Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey: Top Prospects, Schedule, How to Watch Beijing 2022

Could Owen Power be among one of the first picks? (PHOTO: The Hockey Writers)

The NHL’s decision to withdraw from Beijing 2022 has dampened excitement ahead of the men’s Olympic hockey competition at this year’s Winter Olympics. With the sport’s biggest stars unable to compete in the Games, the 12 participating nations have turned to elite prospects, former NHLers, and stalwarts from European leagues to fill out their rosters.

As was played out at Pyeongchang 2018, this year’s competition is set to be evenly matched – with the odds of an unfancied team making a Cinderella run to the final increased because of the NHL’s continued absence.

Although the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Auston Mathews, and Nathan McKinnon won’t be participating in the Winter Olympics, men’s ice hockey will still be worth watching at Beijing 2022. Here are just three reasons why you should tune into this month’s action.

Beijing 2022 is a Chance to See Top NHL Prospects in Action

With the NHL’s biggest names sitting this Olympic cycle out, the sport’s stars of the future have a unique opportunity to represent their nations on the biggest stage.

On Team Canada, Mason McTavish and Owen Power are the two NHL prospects to watch. McTavish, the third overall pick from last year’s draft, is an intelligent, physical forward with a knack for pouncing on rebounds and knocking them home. His Beijing 2022 callup also means he will hold a unique record, becoming the first player to appear in the World Juniors, Winter Olympics, NHL, and Canadian Hockey League in the same season.

Owen Power, who opted to in the NCAA with the University of Michigan after the Buffalo Sabres selected him first overall last summer, is a superb defenceman. There aren’t many 6-foot-6 blueliners who can match his skating ability, nor are there many 19-year-olds with his level of composure on the ice. He’ll play a significant role on the backend for the Canadians.

From Team USA, it’s worth keeping an eye on forwards Matty Beniers and Matthew Knies. Beniers, the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, is a dynamic forward with a high hockey IQ. He works hard defensively and is a strong skater. He’s notched 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in the NCAA for Michigan this term.

Knies is an interesting prospect. Since being selected late in the second round of last year’s draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, his stock has risen exponentially. The 19-year-old has made significant improvements to his play since joining the University of Minnesota in the autumn, registering 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in his first 26 NCAA appearances. Also of note, he’s 6-foot-3 and fiercely competitive. He’ll be fun to watch for the Americans.

Team Slovakia’s Top Prospects

Finally, a shoutout to two fantastic prospects on Team Slovakia: defenceman Simon Nemec and forward Juraj Slafkovsky. Both are eligible for this year’s draft; both will be selected early in round one.

Nemec, 17, is a silky defender whose biggest asset is his ability to drive plays from the blueline. The HK Nitra blueliner has 22 assists (and one goal) in 32 appearances in the Slovakian top-flight this term, with TSN’s Craig Button forecasting him to be selected fourth overall this summer.

Slafkovsky, also 17, is a towering left-winger at 6-foot-4. His size, however, isn’t something he relies on – stickhandling is the main part of his game. The TPS forward is also expected to be taken in the top ten at this year’s draft.

Beijing 2022 Gives Former NHL Stars a Final Opportunity to Shine

After winning everything there is to win in the sport, Eric Staal will captain Team Canada at Beijing 2022. The 37-year-old is a member of the Triple Gold Club, having won the Stanley Cup (2007), World Championship (2007), and Winter Olympics (2010). The left-shooting forward has 1,293 NHL appearances to his name, registering 1,034 points for the Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Buffalo Sabres, and Montreal Canadiens.

Staal, however, won’t be the only NHL veteran suiting up for Canada this month. He’s joined on the roster by the likes of Josh Ho-Sang, Jason Demers, and Daniel Winnik.

Russia, or the ROC – as they’ll be known in Beijing, also have familiar faces on their roster. Nikita Gusev, Krill Semyonov, and Nikita Nesterov have each featured in the NHL in recent years.

