NHL Stars to Watch at 2014 Winter Olympics Who Don't Play for USA or Canada

James Onusko@@jonuskoContributor IIIJanuary 8, 2014

NHL Stars to Watch at 2014 Winter Olympics Who Don't Play for USA or Canada

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    While much of the North American focus is on Canada and the United States, there are a number of dynamic NHL stars from other countries to watch at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

    Many of these players will play starring roles in Sochi, Russia. Some will have expanded roles for their respective countries. Many of them are fulfilling lifelong dreams of representing their country on the international stage.

    We'll take a look at 25 of the top non-North American NHL stars, their projected roles and why they are deserving of extra attention in February.

    All stats can be found on hockeydb.com unless otherwise noted.

Thomas Vanek, Left Wing, Austria

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    By the Numbers: Thomas Vanek has produced at a shade under a point-per-game pace with the New York Islanders since being traded. He has 28 points in 29 games.

    Projected Role: Vanek will be the prime scoring threat for Team Austria. He'll be relied upon in all key offensive situations.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Austria will be challenged to threaten any of the top teams, but Vanek has enough size and skill to keep his team close should one of the top teams be off their game.

Jaromir Jagr, Right Wing, Czech Republic

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    By the Numbers: The remarkable Jaromir Jagr will celebrate his 42nd birthday in Sochi. The future hall of famer has 35 points with the New Jersey Devils and he continues to outwit Father Time.

    Projected Role: Unsurprisingly, Jagr will once again be counted on to score goals for the Czech Republic at an international competition. Don't be surprised if Jagr scores some highlight-reel markers.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Jagr has been one of the top talents of his generation. He has remarkable vision, and with the extra time and space he will be afforded on the big ice, Jagr will be a treat to watch.

David Krejci, Centre, Czech Republic

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    By the Numbers: The Boston Bruins centre has played a very solid two-way game in Beantown. He's had 36 points in the first half of the season and is an impressive plus-16 in those games.

    Projected Role: Krejci will be expected to play a similar role to what he does in Boston. He'll have to produce offensively, but he'll need to play in all game situations for a Czech team that will not have the elite offensive talent that other teams will feature.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Krejci is a gifted playmaker who creates chances on most shifts. If he plays a lot with Jaromir Jagr, they will be a difficult duo to defend once they establish themselves in the offensive zone.

Valtteri Filppula, Centre, Finland

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    By the Numbers: Valtteri Filppula has enjoyed a renaissance in Tampa Bay. The swift-skating centre has 34 points in 43 games after producing just 17 points in 41 games in 2012-13.

    Projected Role: Filppula will play his solid two-way game, but he'll be counted upon to provide some scoring on a defensive-minded Finnish team.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Filppula is an unselfish player who makes linemates look good with his vision and playmaking ability.

Mikko Koivu, Centre, Finland

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    By the Numbers: Koivu has 27 assists in just 44 games. He's been an excellent set-up man this year.

    Projected Role: The Minnesota Wild pivot will be a first-line centre who will be counted upon to produce points while playing a 200-foot game in Sochi.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Koivu has no real weaknesses in his game. He is one of the more underrated passers in the NHL who will flourish on the big ice in Russia.

Olli Maatta, Defenceman, Finland

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    By the Numbers: Quite simply, Olli Maatta is a 19-year-old defenceman who is likely to be playing a top-four role on the biggest international stage for hockey.

    Projected Role: Maatta has proven to be mature well beyond his years. He is likely to play in all game situations and should be the Finns' No. 4 or No. 5 defender.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Maatta is one of those rare players who gets better on a game-by-game basis. With his great hockey sense and puck-moving ability, he makes difficult plays look easy.

Tuukka Rask, Goaltender, Finland

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    By the Numbers: Tuukka Rask is sporting a .930 save percentage which ranks him third only to Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop and Minnesota's Josh Harding among everyday NHL goalies.

    Projected Role: Because Finland is so deep in goal, Rask may not be anointed as the starter. Expect both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen to push the Boston Bruins starter.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Rask is one of the most fundamentally sound goalies in the world. He is rarely out of position, but when he is, he has the athleticism to recover quickly.

Teemu Selanne, Left Wing, Finland

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    By the Numbers: Teemu Selanne is playing in his sixth Olympic Games. Enough said.

