Olympics could help shape next generation of NHL stars

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After all the buildup, the 2014 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament is finally about to get underway.

This tournament is about hockey’s best showing what they can do on the international stage, but it’s also an opportunity for a select group of highly talented young players to be exposed to a level of play that could help shape their careers.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty would make that argument, given that he feels playing for Canada in 2010 changed him for the better.

“I’d never faced anything at that high of a level, nothing with that much pressure,” Doughty told CBC. “I’m a visual learner. I learned a lot watching Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.”

Doughty was 20 years old at the time and while he was already clearly a great player, the following year he excelled in the postseason to play a key role in the Kings winning the Stanley Cup.

Canada doesn’t have a player quite that young on its roster this time around, but the United States has 21-year-old blueliner Justin Faulk and 22-year-old defenseman Cam Fowler on its squad. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Valeri Nichushkin will see first hand the type of pressure the Russian greats are under as they fight to win the gold at home.

Then there’s guys like 21-year-old Martin Marincin, who Zdeno Chara has promised to take under his wing.

So while this promises to be a memorable couple of weeks, the impact of these games could last far longer than that.