One of the most exciting details of the upcoming CBA extension is the news that NHL players will likely be returning to the winter Olympics in both 2022 and 2026. Getting a chance to see true ‘best on best’ hockey is something we haven’t seen in a long time. Even though the World Cup of Hockey was a lot of fun to watch back in 2016, it still didn’t have the same buzz as the Olympics. But now, it seems like we might be getting the chance to see Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby on the same team competing for a gold medal. That is pretty damn cool to me.
We know McDavid is going to be on Team Canada when NHLers get back to the Winter Olympics. We can also safely assume that Leon Draisaitl is also going to get his first taste of Olympic hockey as well. Those two are absolute locks, but which other Oilers could be off the Beijing in 2022? I decided to look into it.
Before I get into some players with the potential to be Olympians, it is worth noting that there is likely one other lock to make this team: Gaetan Haas. He was one of just eight Swiss-born players in the NHL and he can play centre. Even though the tournament is two years away, I think you can lock him into the Swiss roster.
It’s worth noting that this exercise takes some guessing. We really don’t know how certain players will develop or age over the next couple of seasons. It’s impossible to know for sure, but I think there is a good chance that more than just McDavid and Draisaitl will be there.
The best example of this is Kailer Yamamoto. Over the last six months, he went from a prospect to a seemingly legitimate top-six winger. Yes, he benefited from playing with the leagues leading scorer and a first-overall pick but anyone who watched the Oilers closely throughout the season knows exactly the type of impact the Spokane, WA native had.
He’s a hound on the forecheck and has a nose for the net. You could see why the Americans would want him on their team. This past season, he was 9th in points per game among American forwards with at least 25 games played. Not hard to imagine him being in the conversation for their 2022 Olympic roster.
I thought about Caleb Jones for a second, just because he took some big strides forward this season, but I really can’t see him cracking that roster. The USA has produced a lot of good, young defensemen over the last few seasons who will get spots over Jones. Unless he really finds another level, he likely won’t even get close.
Oilers fans will obviously be watching a lot of Team Canada because of McDavid, but what are the chances that one of his Oilers teammates cracks that lineup with him? Not likely.
The two obvious candidates are Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who both have experience with Hockey Canada and are both coming off strong seasons. Will that be enough for them to be in the conversation? I could see that happening but I will admit that they’re both longshots to make the team.
When it comes to left-shot defenseman, Darnell Nurse finished fourth in points even though he handled a lot of hard defensive minutes for the Oilers. If they want a solid left/right balance, Nurse has a shot. What might hurt him is the number of quality right-shot d-men available. Alex Pietrangelo, Cale Makar, Brent Burns, and Dougie Hamilton will all be in the mix and if one of them can play the left side, it will hurt Nurses chances.
As for Nugent-Hopkins, his path to potentially being an Olympian is a little bit different. In the past, we’ve seen Hockey Canada lean towards picking players that have experience playing together. In 2010, they took the entire San Jose Sharks top line and in 2014, they took Chris Kunitz simply because he had chemistry with Sidney Crosby. If Nugent-Hopkins happens to be playing regular minutes with McDavid before the 2022 Olympics, his chances of making the team will go up a lot.
There are three other players on the current Oilers roster who have chances to crack their countries’ roster in 2022.
Oscar Klefbom was fourth among Swedish defensemen in points this past season and I would expect him to be on their Olympic team in a few years, especially if the Oilers start having some playoff success and he becomes more of a household name. If Klefbom is going to be there, then you have to wonder if Adam Larsson gets a look as well. For me, I don’t see a way that Larsson is an Olympian in two seasons. Even though he has good chemistry with Klefbom, he’ll have a hard time staying ahead of the handful of young Swedish d-men around the NHL.
Finally, you have Mikko Koskinen. He’s represented Finland in international events a few times over the last couple of seasons and now that he’s a bonafide NHL goaltender, you have to think he has a chance of being on Team Finland’s roster. This past season, there were just five other Finnish goaltenders in the NHL. Pekka Rinne and Tuuka Rask are both getting towards the end of their careers while the other three, Joonas Korpisalo, Antti Raanta, and Juuse Saros are still close to the primes of their careers.
Could Koskinen edge one of them out? Potentially, but I’d say it’s far from a lock.
So how many Oilers could be Olympians in 2022? I mentioned the three locks and I’ll add that Kailer Yamamoto and Oscar Klefbom have really good chances of being there as well. On top of that, I’d say, Darnell Nurse, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Mikko Koskinen have a slight chance as well. What say you? Let me know!