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Jetting off to Sochi

Posted: 01/1/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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The Winnipeg Jets will be represented by four players at the Winter Olympics and while most of the team will take a break in the sunshine, this group will be trying to get better at their craft.

There's no obvious downside to spending two weeks in a tournament with the best players in the world. For the young, it's a chance to learn and gain invaluable experience while playing under intense pressure. For the older players, it's an opportunity to see if there's still some magic left.

The Jets have seen very little playoff action as a roster and any chance for members of the organization to play in elimination games is a boon. The lessons learned in playoff games dwarf those picked up in regulation situations.

Ondrej Pavelec

Expected to be the No. 1 goalie for the Czech Republic, Pavelec won't be playing behind a brick wall of defence. The blue-line won't be a strength for the Czechs. Pavelec will find himself once again playing in a situation where he'll need to be excellent for his team to succeed.

The question often asked in Winnipeg is whether it's Pavelec or the defence in front of him that is the cause of the team's poor goals-against record. Pavelec will likely find himself in similar situation at the Olympics.

Michael Frolik

A solid two-way player and elite penalty killer, Frolik will likely settle in the bottom six with Czech forward group. But his skating ability and ever-running motor will make him a threat to add secondary scoring. Frolik was once expected to be produce offence in the NHL but settled into a defensive role with the Chicago Blackhawks. Last season's run to the Stanley Cup saw Frolik score three goals and 10 points in 23 playoff games. Very useful player in tight situations and the Olympic tournament on the international- sized ice is perfect for his skill set.

Olli Jokinen

Jets fans should be thrilled Jokinen is heading to the Olympics to play for Finland. Last year's lockout-induced layoff ruined Jokinen's season and an extended layoff this season would likely do similar harm to his game. A big body getting up in age for a hockey player (he's 35), Jokinen needs to keep his legs moving to retain his speed. Getting to the right spots is major factor for his game and speed is required for Jokinen to be effective. Getting the chance to play for his country one more time will also be an incentive for Jokinen. Heading to free agency this summer, it's a chance for Jokinen to showcase himself and prove he still has some gas. Don't be surprised if he's sharp.

Blake Wheeler

The Jets best player and also the one who could gain the most from this opportunity. Wheeler has all the skills but has yet to reach his full potential. Playing with some of the best players in the world and under an intense spotlight will be good for Wheeler. This is an opportunity to see how the best players prepare and also what it takes to succeed when the games get more difficult to play in. Wheeler can be as good as he wants to be in the NHL and this tournament will lay bare what is required to reach the next level as an individual and how he can help push his American team to a higher plane.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 1, 2014 A1

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