The Pittsburgh Penguins are sending seven players to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. While they trail the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks—both of those teams are sending 10 players each—having seven Olympians is truly something to be proud of.
When the rosters were announced earlier this week, there were a few surprise inclusions (Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik) and exclusions (James Neal), but all in all, Pittsburgh will be well represented in Russia.
All seven players will have very specialized roles on their respective teams. The smaller 25-man rosters force the managers of each squad to select guys that can come in and do specific things, and the Penguins' players are no different.
All stats appear courtesy of NHL.com.
Paul Martin was selected to represent Team USA in 2010 but wasn't able to compete due to an injury. David Poile and company are hoping to avoid a repeat of that incident, and have named the banged up defender to the 2014 roster that will be heading to Sochi.
Dan Bylsma is the head coach of the U.S., and it's clear that he wanted a few guys that he knew he could lean on heavily on the blue line. Prior to breaking his tibia on November 25, the Minneapolis, Minnesota native was averaging more than 25 minutes a night.
On a roster that is loaded with young defensemen, Martin will be a leader in the locker room and in all three zones.
Projected Role: Top-four defenseman
Another defenseman that likely had his cause helped by Bylsma, Brooks Orpik is a meat and potatoes player on the blue line that excels in all the detail-oriented parts of the game.
While it will be tougher to land massive checks on the big ice in Sochi, opposing forwards will have to keep their heads on a swivel when the San Francisco, California native is active on the blue line.
Orpik has been effective for the Penguins since returning from a concussion in late December, and will provide that same sort of anchor-like presence for the United States.
The U.S. went very young on the blue line. Not including Pittsburgh's duo, the average age of USA's defenders is 23. That makes the 33-year-old Orpik an elder statesman on the team, and Bylsma will log big, important minutes on the penalty kill and against the opposition's top lines.
Projected Role: Top-four shutdown defenseman, penalty kill stalwart
Finland doesn't boast the same kind of raw firepower as Canada or Russia, but they have a well-balanced attack.
Jussi Jokinen might be known for his shootout maneuvers, but he didn't make this roster as a fallback in case things go to the skills competition.
The Kalajoki, Finland native has been quietly productive for the Penguins this season despite getting shuffled around the lineup as other forwards come in and out due to injury. Jokinen is fifth on the team in points, and trails only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal in that department.
That's some pretty outstanding company as three of those four players are headed to the Olympics as well.
Projected Role: Shootout specialist, top-six forward
From undrafted teenager to Olympian in 18 months. It hasn't been a bad stretch of time for Olli Maatta, who wasn't even a lock to make Pittsburgh's roster at the beginning of the season. Injuries forced the Penguins to keep him around though, and the 19-year-old has rewarded them with reliable and durable play in the defensive end.
While he hasn't been racking up the points at a prolific rate, three goals and 11 assists as a rookie defenseman is nothing to scoff at. Where Maatta has truly shined as been in Pittsburgh's zone though, and Finland will look for that same level of play in Sochi.
He saw several games as a top-pairing player for Bylsma when the blue line had all but crumbled in December, and Maatta stepped up in a big way against some of the best players in the world. He'll need to continue that storyline at the Olympics.
Projected Role: Second or third pairing defender, top penalty killing unit
No player in the NHL has a nose for big moments like Sidney Crosby. The last time he was an Olympian, he scored the overtime game-winning goal to give Canada the gold medal on home ice while piercing the hearts of the Americans.
What could he do for an encore? What could possibly be bigger than the golden goal?
How does taking down the Russians on their home ice in a best-on-best format for the first time since 1972 sound? How much bigger can the legend of No. 87 get? We'll find out in Sochi.
Projected Role: Canada's No. 1 center, heart of the power play, possible team captain
Even without his chemistry with Crosby, Chris Kunitz would be a lock to make Team Canada. He's precisely the kind of player that head coach Mike Babcock loves to have on the roster, and Kunitz will be one of the most important forwards on this team.
Steve Yzerman has done a masterful job of constructing a forward core that can give the opposition a variety of looks. Kunitz has the wheels to be a handful on the larger ice, but it's his net-front presence that will surely drive the competition bonkers.
He doesn't camp in front of netminders like Tomas Holmstrom used to. Instead, Kunitz has developed an impeccable knack for arriving at the net mouth just as the shot hits the goalie. He's an outstanding shot deflector, and few players in the NHL can bury pucks off of rebounds like Kunitz.
Projected Role: Top-line forward, net-crashing presence on the power play
There isn't a more top-heavy team headed to Sochi than the Russians. Their top two forward lines are ridiculously stacked, and Evgeni Malkin is arguably the most important player on the squad.
In short tournaments like this, the team with the best, most dominating player typically comes out on top.
"Geno" has been a monster while healthy this season, posting 45 points in 34 games. He has at least a point in 19 of his last 21 contests, and has been an assist machine.
Any goalie or defenseman that isn't having nightmares about trying to stop Malkin and Alex Ovechkin at the same time might need to be checked for a pulse.
Russia is gunning to win gold on home ice, and they'll need Malkin to be at his dynamic and healthy best for that to happen.
Projected Role: No. 1 center, top power-play producer
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