    Projected Role: Selanne will not play a starring role with Finland. However, he'll provide quickness, heady play and veteran leadership for this talented team. 

    Why You Should Watch Him: Selanne has been a treat to watch since breaking into the NHL and scoring 76 goals in 1992. He has been one of the best right wingers of his generation.

Pavel Datsyuk, Centre, Russia

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    By the Numbers: Pavel Datsyuk has a very good On-Ice Corsi number of 11.58 in 2013-14.

    Projected Role: Datsyuk will do what he always does in Detroit and what he's done in the past for Team Russia. He'll be an on-ice leader who will be expected to provide offence as well as shutting down the opposing team's top centre.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Datsyuk is one of the most talented players to ever lace them up. If you watch him closely, he's likely to do something that you have never seen before.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing, Russia

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    By the Numbers: The former New Jersey Devil has 35 points in 36 games with St. Petersburg SKA in the KHL this season.

    Projected Role: Kovalchuk will be a top-six forward who will be expected to be among the team leaders in goal scoring.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Kovalchuk is an amazing skater with a rare ability to accelerate after gaining the puck. Furthermore, his shot release is as good as anyone's who will be playing in the tournament. I've included him as an NHL star as he's only recently left the league and remains at the peak of his skills.

Evgeni Malkin, Centre, Russia

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    By the Numbers: With 45 points in just 34 NHL contests in 2013-14, Malkin has been one of the top point-per-game players in the entire league.

    Projected Role: Malkin will likely play behind the sublime Pavel Datsyuk, but he'll be looked at to be among the scoring leaders for Mother Russia.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Malkin is a very unselfish player who can find teammates where other players cannot. He has that rare blend of size, speed and elite skill that makes him one of the best players in the game today.

Alex Ovechkin, Left Wing, Russia

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    By the Numbers: With 31 goals this year, Alexander Ovechkin has more than double the next highest goals total among Russians in the NHL. He leads the league in this category.

    Projected Role: Ovechkin is the most dynamic goal scorer on Team Russia. He'll be expected to lead the team in goal scoring in hopes that it will lead to a gold medal in Sochi.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Ovechkin is an exceptional goal scorer. He can score from almost anywhere in the offensive zone with his ability to shoot the puck with great accuracy and speed.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Right Wing, Russia

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    By the Numbers: The St. Louis Blues winger has just turned 22 years old, yet he will be counted on to provide offensive punch on a deep Russian squad.

    Projected Role: Tarasenko can play in all game situations. Expect the young winger to showcase his versatility increasingly as the competition heats up in his home country.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Tarasenko will be one of the younger forwards on any of the top medal contenders at the Olympics. He seems able to create something out of nothing with his great agility and vision.

Zdeno Chara, Defence, Slovakia

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    By the Numbers: Since the beginning of the 2010-11 NHL regular season, the 6'9" Slovak is plus-84.

    Projected Role: One of the game's top shutdown defenders will play huge minutes in Sochi. He'll be expected to carry the team defensively as well as chipping in offensively with his tremendous slap shot.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Chara is one of the few players in the game today that can control the play. When he is at his best, he's a physical force that is nearly impossible to slow down, let alone stop.

Jaroslav Halak, Goaltender, Slovakia

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    By the Numbers: The Slovaks will be solid in goal with Halak already tallying 17 wins this season in just 28 games for the St. Louis Blues.

    Projected Role: Halak will be counted on to provide great goaltending for the Slovaks. They finished fourth in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympics so expectations will be high for the entire team.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Halak seems to play some of his best hockey under pressure. Whether it's the NHL playoffs or international hockey, he thrives when his club needs him most.

Marian Hossa, Right Wing, Slovakia

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    By the Numbers: With 35 points in 40 games, Hossa has been one of the best offensive players on one of the top teams in the NHL in Chicago.

    Projected Role: Hossa will be looked at to provide the bulk of the scoring for the Slovakian team. His experience and skill will be great assets for this underdog team.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Hossa has exceptional hands. He's both a sniper and a playmaker. His size and strength allow him to excel along the boards in the offensive zone.

Tomas Tatar, Left Wing, Slovakia

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    By the Numbers: Tatar has 16 points in 35 games despite not getting the minutes that other veteran Detroit Red Wings forwards get on a nightly basis.

