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Young talent playing way into Olympic consideration

by Kevin Weekes

As you've probably noticed, has spent the week projecting the rosters for the top teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The invitations sent out over the summer give some idea as to who will be on these impressive teams. But some players overlooked during the summer have been playing their way into consideration for Sochi.

I think Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins has definitely played himself into the conversation for the United States. Look at what he has done on a back end that features Dennis Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid. You can argue that Boston has the best blue line right now in the Eastern Conference. And Krug has stepped in and hasn't missed a beat from the way he was playing at Michigan State and at Providence in the American Hockey League. More importantly, he hasn't missed a beat from how he played in the postseason with Boston last season, when he scored four goals in his first run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a Czech Republic team that will be relying heavily on veterans, Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks deserves a shot. For him to be as young as he is, doing what he is doing on a top line with a future Hall of Famer in Joe Thornton and an X-factor in Brent Burns, it's beyond phenomenal. We've all seen what he can do and the Czechs could definitely use his blend of size and skill.

Canada has plenty of talent to choose from, but Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars have been awesome. They have definitely opened a lot of eyes and have impressed, especially as a duo. They have developed some great chemistry in the short time they have been together. Canada has been known to look for instant chemistry in their Olympic roster. In the 2010 Vancouver Games, Canada's gold-medal team featured San Jose's top forward line (Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley) as well as the Chicago Blackhawks' top defensive pairing (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook).

Naturally, a lot of the conversation heading into Sochi has been about Canada, the United States and the host nation, Russia. But one team I find intriguing is Finland.

I don't see why Finland can't be a medal contender. In these short tournaments, anything is possible. Did anybody have Sweden winning in Torino in 2006? Henrik Lundqvist went in there and stood on his left ear and it was game, set, match. Tre Kronor with the gold. Finland has a similar advantage in net.

Antti Niemi, check mark. Tuukka Rask, check mark. Kari Lehtonen, check mark. And that's not even including Pekka Rinne. Pick your poison.

I think right now Rask, Jonathan Quick and Lundqvist will be the top goalies heading into the tournament. And I think Rask might be the most consistent goalie right now in the League. He's a guy who can steal games. Niemi was a Vezina Trophy finalist last year and Lehtonen has also been on fire since returning from injury. That's a pretty impressive one-two-three punch.

But there is one player in particular who has slipped under the radar and could get a shot at Sochi: Ben Bishop.

Let's be serious about hockey right now. Ben Bishop has really paid his dues down in the American Hockey League. Craig Anderson could have been the Vezina Trophy winner last year if he stayed healthy. When he went down, Ben Bishop opened a lot of eyes. At the end of last year, he was good. But he's all-world so far this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Talking to guys in Tampa, I'm told having that goaltending has given them so much more confidence.

Monday night against the New York Rangers, the 6-foot-7 Bishop stopped 37 shots. The game before against the Anaheim Ducks, he made 41 saves. When you're getting that elite-level goaltending on a nightly basis, it makes a big difference.

That's why he absolutely deserves Olympic consideration with the U.S. Why not? Of course, a lot of this is contingent on the health of Quick, who is currently battling a groin strain and will be out until at least Christmas. But there's plenty of competition for a goaltending spot with the U.S. team. Ryan Miller has been amazing in Buffalo despite a challenging year. Anderson has played well, but not at the level he was at last year. Jimmy Howard has played well, but not at the level that he is capable of on a consistent basis. Cory Schneider has been excellent when he's gotten to play with the New Jersey Devils, so he's getting some consideration.

But a lot of it is contingent on Quick's health. That is going to have a huge impact on the U.S. goalie picture.

Once the teams are set for Sochi, it's anybody's tournament.

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