The first week of men's ice hockey at the 2010 Olympics has produced no shortage of highlights and lowlights. Canada started the week with a bang, but went out with a fizzle. Alex Ovechkin's seismic hit on Jaromir Jagr was a collision of arguably the two most physically dominant forwards of the past 20 years. Ovechkin is more of an aggressor, while Jagr could shield off entire teams behind his unusually large rear end. From a fantasy hockey perspective, many dream line combinations have been realized. How would Evgeni Malkin look centering Ovechkin and Alex Semin? We finally have the answer, and it is "fantastic." And with regards to Team USA, the question marks surrounding their inexperience have been overshadowed by the sublime play of Ryan Miller.
Flying well below the radar of the average hockey fan have been two forwards looking to make a name for themselves – Mats Zuccarello Aasen of Norway, and Jagr's sidekick on the Czech Republic, Roman Cervenka. Both are good enough to be playing in the NHL, especially the pint-sized Zuccarello Aasen, who should expect the offers to pour in after his season in Europe finishes up.
Zuccarello Aasen, who turns 23 in September, was overlooked by NHL teams during his draft eligible years for one single reason – size. He stands in at 5'7" (a generous measurement), and tips the scales at about 170 pounds. He has played with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League for the last two seasons, and he leads the team in scoring with 18 goals and 51 points in 2009-10. The next highest scoring forward on the team has only 33 points. Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund both have 20 points, but they have played considerably less games than the rest of the roster.
His lack of size scared away many scouts, even though he has produced at every single level of hockey. Before playing with MoDo, he tore up the junior leagues in Norway. Obviously no great accomplishment, though. However, at the 2010 Olympics, Aasen has had a coming out party of sorts. He has displayed a tenacity and willingness to battle against bigger and stronger defensemen. He even singled out Chris Pronger in a postgame quote, saying how much of a thrill it was to compete against one of the nastiest defensemen in the world. Aasen looked great against Canada, and has consistently made fantastic NHL quality plays against NHL quality opposition throughout the Olympics thus far. His work ethic and the fact that he has been able to step up his play on the world stage has increased Aasen's stock with regards to the NHL in a big, big way. He is still young at 22, and there is obvious room for growth. For all the hype Fabian Brunnstrom received, Aasen is a better talent, and like Brunnstrom, he can be had for essentially nothing (aside from an entry level contract, of course).
Peter Forsberg had this to say about Aasen,"He’s an incredible player, [he has] got no fears and very good technique. He is going to go far. He’s good enough for the NHL. Some may say he’s not big enough or heavy enough, but I’ll think he will get there anyway. He’s got a big hockey heart.”