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12 players who need to play well for their country to medal in Sochi

The NHL players hit the ice in Sochi.
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

As the games begin in Sochi despite having talent laden teams everywhere there are still question marks that need to be answered. Some of those questions are obvious. Is there any team that can keep up with Canada's skill? Does Canada have too many forwards playing out of position? Is Ryan Miller the Ryan Miller of 2010 for the USA; if not is Jonathan Quick's play as of late up to the task? Then there's the home team Russia with all their offensive firepower, will they be able to contain teams enough defensively to bring home the gold? These are 12 players that will have a lot to do with how the above questions are answered.

  • Team Russia: For Team Russia to have a chance at bringing home the gold there are obvious stars we can all look at. There is no denying with Malkin, Kovlachuk and Ovechkin, they will score goals. The question is will they have enough on the blue line to keep the puck out of the net? Team Russia will look at Fedor Tyutin to be there rock on defense. Over the last three seasons Tyutin has averaged a little over 23 minutes of ice time a game for the Columbus Blue Jackets. In Sochi nothing will change. Tyutin on the larger ice surface against highly skilled teams could be the difference for Team Russia. He will in all probability be used against the other team’s top offensive threat. If Tyutin plays well, it could mean Team Russia could take home the gold.
  • Team Slovakia: Team Slovakia will be missing some of its stars. They are still a talented bunch led by the captain Zedeno Chara. There will be no one more important to the success of the team that goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Halak in the 2010 Vancouver games played respectfully. He had his moments of brilliance as well as a few he would like to take back. This time around in Sochi Halak, who is having a fine season in St. Louis, must raise his level of play for Slovakia to win a medal.
  • Team Slovenia: Team Slovenia only boasts one NHL player on its roster in Anze Kopitar, and its chances of medaling are very slim. It does not mean they don't have somebody to look out for, who we could be seeing in the NHL in the not so distant future. Luka Gracnar is a 20-year-old net-minder who went undrafted at last year's NHL draft. He signed to play professionally in Austria where he is having a stellar season for Salzburg EC, keeping them near the top of the standings all season long. A solid tournament for Luka Gracnar could get him a look by an NHL team for next season.
  • Team USA: Team USA just may have the best back-line in the entire tournament. It is a star-studded group with potential Norris trophy candidates everywhere. The most important of them all may be Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh playing in the Metropolitan division for the New York Rangers goes against the world's elite forwards on a nightly basis as a shutdown defenseman. McDonagh averages over 24 minutes a game with the Rangers and that just might be what Team USA needs. With Ryan's speed, closing ability, and size on the larger ice surface may be just what Dan Bylsma needs to shut down the world's best forwards. If McDonagh rises to the occasion and has a solid tournament Team USA may very well reap the rewards in the color of gold.
  • Team Austria: Team Austria is not filled with NHL superstars. It does have however Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner. Teams will look to shut Vanek down making Grabner even that much more important. Grabner's speed on the open ice surface and with some players playing out of position could lead to numerous breakaway opportunities for the speedy winger. If Grabner can have a successful tournament giving Austria its much-needed secondary scoring option they could pull off an upset or two along the way.
  • Team Canada: Team Canada has the most skilled roster in the entire Olympics. There are stars everywhere you look. Going into these games the only question mark in Canada was who is going to be the starting goalie? Will it be Roberto Luongo, Carey Price or Mike Smith? This may not be the most important point when looking at Canada's roster. The most important question might be asked is who is going to stop the other team’s top player? Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins could be that man. Bergeron could very well be asked to take a good number of the important face-offs for Canada as well as lead their penalty killing unit. It would not surprise anyone to see Bergeron lined up as a third line checking forward in these Olympics. Bergeron skill and hockey IQ just may be the player who helps bring the gold back to Canada once again. He will be called upon to shot down the other team’s best forward on a nightly basis.
  • Team Finland: Team Finland may be the team that everyone is overlooking, and that would be a mistake. Finland always plays well in international competition and this year should be no exception. Team Finland boasts three goaltenders that would be starters on just about every other team in the Olympics. They also have numerous players with a high amount of international experience. The one player on the Finish roster who may have the most impact could be Lori Korpikoski. Korpikoski will be looked upon by Team Finland in the same manner Team Canada will look to Bergeron; a defensive checking forward whose responsibility will be to try and contain some of the world’s best forwards. If Korpikoski raises his game Team Finland just may reap the rewards all the way to the medal podium.
  • Team Norway: It was the last Olympics when Mats Zuccarello playing for Team Norway that NHL scouts took notice. Is there another Norwegian hobbit basking under the radar that can help Team Norway pull off the upset or two? Sondre Olden was drafted in the third round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010. Olden has played in his home country of Norway, in the Norwegian professional hockey league. A highly skilled player with a nice offense of upside you never know if he could be the next one to come out of nowhere in the Olympics and get an NHL contract.
  • Team Czech Republic: Team Czech Republic does not have the star power it once did for an Olympic roster. It doesn't mean that they cannot compete for a medal. They have some bonafided NHL stars on their team. Ondřej Pavelec could be the man that has the most say on how Team Czech Republic will do. This will be the 26-year-old net minder’s first chance at being a clear-cut number one for his country. If Pavelec can rise to the occasion the Czech Republic you could find them in medal contention.
  • Team Latvia: Team Latvia has a roster made up of mostly KHL players. Their experience on an Olympic size rank could be beneficial to them. They will also look to Sandis Ozoliņš for veteran leadership. Ozoliņš has represented his native country on numerous occasions. He also has over 10 years of NHL experience to lean on. If he can relive some of his past glory Latvia could very well pull an upset.
  • Team Switzerland: Team Switzerland has come a long way over the years. Their roster boasts numerous NHL players, including goaltender Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks. Nino Niederreiter is a former first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders. The fifth overall pick never amounted to his expectations on Long Island. Niederreiter is starting to show some of the promise this season in Minnesota. For Team Switzerland to compete they will need Niederreiter to be on the top of his game.
  • Team Sweden: Team Sweden brings with them one of the best rosters in Sochi. They have high expectations, and it would be a disappointment for them not to medal. With their star-studded roster it just may be Oliver Ekman-Larsson who has the greatest impact on Team Sweden's medal hopes. The 22-year-old defenseman could be the complement Erik Karlsson on the back line needs, averaging over 25 minutes in the NHL and that will continue in Sochi. If Ekman-Larsson plays well Sweden will be tough to beat. If the puck moving ability of Ekman-Larsson, and the torpedo offense run by Team Sweden are in sync, and then Sweden will now have two offenses of quarterbacks to run their system.
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