Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  By Erin Brown  |  Last updated 1/7/14
Florida Panthers rookie Aleksander Barkov will get a shot at gold after all. The 18-year-old Finn received the call to join his countrymen at next month's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Also headed to Sochi is Panthers winger Tomas Kopecky, who will represent Slovakia. Prior to knowing his fate with Team Finland, the quiet Barkov agreed representing Finland in Russia would be a very special opportunity for him. "Very much so," he said. Barkov, whose parents are Russian, holds dual citizenship in Finland and Russia. Since the rookie still meets the requirements to compete in the World Junior Championship, the Tampere, Finland native could have been part of his country's 3-2 gold-medal victory over Sweden this past weekend. It marked Finland's first championship at the tournament since 1998. The Panthers, however, were reluctant to release Barkov for the event given his impressive rookie season thus far. The second-overall pick in 2013 leads Florida with 22 points. Barkov shares the NHL lead among rookies in assists with 15. He is tied for sixth among his peers and fifth amongst Finnish NHLers in scoring. Earlier this season, Barkov became the youngest player to score in the NHL's post-expansion era, tallying his first goal at the age of 18 years and 31 days. Barkov has registered points in 10 of his last 12 games. In that stretch, he has amassed three goals and 10 assists. Barkov is currently riding a six-game points streak. For Kopecky, a long-time competitor for Slovakia, 2014 will mark his second Olympic appearance. The winger scored one goal in seven contests at the 2010 Vancouver games. He also participated in the last two World Championships, with five goals and three assists in 20 career games. He earned a silver medal at the 2012 event. Through 38 games, the Ilava, Slovakia native has registered four goals and five assists. The NHL will go on hiatus for the Olympics Feb. 9-25. Games begin February 8. The gold-medal contest takes place Feb. 23. You can follow Erin Brown on Twitter @rinkside or email her at erinbrownfla@gmail.com.
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