by Georgia McCann
The qualifiers are over and the NHL have finally agreed to release players for the Olympics. This can only mean one thing: the best international hockey will return in February 2022.
While Great Britain won’t be represented this time, that means we can enjoy the tournament as neutrals and with NHL players travelling to China it will be truly a tournament to remember.
To commemorate the NHL’s decision, let’s take a look at the potential squads of the big five – Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden and Finland – plus their strengths and weaknesses. As a bit of fun I’ve also chosen captains and had a guess as to where they will finish.
Note – I have based the squads on the basis all players are healthy. A fair few may become injured, becoming unavailable for selection.
MacKinnon – McDavid – Marner
Marchand – Crosby – Bergeron
Huberdeau – Point – Stone
Tavares – O’Reilly – Stamkos
Theodore – Pietrangelo
Reilly – Makar
Chabot – Ekblad
Strengths: Honestly? Everything. Canada has so much depth that a team solely from Ontario would have a chance at gold. Even a team made up of players solely from the Greater Toronto area would have a good stab at a medal!
The forward group is insane, with fans finally getting to see that coveted McDavid-Crosby one-two punch down the centre. Either line from the bottom six could easily make any NHL first line. A goaltender’s nightmare.
Defence is another wonderful feature of Team Canada’s squad. Boasting Stanley Cup and Calder Trophy winners, plus multiple cornerstones of their NHL’s leadership and defence cores, this will be a tough group to get past.
Weaknesses: Canada have an embarrassment of riches, but as I have to choose, it would be goaltending. The top options are ageing and have suffered some serious rough patches. That said Price led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Final and Fleury won the Vezina, so not exactly scraping the barrel for talent.
Captains: Sidney Crosby is still Captain Canada, no doubt about it. In a move very similar to how Canada eased Crosby into the Olympic captaincy, Connor McDavid will likely receive an A. The other is up for debate, with five of my projected forwards all NHL captains. Based on previous Olympic experience, I would award to Steven Stamkos, but John Tavares or Patrice Bergeron could certainly fulfil this role.
Predicted Finish: Gold Medal
Pacioretty – Matthews – Kane
B. Tkachuk – Eichel – M Tkachuk
Connor – Larkin – Boeser
Guentzel – Pavelski – DeBrincat
Werenski – Fox
Hughes – McAvoy
Slavin – Carlson
Strengths: Team USA are looking strong for the 2022 Olympics in pretty much all departments. Goaltending looks to be excellent with former Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck (above) leading the way.
Defence will be a youthful affair and will greatly benefit from the reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. Within the forward group the team is wonderfully balanced, with goals and playmaking available on all lines.
Weaknesses: Selecting a weakness is tough but unlike Canada, there is a fair difference in quality between those who would be on the ice and the spares.
Do not get me wrong – the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, JT Miller, Seth Jones and Thatcher Demko are all great quality players. However, you have to ask if they, or any others who may be selected, can be relied to upon as much as their teammates.
Captains: Patrick Kane has never served as captain in the NHL, but has done on numerous occasions for the USA and as one of the most senior players, he should get the nod.
In the same vein, Max Pacioretty and Joe Pavelski, who are respectively the former captains for the Montreal Canadiens and San Jose Sharks would likely wear an A.
However, the USA could opt instead to award youth with alternates and are blessed with many players showing strength in leadership. The likes of Auston Matthews, the Tkachuk brothers, and Dylan Larkin all have leadership roles for their NHL teams.
Predicted Finish: Silver Medal
Landeskog – Petterson – Nylander
Forsberg – Zibanejad – W Karlsson
Arvidsson – Bäckström – Hornqvist
Olofsson – Eriksen Ek – Lindholm
Hedman – Klingberg
Dahlin – E Karlsson
Ekholm – Larsson
Strengths: Sweden’s top lines, pairings and goaltending are formidable. A two time William M Jennings winning goaltender? Two Norris trophy winning defencemen, with one a back-to-back Stanley Cup winner and former Conn Smythe winner?
