While current NHL players aren’t in Beijing for the Olympics, that doesn’t mean that the Olympic rosters are devoid of familiar names. Every roster has at least one player that NHL fans could have heard of for one reason or another. Whether they used to be a big name or were just your average everyday NHLer, their name still may spark something in the hearts and minds of NHL fans.
With the present removed, these are the Olympic Games of NHL past and future. Every roster has some familiar names, and for the purposes of this article, we’ll be avoiding prospects and draft picks that are involved in the Games – we’ll save that for a later piece on NHL future. Now, here are some ghosts of NHL past for your viewing pleasure.
Canada – Eric Staal
Long-time Carolina Hurricanes captain, Eric Staal has bounced around quite a bit in the last few years, from the Minnesota Wild to the Buffalo Sabres, and then finally, the Montreal Canadiens. He’s no stranger to high-pressure action, having won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, and the Cup Final with the Habs just last year.
Staal couldn’t find an NHL gig for this season, but at just 37, he could be a prime candidate to pull a Brian Gionta, who missed the season in 2017-18, and his play in the Olympics led him to a contract with the Boston Bruins to finish off the season and close out his career. The Thunder Bay native is the captain for this year’s Canadian contingent.
Other familiar names: Mark Barberio, D; Jason Demers, D; Brandon Gormley, D; David Desharnais, F; Adam Cracknell, F; Josh Ho Sang, F; Daniel Winnik, F
China – Jake Chelios
Known mainly by name brand, Jake Chelios is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios. The 30-year-old defenseman spent four years at Michigan State, before five years in the minor leagues. He signed with the Detroit Red Wings in 2018-19 – spending most of that season with their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate before making his NHL debut in a five-game stint with the big club. His NHL stat line is blank, with the exception of a hooking infraction against NHL All-Name candidate Zemgus Girgensons.
Other familiar names: Brandon Yip, F; Ryan Sproul, D
Czech Republic – David Krejci
The highlight of the Czech roster is a similar case to Staal – in that we could see him in an NHL sweater later this season. David Krejci chose the Olympics and playing in his native Czechia this season over signing a new NHL gig.
The decision was one-sided, as it would be hard to believe there were no teams interested in the extremely talented centre with over 150 games of playoff experience. To be fair, he’s coming up on his age 36 season, but last year posted 44 points through 51 games, showing no signs of slowing down.
Other familiar names: Michael Frolik, F; Vladimir Sobotka, F; Lukas Sedlak, F; Roman Cervenka, F
Denmark – Mikkel Boedker
One of the more enigmatic players of the 2010s, Mikkel Boedker was the talk of the league in the lead-up to the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. He spent most of his NHL career with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes who drafted him 8th overall in 2008. Despite never having hit 20 goals, he was discussed as a piece that could bring a contending team from good to great. He was shipped to the Colorado Avalanche as a rental, for three pieces, but never really showed the prowess expected from a top-10 pick.
Boedker bounced around with the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators before jet-setting to the Swiss League, where he’s added to the veteran presence of the team.
Other familiar names: Frans Nielsen, F; Nicklas Jensen, F; Peter Regin, F
Finland – Sami Vatanen
There was a seven-year stretch where the Anaheim Ducks drafted at least one impact defenseman. It started in 2008 with Jake Gardiner (2008) and moved on to Cam Fowler (2010), Josh Manson (2011), Hampus Lindholm (2012), Shea Theodore (2013), Marcus Pettersson and Brandon Montour (2014). Between Gardiner and Fowler was 2009 second-round pick Sami Vatanen, who grew into an important role with the Ducks.
At 5-foot-10, he’s a bit undersized for a defenseman, but he brought an offensive instinct common in smaller point men. He played in parts of six seasons with the Ducks and managed decent production, leading Ducks defensemen in scoring twice. However, you can’t draft seven impact defensemen in a row without a logjam forcing some talent out, and that forced management to move on from Vatanen. They shipped him to the New Jersey Devils in a blockbuster exchange for centre Adam Henrique and more.
With the Devils, he was bit by the injury bug and never really became a reliable top-pairing option. A trade to the Dallas Stars came at last year’s trade deadline, and that was his last stint with an NHL club before heading to the Swiss League. Now only 30 years old, he’s primed for a strong overseas career – putting up 33 points through 29 games with Geneve Servette before the Olympic break. His career shouldn’t be ending on merit any time soon.
Other familiar names: Valtteri Filppula, F; Mikko Lehtonen, D; Ville Pokka, D; Markus Granlund, F
Germany – Dominik Kahun
An NHL career that stemmed from a stand-out Olympic performance in 2018’s South Korean games, Dominik Kahun was a force for Team Germany’s surprise silver medal run.
Kahun made his way to the Chicago Blackhawks in the season following his Olympic appearance. He spent time on the top line with Jonathan Toews and posted a respectable 37 points through his first full season of play. Then the trades came. He played in the NHL for three seasons and somehow donned four different team sweaters across that run. He didn’t come close to his Blackhawk numbers with any other team and made his way to Switzerland this season, where he’s dominated for Bern SC in his first year of a three-year contract.
