The United States men’s ice hockey team kicks off play at the 2022 Winter Olympics with a matchup against China on Thursday morning.
For the second straight Olympics, the NHL will not be represented at the Games, meaning countries had to look elsewhere for personnel.
The U.S. roster is a mixed bag of veterans and prospects, with about half the team consisting of college hockey athletes and the other half Americans playing in professional leagues outside of North America.
Without NHL players in 2018, the U.S. struggled in the tournament, winning just one out of the three games in group play, beating Slovakia in the first round of the playoff before falling to Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Overall, the team finished seventh out of the 12 participating countries.
The U.S. has not medaled in the event since 2010 when the team lost to Canada in the gold medal match, settling with silver.
With the team electing to go the youth route, there are a number of top NHL prospects that figure to take the lead for the Americans.
Matty Beniers, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft by the Seattle Kraken, will be one of the top forwards on the team and one of the top players in the tournament. The Michigan Wolverine has been over a point per game player in the NCAA this season with 36 points in 28 games.
Forward Nathan Smith, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick and current member of Minnesota State University-Mankato, is tied for the NCAA lead in points (41). His 26 assists rank second in the nation.
The lone returner from 2018 is Brian O’Neill. The 33-year-old is first among Americans in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in points with 42 in 40 games. He’s spent the last six seasons with Jokerit, the only Finland-based team in the KHL, earning himself the nickname, “Mr. Helskinki”.
The opening game of the tournament for the United States and China is at 8:10 a.m. ET on Thursday. It will be streamed on NBCOlympics.com, can be viewed through Peacock and will also air live on USA Today.