before dropping a 5-2 decision, and following this up with a stunning upset victory over rivals Slovakia, recording their first Olympic victory.  Next, they fell 5-1 to the USA, but did manage to slip one past the team, avoiding total domination.

Most recently, they blasted their way through to the quarterfinals with a brilliant 4-0 victory over fellow Olympic newcomers Austria, and proving to be this year’s underdog story.  The first time the country has reached the final eight of an international competition, the team will have a tough time getting past Gold-medal hopefuls Sweden, but whatever happens this has been a memorable tournament for a team that is now firmly on the hockey map.

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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