The NHL has announced that it has reached an agreement to allow its players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. In the wake of this news, the New York Islanders have several candidates to represent the team for their home countries at the games. Here are the locks, likely participants, and longshots to appear in next year’s Olympics.
Semyon Varlamov, Russia
Varlamov is a safe bet to be one of the three goaltenders included on Russia’s extremely dangerous Olympic roster. Andrei Vasilevskiy is all but locked in, and Varlamov appears to be the next-best option based on his level of play over the past two seasons in New York. Last season, he was fourth among goaltenders in goals-against average (GAA), second in save percentage (SV%), and tied for first with seven shutouts.
In representing Russia, Varlamov won the silver medal at the 2006-07 World Junior Championships (WJC), won silver at the 2009-10 World Championships, and won gold at the 2011-12 World Championships while posting the tournament’s highest SV%. His past success with his home country paired with his NHL success of late make him a near lock to appear in the Beijing Olympics.
Mathew Barzal, Canada
If not for the neverending list of talent native to Canada in today’s NHL, Barzal would be a lock to represent his country at the games. He will likely find himself on the roster bubble, either just making the cut or being one of the last to be eliminated from the team’s final roster. Barzal has represented Canada before, participating in four WJCs. He won bronze twice as a U18 player and took home silver in the U20 tournament.
Barzal’s success in the NHL is undeniable, he won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year, and is a two-time NHL All-Star. He has led the Islanders in points in each of his four seasons with the team and has played a key role in their ascent to playoff contention under Barry Trotz. Coach Trotz will be on Canada’s coaching staff, so his familiarity with Barzal may lead to him getting a long look in camp. Playing alongside some of the league’s best could bring out even more of his elite skillset.
Anders Lee, USA
New York’s captain is the team’s best chance of having someone represent the United States. His big frame and willingness to get to the dirty areas would be a nice complement to the smaller, quicker players likely to appear on the roster, including Johnny Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat. Lee has appeared in three World Championships for the United States, totaling two bronze medals. He isn’t guaranteed a spot in Beijing but could be one of the last players added to the team’s roster for next year’s games.
A one-time 40-goal scorer, Lee can add a scoring punch to the roster of the United States if added to the roster. With a lot of highly skilled playmakers, a finisher should be among the priorities for the front office of the Americans. He has five 20-goal campaigns in just six full NHL seasons, making him a good target among the depth forwards on the United States’ loaded depth chart.
Adam Pelech, Canada
One of the league’s most underrated defensemen may finally be getting his due. Pelech has been discussed among the many options to represent Canada on the blue line at the Beijing games. He has played in the WJC with Canada twice, serving as the alternate captain for the 2011-12 U18 team that took home bronze. Since becoming a regular with the Islanders, Pelech has emerged as one of the league’s top defensive defensemen and has contributed adequately on the offensive side as well.
With the abundance of offensive defensemen available to Team Canada, Pelech could be a good addition to the roster to complement a scoring blueliner. Placing him alongside Dougie Hamilton or Cale Makar at even strength could further bolster the offensive threat Canada poses to its opponents while relying on Pelech defensively to avoid costly mistakes. He has amassed a plus-48 rating over the past four seasons and can use his defensive instincts to add another layer to a stacked Team Canada.
Brock Nelson, USA
Nelson has a chance to crack the American roster, but the number of centers available may leave him off the final cut. He has experience with the United States in international play, participating in the U20 WJC, and being a part of four World Championship teams. He served as an alternate captain for the United States at the 2016-17 World Championships and earned a bronze medal with his country in 2014-15. He also earned a bronze medal at the 2010-11 WJC with the United States.
Nelson is one of the longest-tenured Islanders, having spent the last eight seasons with the franchise. He has five 20-goal seasons and was on pace for a sixth in last season’s shortened campaign. He has only put together two 50-point seasons, but his 54 points in 68 games during the 2019-20 season put him on pace for a career-high 65 points. He has established himself as a legitimate two-way center who can play in all situations. Nelson would be a good addition to the bottom six of the United States in Beijing, though it’s likely he misses the cut.
New York should be well-represented at the Olympic Games. Varlamov looks like a lock to represent Russia, while Barzal, Lee, and Pelech have good chances to play for their respective countries. Nelson looks like a bit of a longshot, but he could surprise people and appear on the final roster. No matter who ends up going, the Islanders’ representatives should put on a show for their fans.
Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.