    Projected Role: Tatar should be on one of the top two lines. He'll be expected to produce offensively and use his speed to limit chances for opposing wingers.

    Why You Should Watch Him: At just 23 years old, Tatar will be one of the youngest, yet fastest players in Sochi. His blazing speed should see him get a lot of chances when his teammates find him breaking in open ice. 

Anze Kopitar, Centre, Slovenia

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    By the Numbers: Anze Kopitar is once again posting very good numbers with 35 points and a plus-21 rating with the Kings in their first 44 games.

    Projected Role: Kopitar will play huge minutes in Sochi for the Slovenian team. He'll have to do it all as the only NHL star on the squad.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Kopitar will be shining on this talent-challenged team. Expect him to be on the ice in every important situation and involved in most Slovenian goals.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

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    By the Numbers: Ekman-Larsson has 22 points in 40 games with the Phoenix Coyotes. This should see him shatter his best point total from 2011-12 when he posted 32 points.

    Projected Role: The young Ekman-Larsson will likely see top-pairing duty in Sochi. He'll be on the ice for all game situations for the powerful Swedes. 

    Why You Should Watch Him: All signs point to Ekman-Larsson becoming a perennial Norris Trophy candidate. He is a great talent who makes the game look much easier than it is.

Erik Karlsson, Defence, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: With 39 points, Karlsson is second only to Duncan Keith in defenceman scoring.

    Projected Role: Karlsson will play upwards of 28 minutes in Sochi. He'll be a top-pairing defender and anchor the power play as well.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Karlsson is a huge talent. While his defending in the defensive zone needs work, few players are as skilled with the puck as he is. He'll thrive while playing with other highly skilled countrymen.

Gabriel Landeskog, Left Wing, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: The Colorado captain has 31 points and 27 penalty minutes this year. He's a great blend of speed and power.

    Projected Role: Landeskog will provide some tough board play along with a good scoring touch. He won't be expected to lead the Swedes offensively, but he'll need to play a disciplined two-way game as a top-six forward.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Landeskog does all the little things that coaches love. His leadership skills and hard-working game will serve as a good example on this talented team.

Henrik Lundqvist, Goaltender, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: The Swedish stalwart once posted a .948 save percentage for Vastra Frolunda while playing in Sweden.

    Projected Role: King Henrik has not had a great season with the New York Rangers. However, the starting job will be his to lose given his track record over his entire career.

    Why You Should Watch Him: When Lundqvist is at the top of his game, he's the top goalie in the game. With the defence that will be in front of him in Russia, expect him to return to form quickly.

Daniel Sedin, Left Wing, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: While Daniel is unlikely to match his career-best 104 points in 2010-11, with 38 points so far this season, it's been another very good season for the veteran winger.

    Projected Role: Daniel will be a top-line winger and is expected to be a leader in all parts of the game for the Swedish team.

    Why You Should Watch Him: This is likely to be the final Olympics for the Sedins. While they have had their share of critics, few duos have ever been as productive as these Vancouver Canucks.

Henrik Sedin, Centre, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: With 640 career assists, Henrik will be among the best playmakers at the 2014 Olympics.

    Projected Role: Henrik will be the team's top centre. He'll be expected to play the cycle game to perfection and wear down opposing checking lines and top defenders.

    Why You Should Watch Him: While he doesn't have eyes in the back of his head, it will appear, at times, that he does. Henrik and Daniel should pair up to give fans some great moments of skilled hockey.

Alex Steen, Right Wing, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: With 24 goals, Steen is having the best offensive year of his career in 2013-14.

    Projected Role: Steen has been recovering from a concussion, but as long as he is healthy, expect him to be on one of the top two lines for this excellent Swedish team.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Steen has developed into one of the game's best scorers this season. The Swedes will play a disciplined style of game, but on the transition Steen will be able to show his full array of puckhandling skills.

Henrik Zetterberg, Centre, Sweden

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    By the Numbers: The Detroit Red Wing forward has 36 points in 32 games this season, despite battling some injuries.

    Projected Role: The Swedish captain will be expected to play his all-around game at its highest level. He'll split the key minutes with Henrik Sedin.

    Why You Should Watch Him: Zetterberg has puckhandling skills that not many players can match. He's not a physically imposing player, but few skaters can intimidate opposing defenders with their skill like Zetterberg does.