Olympic Hockey 2014: Predicting Tournament's Breakout Stars

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIFebruary 7, 2014

Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty in action during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Other than during the NHL's postseason, there is no better display of pure skill and talent than during the Olympic hockey tournament. Between the passion of playing for one's country, as well as the amount of ability that is on the ice at a given time, Olympic hockey is must-see TV.

2014 will be no different, as the Canadians look to repeat as gold medal winners. Teams like the United States, Russia, Finland and Sweden all have great chances to medal. Slovakia and Switzerland have outside chances.

It's a truism of every Olympic tournament that there will be breakout stars. In Vancouver, Zach Parise and Ryan Miller were introduced to the world with their terrific performances for Team USA. 

So who will it be this year? Which player will step up on the biggest stage and become one of the tournament's breakout stars?

Read on to find out. 

2014 Olympic Hockey Schedule
DateTime (ET)Time (MSK)Game/Round
Feb. 1212 p.m.9 p.m.Czech Republic vs. Sweden
Feb. 1212 p.m.9 p.m.Latvia vs. Switzerland
Feb. 133 a.m.12 p.m.Finland vs. Austria
Feb. 137:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Russia vs. Slovenia
Feb. 137:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Slovakia vs. USA
Feb. 1312 p.m.9 p.m.Canada vs. Norway
Feb. 143 a.m.12 p.m.Czech Republic vs. Latvia
Feb. 147:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Sweden vs. Switzerland
Feb. 1412 p.m.9 p.m.Norway vs. Finland
Feb. 1412 p.m.9 p.m.Canada vs. Austria
Feb. 153 a.m.12 p.m.Slovakia vs. Slovenia
Feb. 157:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.USA vs. Russia
Feb. 1512 p.m.9 p.m.Sweden vs. Latvia
Feb. 1512 p.m.9 p.m.Switzerland vs. Czech Republic
Feb. 163 a.m.12 p.m.Austria vs. Norway
Feb. 167:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Russia vs. Slovakia
Feb. 167:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Slovenia vs. USA
Feb. 1612 p.m.9 p.m.Finland vs. Canada
Feb. 183 a.m.12 p.m.Qualification Round
Feb. 187:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Qualification Round
Feb. 1812 p.m.9 p.m.Qualification Round
Feb. 1812 p.m.9 p.m.Qualification Round
Feb. 193 a.m.12 p.m.Quarterfinals
Feb. 197:30 a.m.4:30 p.m.Quarterfinals
Feb. 1912 p.m.9 p.m.Quarterfinals
Feb. 1912 p.m.9 p.m.Quarterfinals
Feb. 217 a.m.4 p.m.Semifinals
Feb. 2112 p.m.9 p.m.Semifinals
Feb. 2210 a.m.7 p.m.Bronze-Medal Game
Feb. 237 a.m.4 p.m.Gold-Medal Game



Max Pacioretty, USA

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Max Pacioretty is entering the Olympic tournament hot, as evidenced by his hat trick he scored on Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Here's one of his three goals:

Pacioretty actually could have had five goals, but he missed on two penalty shots.

Either way, Pacioretty is a big-time scorer that should really shine for the Americans. 

The 6'2" winger has scored 26 goals and added 11 assists for the Montreal Canadiens, and has excelled on the power-play, where he has notched 13 points. 

Pacioretty has the size and speed to make a difference on the wing for the Americans. He has wicked wrister and is dangerous below the circles. His size could make him an asset in front of the net on the power play.

While he's only 25 years old, Pacioretty plays a well-rounded game and could see plenty of time near the crease on the man advantage.


Mats Zuccarello, Norway

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 18:  Mats Aasen Zuccarello of Norway during the ice hockey men's preliminary game between USA and Norway on day 7 of the 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 18, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Benne
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Mats Zuccarello has been having a breakout season for the New York Rangers, and that will only continue in the Olympics.

The Norwegian first gained notice from NHL evaluators at the 2010 Olympics, where he scored three points in four games.

He was quickly signed by the New York Rangers, and while his skill was evident, he had some trouble adjusting to the North American game. He was shuttled between the Rangers and their minor league affiliate, and then spent time in the KHL.

Now that he's back with the Rangers full-time, the diminutive winger has really flourished. He has 15 goals and 27 assists, and is one of the Rangers' most important offensive players. Plays like this illustrate his electric skill set:

At his best, he's a feisty player who can wreak havoc on the forecheck. He is a prodigious passer with incredible vision. Despite being 5'7", Zuccarello is an offensive wizard.

He will only benefit from the big sheet in Russia. The extra room will allow even more space for Zuccarello to operate, where he will be incredibly dangerous on the man advantage. On the season, he has 15 power-play points.

Norway is not expected to move past the qualifying round, and Zuccarello is the only NHL player on the roster. But he is a wonderful and creative playmaker, and that skill will be on display for the world to see. 


Marcus Johansson, Sweden

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Henrik Sedin will not be participating in the Olympic tournament due to a rib injury, according to Pro Hockey Talk:

While that's a big blow for Team Sweden, they have found a nice replacement in Marcus Johansson, according to Chris Johnston of Rogers Sportsnet:

The Washington Capitals' pivot has a chance to really shine at this tournament. Long overshadowed by teammate and fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom, Johansson has really come into his own this year. The 23-year-old has seven goals and 29 assists this season.

He's a quick and feisty player who can often agitate opponents. Playing on Sweden's third line, Johansson will play an effective forechecking game, as well as pop in a few goals. His speed will be an asset on the big international ice surface. 

Team Sweden is one of the favorites to win, and Johansson will ride that wave to really break out as an impact player in this tournament. 


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