Projected Roles for Each Chicago Blackhawk Going to Sochi

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Projected Roles for Each Chicago Blackhawk Going to Sochi

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    Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp
    Jonathan Toews and Patrick SharpBill Smith/Getty Images

    The Chicago Blackhawks are sending 10 of their players to the Olympics in Sochi next month. While this can be cause for concern, it also gives those players a chance to earn an Olympic medal.

    The 10 players represent five of the competing nations in the Olympic hockey tournament. Patrick Kane is the only Blackhawks player on the U.S. Olympic team, while Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp will play for Canada.

    Each of the Blackhawks players will man a key role for their teams. In this piece, we look at those roles.

United States: Patrick Kane

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    Patrick Kane got a taste of Olympic glory when he and his American teammates won the silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

    It was a bittersweet experience for Kane, because the Americans lost the gold medal game to Canada in overtime.ย 

    Both of those nations should be in medal contention again, and if the U.S. is going to get gold or silver, Kane will need to be on top of his game.

    Kane is tied for second in scoring in the NHL this year with John Tavares of the New York Islanders. Both players have 54 points, 11 behind Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Kane has 23 goals and 31 assists, and he has shown remarkable touch around the net and he couples that with elite playmaking skills thanks to his wondrous stickhandling.

    While the U.S. has plenty of talent on its team, it does not have the depth that Canada has. That means superstars like Kane must produce at a high level if the U.S. team is going to have a chance for a medal in Sochi.

Slovakia: Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus

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    Michal Handzus
    Michal HandzusBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Slovakian Olympic team will feature two Blackhawks from opposite ends of the spectrumโ€”Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus.

    Let's start with the lower end: Handzus.

    A look at the numbers shows that Handzus has scored four goals and six assists in 28 games. That is not all-star level production.

    However, a deeper look at the numbers reveals an even bigger problem. Handzus has spent the majority of his time playing with Patrick Kane this year. If he can't score more than 10 points while playing with Kane, that's a big issue.

    Handzus will probably see time as a penalty killer and he may be asked to take an important face-off or two. Any scoring he gives the Czech team should be considered a bonus.

    On the other hand, Hossa should be one of the key players for the Slovakian team, along with his neighbor and close friend Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.

    Hossa is a powerful skater and strong player who can fend off checks in the offensive zone and make game-changing plays. Hossa has scored 15 goals and added 20 assists to go with a plus-22 rating in 40 games.

    Hossa has the ability to come through in the clutch and he has scored three game-winning goals this year. If the Slovaks are going to make a strong showing in the Olympics, Hossa will be a key contributor.

Czech Republic: Michal Rozsival

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Defenseman Michal Rozsival is not a top-four defenseman with the Chicago Blackhawks.

    He is a role player for head coach Joel Quenneville, but he may be asked to play a bigger role for the Czech team than he does with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

    Rozsival is a solid, stay-at-home defenseman. He has scored one goal and four assists in 24 games and he has a plus-four rating. He is averaging 15:55 of ice time per game with the Blackhawks.

    Rozsival is not the swiftest skater, but he is generally well-positioned and knows how to make a play without putting the Blackhawks in trouble by turning the puck over.ย 

    The Czechs will need him to step up if they are going to be a strong factor in the Olympic tournament.

Sweden: Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marcus Kruger

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    Johnny Oduya
    Johnny OduyaBruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Swedes rarely seem to get their due, but they have a real shot of winning a medal in Sochi and it could be gold.

    If they are able to pull of a dramatic victory, the Blackhawks No. 2 defense pairing of Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson will play a key role.

    These two Swedes play along side each other on an every-game basis in Chicago and will continue to do so in the Olympic tournament.

    Oduya has scored two goals and eight assists this year and he has a plus-11 rating while averaging 20:16 of ice time per game. Hjalmarsson is a stronger threat offensively than Oduya. He has four goals and 14 assists along with a plus-13 rating. Hjalmarsson is averaging 21:13 of ice time per night.

    This duo will get the job done defensively and has the ability to make offensive plays at key moments.

    Center Marcus Kruger is also on the Swedish Olympic team. Kruger is not a star with the Blackhawks and he won't be in the Olympics either. He is a role player who has scored four goals and 13 assists this season to go with a plus-five rating.

    Kruger has a lot of value in the face-off circle and he has won 57.0 percent of his draws this season. He will have a chance to take draws when the game is on the line or when the Swedes are killing penalties in the Olympics.

Canada: Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp

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    Defenseman Duncan Keith
    Defenseman Duncan KeithBill Smith/Getty Images

    While it would be a wonderful achievement for the United States to win the gold medal in hockey, Olympic hockey carries much more gravitas in Canada.

    While there is probably as much pressure on Russia to win as Canada, the depression will last much longer for the Canadians if they don't win.

    Any Canadian loss in international competition is considered something of a tragedy.

    Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp are the Blackhawks who will represent Canada in the Olympics. Toews may be Canada's second-most important player after Sidney Crosby.

    Toews has scored 15 goals and 29 assists in 45 games this season and a solid plus-21 rating. Toews is averaging 20:27 of ice time per game and is winning 56.8 of his face-offs.

    That last category means Toews will be on the ice in the late stages of games when the Canadians are either trying to preserve a lead or get one. Toews and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins are likely to take the majority of the most important draws.

    Sharp has been on a scoring surge in recent games with nine goals in his last seven games. Sharp is a sniper who can fill the net. He has 25 goals and 21 assists in 45 games and he also has seven power-play goals. Look for Sharp to take a regular shift and play a key position on the power play for Canada.

    Keith is probably the odds-on leader to win the Norris Trophy this year. Keith won the Norris Trophy in 2009-10, and he is playing at least as well this season. Keith leads all defensemen with 42 points (three goals and 39 assists) this season.

    Keith is a marvelous player on the defensive end. He has a quick and active stick and his positioning is usually flawless. He is averaging 24:26 of ice time per game and he should come close to that figure with the Canadian Olympic team.

    If Canada is going to come away with the gold medal this year as it did in 2010, the Blackhawks' trio of Toews, Sharp and Keith will all play important roles.


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