An Outsider Could Go All the Way at Beijing 2022

At Pyeongchang 2018, Team Germany went all the way to the final, losing in overtime to Russia. This year’s tournament gives unfancied nations another chance to stand on the podium with NHLers still out of the picture.

Twelve nations are taking part in Olympic hockey at Beijing 2022. Group A includes Canada, the USA, Germany, and hosts China. Group B features the ROC, Czechia, Switzerland, and Denmark. Meanwhile, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, and Latvia will face-off in Group C.

Related: Is Olympic qualification the next target for Team GB? 

Eight teams will progress to the quarter-finals, with the group winners’ guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds.

Considering Germany’s difficult draw, Team Slovakia are best placed to make a surprise run. They should beat Latvia and have shown they can upset Big Five teams in the past. Slovakia beat Russia in overtime in 2018 and they’ll be dangerous again this time out.

How to Men’s Olympic Hockey at Beijing 2022:

Winter Olympic coverage will be split between Eurosport and the BBC in the UK.

BBC Sport will broadcast more than 300 hours of live coverage across BBC One, BBC Two, and BBC iPlayer. Eurosport One and Eurosport Two will carry the action from Beijing live, with every moment broadcast on Discovery+.

2022 Men’s Olympic Hockey Schedule

Wednesday, Feb. 9

Russia vs Switzerland – 08:40 GMT
Czechia vs Denmark – 13:10 GMT

Thursday, Feb. 10

Sweden vs Latvia – 04:10 GMT
Finland vs Slovakia – 08:40 GMT
United States vs China – 13:10 GMT
Canada vs Germany – 13:10 GMT

Friday, Feb. 11

Denmark vs Russia – 04:10 GMT
Czechia vs Switzerland – 08:40 GMT
Sweden vs Slovakia – 08:40 GMT
Latvia vs Finland – 13:10 GMT

Saturday, Feb. 12

Canada vs United States – 04:10 GMT
Germany vs China – 08:40 GMT
Russia vs Czechia – 13:10 GMT
Switzerland vs Denmark – 13:10 GMT

Sunday, Feb. 13

Slovakia vs Latvia – 04:10 GMT
Finland vs Sweden – 08:40 GMT
China vs Canada – 13:10 GMT
United States vs Germany – 13:10 GMT

Team GB met Canada at the World Championships last year (PHOTO: Dean Woolley)

Tuesday, Feb. 15

Qualifying Playoffs:

Slovakia vs Germany – 04:10 GMT

Denmark vs Latvia – 04:10 GMT

Czechia vs Switzerland – 08:40 GMT

Canada vs China – 13:10 GMT

Wednesday, Feb. 16

Quarter-Finals:

1 – 04:10 GMT
2 – 06:00 GMT
3 – 08:40 GMT
4 – 13:30 GMT

Friday, Feb. 18

Semi-Finals:

1 – 04:10 GMT
2 – 13:10 GMT

Saturday, Feb. 19

Bronze Medal Game – 13:10 GMT

Sunday, Feb. 20

Gold Medal Game – 04:10 GMT

Why Did the NHL Withdraw from Olympic Hockey at Beijing 2022?

The NHL, in association with the NHLPA, withdrew from the Winter Olympics on 22 December, 2021.

“Since the CBA extension was reached 17 months ago, NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in a statement. “Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone. No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.”

The NHL’s decision came following a wave of postponements in December, with the league suspending operations for three days and cancelling cross-border travel over the festive period.

The decision angered players, including Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the players aren’t going,” Bergeron said. “I think guys have worked their entire lives to put themselves in position to compete at that level and that opportunity. It should be guys’ decisions whether they choose to go or not, regardless of what’s happening in the world. If the Olympics are on and they’re playing, the best players in the world should have that option. It’s tough to deal with.”

Reports suggest the NHL could revive the World Cup of Hockey in 2023 to compensate its players for their Olympic disappointment.

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