Other familiar names: Tom Kuhnhackl, F; Tobias Rieder, F; Korbinian Holzer, D
Latvia – Kaspars Daugavins
I was torn between Kaspars Daugavins and Kristers Gudlevskis for Latvia. Gudlevskis is known from Olympic lore for his 55-save performance in the biggest Olympic upset that almost was in a tight 2-1 game against Team Canada in Sochi.
However, the opportunity to show this legendary shootout attempt from Daugavins was too hard to pass up.
The spunky Latvian donned an NHL jersey for 91 contests, scoring six goals and 15 points, mainly for the Ottawa Senators. Since he last skated on NHL ice in 2013, he’s carved out a pretty decent career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) scoring at a 0.65 point-per-game clip.
Other familiar names: Kristers Gudlevskis, G
Russia – Nikita Gusev
Tantalizing. A word that could have described Nikita Gusev in his last Olympic appearance in 2018. A lot has happened in four years since the then 25-year-old posted 12 points in 6 games, dominating the tournament. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who hadn’t yet found his way over to North America. His production in the KHL was rare, consistently reaching above a point-per-game.
With one year left on his contract with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, there was a multitude of suitors trying to hitch their wagon to his shooting star. It didn’t go as expected.
His rights were traded a couple of times, and the forward wound up making his debut with the rebuilding New Jersey Devils. His first season was as projected – above average – as he posted 44 points through 66 games. However, in year two of his deal, he was inconsistent putting up five points through 20 games and was cut loose by the Devils midseason. He picked up with the Florida Panthers a day later and posted another five points through 11 games, but it wasn’t enough to save his North American career. He’s since returned to SKA and shown his same prowess, entering the Olympic break with 35 points through 31 games.
We’ve seen the realization of Gusev, and the talent is there. In international competition, he’s one of the best of the best – hence his attendance at these games – he just couldn’t make it and stick in the NHL. Now 29, NHL fans view him through a bit of a different lens – as a star that could have been.
Other familiar names: Artem Anisimov, F; Mikhail Grigorenko, F; Sergei Plotnikov, F; Vadim Shipachev, F; Nikita Nesterov, D; Alexei Zhamnov, Head Coach
Slovakia – Martin Marincin
A name that draws some disappointment from Edmonton Oiler and Toronto Maple Leaf fanatics as a swing-and-miss. A second-round pick by the Oilers in 2010, Marincin was expected to be a big part of the new Edmonton Oilers core. One that was headlined by first overall picks, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov – a core that didn’t quite pan out, if you’re keeping track.
Marincin struggled to make his way to the NHL, playing in the minors for four seasons. He cracked the NHL and worked his way into 227 games from 2013-20 – split between the Oilers and the Maple Leafs. Through that, he scored only five goals, but that does include a pretty impressive game-winner against the Vancouver Canucks. Last season was his last in North America for now, as the soon-to-be 30-year-old gargantuan has made his way to the Czech league for the next step in his career.
Other familiar names: Martin Gernat, D; Marko Dano, F; Tomas Jurco, F
Sweden – Marcus Kruger
Another player with no shortage of experience on the world’s biggest stages, Marcus Kruger was a key piece to the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty of the early-2010s. He held a solid grip on the fourth line centre slot and played key penalty killing minutes in the team’s 2013 and 2015 runs. Never leaned on as an offensive threat, his two-way game was heralded and even earned him some love in Selke Trophy voting.
Kruger was also an Olympian, and silver medalist, with the Swedish contingent in 2014’s Sochi Olympics. He didn’t post any points, but the experience on the team adds to the resume of what has turned into a pretty impressive career.
Other familiar names: Magnus Hellberg, G; Oscar Fantenburg, D; Erik Gustafsson, D; Jacob de la Rose, F; Carl Klingberg, F; Joakim Nordstrom, F; Lucas Wallmark, F
Switzerland – Yannick Weber
On a surprisingly “deep with recognition” Team Switzerland roster, Yannick Weber holds the most games of NHL experience. Believe it or not, he spent parts of 13 seasons playing in the NHL ending with two games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. Throughout that time, he played in 499 games and added a point in just under 20 percent of those games. Not bad for a player who worked out a pretty solid niche as a number-six or seven defenseman. He also added 42 playoff games, with most coming as a member of the Nashville Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. This season, he has been in Switzerland playing for Auston Matthews’ alma mater – the ZSC Lions in Zurich.
Other familiar names: Reto Berra, G; Raphael Diaz, D; Mirco Mueller, D; Sven Andrighetto, F; Gaetan Haas, F; Gregory Hofmann, F; Denis Malgin, F
USA – Justin Abdelkader
Another name for Detroit Red Wings fans, Justin Abdelkader is no stranger to representing Team USA. The grinding forward carved out a World Junior appearance, before four World Championships, during which he captained the US contingent twice. The former second-round pick maxed out at 44 points but averaged 28 points-per-82-games over the course of his career. The definition of an everyday player, he brings grit and experience to a very young and very skilled American roster.
Other familiar names: Kenny Agostino, F; Nick Shore, F; Steven Kampfer, D
Regardless of what game is on, there should at least be a few players from NHL past lacing up their skates. If your country isn’t playing, more often than not a player associated with the history of your team or your team’s rival could be in action to give you some sort of rooting interest. While current NHLers aren’t in Beijing this year, there’s still a reason to watch the games.