Three full lines of goals, playmaking and experience? Sweden will be scary at the Olympics and will challenge for a medal.
Weaknesses: The depth group for Sweden is slightly worrying. The bottom lines and pairings for the Tre Kronor still have high quality talent, which will not be troubled by the smaller teams.
However, you can’t help but think the Swedes could encounter trouble come the knockout and medal games.
Captains: Gabriel Landeskog proves on a regular basis why he is an excellent captain for the Colorado Avalanche and he will likely take on this role for his country.
Both Victor Hedman and Nicklas Backstrom are excellent alternates in Tampa Bay and Washington, respectively. They will likely wear an A on their jerseys.
Predicted Finish: Bronze Medal
Laine – Barkov – Teräväinen
Rantnaen – Aho – Donskoi
Hintz – Granlund – Kapanen
Kakko – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Heiskanen – Jokiharju
Lindell – Ristolainen
Heinola – Määttä
Strengths: Finland have a hugely talented and fun forward group. The first line of Patrik Laine, Aleksander Barkov and Teuvo Teräväinen (above) has previous terrorising defences at international level.
The middle six brings wonderful speed, skill and accuracy, even their depth group having the potential to cause havoc. Finland can rely on their forwards to propel them to the medal stages.
Weaknesses: Defence. Finland has some excellent talents available and is able to still have some decent quality on every pairing. Unfortunately, they lack the depth to have at least one elite pairing.
The are also question marks over goaltending. Firstly, Jusse Saros is more than capable of leading Finland. However, one of the Leijonat’s finest – Tuukka Rask – is highly unlikely to be available, with him both long-term injured and unsigned.
If so, the Finns will rely seemingly have to rely on the likes of Joonas Korpisalo and Antti Raanta. Neither are true NHL starters, so it remains to be seen if they can perform at the highest international level.
Captains: With only a few veterans, Finland will be a young team. Aleksander Barkov bridges these two groups well and having worn the C for Florida for a while now, he would be a good fit for this tournament.
Similarly, Joonas Donskoi would be a suitable alternate. Awarding one of the younger stars on the team an A would be a good idea also. Miro Heiskanen, who would already be leading the Finnish defence as he does in Dallas. would be an excellent choice.
Predicted Finish: Fourth Place
RUSSIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
Ovechkin – Malkin – Kucherov
Kaprizov – Barbashev – Panarin
Svechnikov – Radulov – Tarasenko
Gurianov – Namestnikov – Buchnevich
Sergachev – Provarov
Orlov – Zub
Romanov – Zaitsev
Strengths: Russia’s wings soar head and shoulders above the vast majority of teams entering the Olympics. Alex Ovechkin will be hungry to score as usual and Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov will be keen to recreate his gold medal winning heroics Pyeongchang.
They will have a supporting cast of high offence, such as Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Andrew Schvechnikov, all keen to torch the opposition.
Additionally, Russia has recently been a factory churning out goalkeeping talent. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the undisputed starter but there is a wealth of young talent to choose from as back-up to the former Vezina Trophy and current Conn Smythe winner.
Weaknesses: The centre core is very concerning. Evgeny Kuznetsov would likely have led the top line with Evgeni Malkin on the second and Ivan Barbashev rounding out the top nine.
However Kuznetsov’s cocaine ban has truly given the Red Machine’s coaching staff a selection headache and could see a talented NHL winger miss out in favour of a KHL calibre centre.
Russia also has question marks over their defence. Their top four has some excellent players, including two Stanley Cup winners. However their depth’s quality and experience falls off a cliff and is something that could be easily exploited.
Captains: It goes without saying that possibly the finest Russian hockey player, Alex Ovechkin, will lead his team in Beijing. Nikita Kucherov and Evgeni Malkin, both respected veterans for Russia, wear As for their clubs and will likely do so at the Olympics.
Predicted Finish: Fifth