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 Capitals could be playing in Beijing?
Come February, the Washington Capitals could be sending a handful of players to Beijing to play in the Olympic Games.
Coming off his five-year extension, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin will surely be selected to play on the Russian Olympic Committee team. Ovechkin made his Olympic debut back in 2006, meaning this would be the winger’s fourth appearance at the Games. He will be one of a very small group of players to play in both 2006 and 2022. The Great 8 has yet to win a medal at the Olympics, as he was not part of the 2018 ROC team that won gold, with NHL players not allowed to participate in the Olympics. In his Olympic career, Ovechkin has eight goals and three assists in 17 games.
Dmitry Orlov is likely to join Ovechkin on the Russian team. The Russians lack depth on the defensive side, so Orlov should see a significant amount of playing time at his first Olympics. Ilya Samsonov will be in the running for the third goaltending spot, but will have his work cut out after signing a one-year deal to stay in Washington. With Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and New York Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov as the 1-2 in net, Samsonov will be battling Florida's Sergei Bobrovsky, Islander Ilya Sorokin and Ranger Igor Shesterkin for the third and final goalie spot.
Evgeny Kuznetsov would have been on the team; however, he is currently serving a four-year suspension from the IIHF for testing positive for cocaine back in 2019 and won’t be able to participate.
Nicklas Backstrom surely is going to his third Olympic Games, where he will be representing Sweden. The playmaking center won silver in 2014, dishing out four assists in five games. He also had a goal and five assists in four games in 2010. Backstrom could slot in on the second line as New York Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad is anticipated to be the No. 1 center.
Despite being a member of the team at the 2014 Olympics and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Carl Hagelin might not be joining Backstrom at the 2022 Olympics. Hagelin had two goals helping the Swedes to silver. He’s 33 years old and certainly no longer the player he was in Sochi. Don’t be surprised to see Sweden pass on Hagelin for younger talent at forward.
Another lock is Lars Eller, who will be a part of Denmark's first Olympic team. Denmark qualified for the Olympics by defeating Norway in the qualifying tournament. Eller did not play for the team in that tournament, as the Capitals were still in the hunt for the Stanley Cup, but he’ll be one of a handful of NHL players on the team in Beijing.
Turning to Team USA, John Carlson should be one of the only veterans on a relatively young USA blueline. Carlson was on the U.S. team in 2014, scoring the opening goal for the Americans in their opening match against Slovakia. The 31-year-old may end up being the only blueliner to have previous Olympic experience for the U.S.
T.J. Oshie may not get a chance to repeat his spectacular shootout heroics for the U.S.. He famously converted four of six shootout attempts to give the U.S. a 3-2 win over the Russians in the preliminary round in 2014. He was considered a bubble player that year and most certainly will be on the bubble again. With an influx of young American talent at forward, Oshie might be watching the Olympics from his home.
While he’s not a top-line defender in the NHL, Michal Kempny could very well play on the top defensive pair for the Czech Republic. It would be the first Olympics for the 31-year-old, who could see top minutes playing alongside Detroit’s Filip Hronek.
Expect Vitek Vanecek to be in the running to make the Czech Republic team, but he has his work cut out for him. Nashville’s David Rittich and Toronto’s Petr Mrazek seem likely to grab the first two goalie spots, and Colorado’s Pavel Francouz was on the Czech team at the 2018 Olympics.