Potential Breakout Hockey Stars at the 2014 Winter Olympics

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IISeptember 2, 2013

Potential Breakout Hockey Stars at the 2014 Winter Olympics

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    We all know what Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane are going to do at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. They're going to continue to be the stars that they are here in the NHL, posting big point totals are scoring epic goals for their respective countries.

    While it's fun to watch the superpowers collide, there always seems to be one or two dark-horse teams in the tournament that make things tough on the likes of Canada, the United States and Russia.

    The legs that make those Cinderella teams run are typically breakout stars. Players who don't have top-line duties on their NHL teams but end up playing massive minutes once they suit up for, say, Austria.

    Players from the superpower nations aside, there are a few guys who could really see their stock rise during the Olympics this winter.

    Statistics appear courtesy of the indispensable HockeyDB.com.

Tomas Tatar

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    NHL Team: Detroit Red Wings

    Role With NHL Team: Tomas Tatar has been one of the top prospects in Detroit's system for a few years now and would likely be a top-six forward on at least half the teams in the NHL. The Red Wings are notorious for slowly developing their top players, though, and Tatar has had all the time in the world to develop his considerable talents.

    Olympic Team: Slovakia

    Why He Could Breakout: Slovakia will have its hands full in Group A. It will be taking on Russia, the United States and Slovenia while trying to make it to the medal round.

    Tatar might still be on the second or third line, but his role will be massive, as Slovakia will need strong secondary scoring to hang with the deeper Russian and American squads. He has game-breaking talent and can take over shifts with his hands and vision.

    Slovakia will need all of that and more since Tatar is one of the most talented young players on the roster.

Richard Panik

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    NHL Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

    Role With NHL Team: The Tampa Bay Lightning have one of the most deadly offensive groups in the NHL. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis do a lot of the heavy lifting on the first line and gobble up massive amounts of minutes while doing it.

    Meanwhile, Richard Panik made his NHL debut last season, playing a limited role through 25 games.

    Olympic Team: Slovakia

    Why He Could Breakout: Panik scored 41 points in 51 games for the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL in 2013, proving that he has the skills to be an impact player for his team. While the talent gap between the AHL and the Olympics is a gulf, Slovakia will need plenty of scoring from players like Panik and Tomas Tatar.

    The old guard made up of players like Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik will get one more crack at the Olympics for spots among the top six, but there may not be a team that needs more from its third line than Slovakia.

Michael Grabner

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    NHL Team: New York Islanders

    Role With NHL Team: The New York Islanders feature one of the most deadly top lines in the NHL. John Tavares and Matt Moulson form a dominant dynamic duo, and Michael Grabner has seen his ice time slip over the last two seasons.

    During the playoffs last season, he averaged just over 12 minutes of ice time, according to NHL.com, ranking him 16th on the team behind the likes of Marty Reasoner and barely ahead of Colin McDonald.

    Olympic Team: Austria

    Why He Could Breakout: Grabner's responsibilities with the Islanders have slowly dwindled since scoring 52 points in 2010-11. Austria doesn't have the forward depth needed to relegate him to bottom-six minutes, though, and it's likely that he ends up skating on a top line with Thomas Vanek.

    There's a ton of speed to burn in that pairing, and the extra space on the international ice surface will give Grabner even more chances for breakaways and odd-man rushes.

Jonas Hiller

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    NHL Team: Anaheim Ducks

    Role With NHL Team: The Anaheim Ducks had one of the best under-the-radar signings in recent memory when they grabbed Viktor Fasth from Sweden for a cool million prior to the 2013 season, according the Capgeek.com.

    Jonas Hiller is still the starter in Anaheim, but he gave way to Fasth for 25 games of action in 2013. If the newcomer continues to play like he did last season, Hiller could be relegated to a 50/50 split after only one season of breaking the 60-game plateau.

    Olympic Team: Switzerland

    Why He Could Breakout: Hiller is facing some questions about whether or not he'll be able to hold Fasth off in Anaheim, and by the time the Olympics roll around, he could be considered the backup for the Ducks.

    Regardless of what happens in California, the Swiss will be looking for (and needing) a big-time performance from Hiller in Sochi. A lot of people think this is a year when this nation could take a big step forward, and Hiller is going to be considered the central cog of this team.

Roman Josi

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    NHL Team: Nashville Predators

    Role With NHL Team: Ryan Suter received a lot of press when he bolted from Nashville and signed a ridiculous deal with the Minnesota Wild. A big storyline heading into the regular season centered around who would replace Suter on Nashville's top pairing.

    A lot of that talk died down when the lockout killed the first half of the season, and no one seemed to be paying attention when Roman Josi became the heir to Suter's throne.

    Olympic Team: Switzerland

    Why He Could Breakout: According to the offcial website of the Predators, Josi was 19th in the NHL in total minutes played in 2013. He averaged more than 23 minutes a game and took on a hulking amount of responsibility for a young blueliner.

