The NHL is heading back to the Olympic Games, after it was announced earlier this month that the NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement to send NHL players to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
That means the best hockey players in the world will be coming together to represent their home countries and compete for a gold medal. It will be the first time since 2014 that NHL players have competed on the international Olympic stage.
With that, let’s take a look at some of those players that could be participating in the Beijing Olympics.
What countries are participating in ice hockey in Beijing?
There will be 12 countries competing in men’s ice hockey for the gold medal in Beijing. The 12 will be split into three groups of four to kick off the preliminary round.
Group A will consist of the United States, Canada, Germany and China, who automatically got a bid as the host country. Group B will have the Russian Olympic Committee, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark. Group C will be Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Latvia.
Why didn’t the NHL send its players to the 2018 Olympics?
For the first time in five Winter Olympic Games, the NHL did not send its players to the Olympics in 2018.
Previously, the IOC covered travel, insurance, accommodations and other costs for NHL players. However, the IOC decided against it for 2018. When that was announced, the NHL decided to pull its players from going to the Olympics, also citing injury concerns that would affect the rest of the NHL season.
As a result, countries were forced to look elsewhere to fill out their rosters. Players were pulled from the AHL, European professional leagues and the NCAA level to participate in the Olympics.
Part of the reason for the NHL’s return in 2022 is because the IOC will cover those costs that they did not in 2018.
What players from the Bruins could be playing in Beijing?
The Boston Bruins have quite the number of candidates to play in Beijing.
The pair of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand should be representing Canada on the Olympic stage. It will be Bergeron’s third Olympic Games, with two gold medals under his belt already, and with three points in 13 Olympic games played. He’s still looking for his first Olympic goal, which could come in Beijing.
It will be the first Olympics for Marchand, who didn’t make the cut in 2014. He’s vastly improved since then, becoming one of the top scoring wingers in the NHL. His 2016 World Cup of Hockey performance further proved he belongs on Team Canada’s squad. Marchand led the tournament with five goals and three assists, as he, Bergeron and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby combined for 25 points in six games. The Bruin winger scored a shorthanded goal to clinch a gold medal for Canada in the event. The line of Bergeron, Marchand and Crosby could make their return in Beijing.
Taylor Hall, who re-signed this offseason, has an outside shot at making Team Canada, but needs to go on a tear to begin the season to work his way onto a loaded Canada squad.
Speaking of dominant lines, the third member of the Bruins’ top line will also likely be in Beijing. David Pastrnak will be at his first Olympic Games, leading the way for Czech Republic. Pastrnak has plenty of experience playing for the Czechs, as he’s been donning his home country’s jersey since 2012, playing at World Juniors and World Championships. A brief reunion with former Bruin David Krejci is likely in store for Pastrnak in Beijing, as Krejci could be playing in his third Olympics.
Given the Czechs’ lack of depth on defense, Jakub Zboril could find himself as one of the eight defensemen to make the roster, especially if he sees more NHL time in Boston. Newcomer Tomas Nosek is likely on the bubble for the Czech forward group.
As Charlie McAvoy continues to blossom into an elite NHL defenseman, he likely will get a nod to play for Team USA at the Olympics. A native of Long Beach, N.Y., McAvoy will join a defense core that will probably sport a number of other young stars like New York Rangers' Adam Fox, Chicago’s Seth Jones and Columbus’ Zach Werenski. McAvoy is coming off his best season yet, finishing fifth in Norris Trophy voting.
New goaltender Linus Ullmark looks to be in line to be one of the goalies selected for Sweden. There are only three goalies right now from Sweden in the NHL who have seen significant playing time -- Ullmark, Vegas’ Robin Lehner and Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom. Lehner most likely will be the starter, but a strong enough start in Boston for Ullmark could see him pass Markstrom for the backup spot.
Another new face in Boston, Erik Haula will be fighting for one of the 14 forward spots on Finland. There’s a number of young Finnish forwards like New York Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko, Carolina’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nashville’s Eeli Tolvanen who could earn a place on the roster ahead of Haula. He’ll need a strong beginning of the season to lock his spot in.
Depending on his health, former Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask could be on the roster for Finland. He’s expected to be ready by January or February, coming off surgery for a torn labrum. However, it may make the most sense for Rask to skip the Olympics if he is planning a return to the NHL.