    Josi was up to the task, though, and is one of the most underrated young defensemen in the league right now. That could change at the Olympics, where Switzerland will be looking for big things from the 23-year-old defender.

Sven Baertschi

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    NHL Team: Calgary Flames

    Role With NHL Team: The Flames committed to a full-on rebuild at the trade deadline in 2013, surrendering assets such as Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester to make room for younger players in the lineup.

    Up until becoming a top-six forward for Calgary, Baertschi struggled mightily. There were some expectations that he would be able to jump in and be a difference-maker for the Flames at the beginning of the year, and those expectations weren't met, as he only scored three points through his first 23 games of the season.

    Olympic Team: Switzerland

    Why He Could Breakout: After settling in with the Flames and receiving top-six minutes after the trade deadline, Baertschi started to show signs of the player that had scored 94 points in 47 games for the Portland Winterhawks in 2011-12.

    He posted points in seven consecutive games to close out the regular season and is a sleeper to put up some big numbers for Calgary this year. His immense talent and finishing touch will likely land him a top-six role with the Swiss, who will need big contributions from throughout the lineup as they take on the likes of Canada and the United States.

Zemgus Girgensons

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    NHL Team: Buffalo Sabres

    Role With NHL Team: Unlike Mikhail Grigorenko, whom the Buffalo Sabres viciously rushed to the NHL, Zemgus Girgensons was given more time develop despite getting drafted at No. 14 in the 2012 draft. He has yet to play a single game in the NHL but made his professional debut with the Rochester Americans in the AHL last year.

    Olympic Team: Latvia

    Why He Could Breakout: The Latvians are always a feisty and proud group. They are outgunned by just about every other team in the tournament, but they aren't going to go down without a fight, either. While Girgensons has yet to make his debut with the Sabres, it's likely that he'll be thrust into a first-line role with Latvia.

    Talk about an opportunity to shine. When it's Sidney Crosby out on the ice for Canada, it'll be Girgensons that he's matching up against. When Ryan Kesler is taking a faceoff for the United States, it'll be Girgensons that he's trying to beat.

    More so than any other player on this list, Girgensons has the chance to raise his profile dramatically at the Olympics.

Arturs Kulda

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    NHL Team: Winnipeg Jets

    Role With NHL Team: Arturs Kulda is a bit of a journeyman at this point despite technically playing his entire career with the Winnipeg Jets organization. He was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006 with the 200th overall pick.

    Since then, he's played only a limited role through three seasons with the Jets, playing in 15 NHL games total.

    Olympic Team: Latvia

    Why He Could Breakout: While 15 games isn't squat to NHL regulars, it makes Arturs Kulda an elder statesman in Latvia's locker room. He also laced up the skates in the KHL last season, skating in 50 games for the Novosibirsk Siber.

    He'll be back in the NHL with Winnipeg this season, where he'll be relied upon as a stay-at-home defenseman for the team. He'll take on a similar role for Latvia, except it's likely that Kulda will be on the top pairing.

    He hits hard and he hits to hurt, and few things will grab attention quicker then laying out a few names on an Olympic ice surface. 

Jakub Kindl

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    NHL Team: Detroit Red Wings

    Role With NHL Team: Few top prospects have been shuttled between the AHL and NHL quite as often as Jakub Kindl. Another slow-cooked Red Wing youngster, he has been bouncing between the minors and the NHL since 2009-10.

    He saw three games of action that year and had spent nearly three full seasons in the AHL before getting his first cup of coffee. After playing in 55 games in 2011-12, Kindl finally broke through as a full-time NHL defenseman last season.

    Olympic Team: Czech Republic

    Why He Could Breakout: Detroit didn't take its time with Kindl for no reason. When he finally broke through, he was prepared to take on a large role. He played more than 18 minutes a game last season, according to Hockey-reference.com, and didn't appear out of place in the playoffs.

    The Czech Republic is going through a transition period, and while several members of the aging old guard will be present on this roster, guys like Kindl will need to be outstanding if the squad hopes to medal.

Roman Polak

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    NHL Team: St. Louis Blues

    Role With NHL Team: Roman Polak is a prototypical Blues player. He's tough to play against and brings heaping amounts of sandpaper to the rink on a nightly basis. While he hasn't been an offensive stalwart for St. Louis across five seasons, he has been an anchor in his own zone.

    Olympic Team: Czech Republic

    Why He Could Breakout: Polak isn't a lock to make the Olympic roster for the Czech Republic. He's right on the line and will have to battle to earn one of the six starting-defeseman spots. Still, if the squad is looking to add a bit of grit on the back end, it won't have to look further than Polak.

    A strong start to the season could make it difficult for the Czechs to leave Polak in North America as they battle for a medal in Sochi. He's a bruising presence that wouldn't hesitate to lay into the elite talents that will be all over the ice at the Olympics.