It’s strange to process the Winter Olympics are right around the corner considering the summer games took place this year. The pandemic pushed the most significant sporting events in the world closer together. The Summer Olympics were delayed into 2021, the Winter Olympics and the World Cup both take place next year, and the following summer the Women’s World Cup takes place in 2023. A busy time for fans. Come February, it will be a busy time for the stars of the NHL.
Capitals Will be Well-Represented in Beijing
On Sep. 3, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) came to an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) that would allow NHL players to represent their country in the 2022 Winter Olympics set to be held in Beijing. The deal also is valid for the 2026 games in Italy. The Beijing games will signify the first time since 2014 NHL players have been allowed to compete in the Olympics. The winter games are scheduled to take place from Feb. 4-20, and the NHL will take a break from games from Feb. 3-22. The Washington Capitals, having some of the premiere names in hockey, will see their stars skate in Beijing during that span.
Michal Kempny- Czech Republic
Though Kempny will be a second- or-third-line defenseman for the Capitals, he will most likely be on the top pairing for his country. That doesn’t say more about Washington or less about the Czech Republic, however. Kempny is a good player, and if he can stay healthy, his country will benefit. This will be the 31-year-old’s first Olympics.
Vitek Vanecek- Czech Republic
Vanecek’s impressive 2020-21 surprise campaign with the Capitals earned him a spot on the national team—and possibly a starting role depending on how Petr Mrazek performs leading up to the games. Vanecek is a hot commodity.
He was drafted by the Seattle Kraken during the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, and then the Capitals traded to get their netminder back. He will compete with Ilya Samsonov this season for the starting spot between the pipes in Washington.
Lars Eller- Denmark
Lars Eller is still the only Dane to win a Stanley Cup. He also scored the winning goal of said Cup. Denmark has never qualified to compete in the Olympics during their 75-year affiliation with the IIHF, so they’re making a historical appearance. They are, however, quite good at a lot of other winter sports.
Alexander Ovechkin- Russia
The captain isn’t just a staple in Capitals’ culture, he is also one of the faces of the Russian national team. The forward is part of a loaded group of offensive talent. Ovechkin has played in three Olympics for Russia, earning 11 points (8 goals, 3 assists) and a plus-2 rating in 17 games.
Though the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) took home gold in 2018, Ovechkin, along with other NHL players, was not on the team. He has still not medaled at the Olympics.
Dmitry Orlov- Russia
The defenseman is projected to have a career year for the Capitals, and if he plays like he’s capable of playing of late, the Russian defense will be solid. This will be Orlov’s first roster spot on an Olympic squad.
Nicklas Backstrom- Sweden
Sweden is always good at the games, and their projected roster will be very strong again heading into Beijing. They won gold in 2006 and Backstrom helped them take home silver in 2014.
This will be the center’s third Olympics skating for his country, and he has a career 10 points and plus-3 rating in nine games played.
John Carlson- United States
Carlson will likely be a top pairing defender on the men’s national team. He played six games for the United States in the 2014 games, registering two points and a plus-1 rating.
It’s safe to say, the past Norris-trophy finalist will have much more of an impact in 2022.
Not every star is given a spot on an Olympic roster and it has nothing to do with their ability. There are many great skaters in the NHL—and for one of the below players, it’s also their own undoing.
Evgeny Kuzentsov- Russia
Speaking of the one who is a product of his own undoing. In 2019, Kuznetsov was suspended four years by the IIHF for substance abuse. The center tested positive for cocaine; it appears the IIHF is a tad stricter than the NHL. Kuznetsov, 29, has never competed in an Olympics, and 2026 will realistically be his only shot.
Ilya Samsonov- Russia
Samsonov is a great young goaltender. However, at this point in time, he’s not better than Andrei Vasilevskiy (nobody really is). He would also have to compete with Igor Shestyorkin, Semyon Varlamov, and Sergei Bobrovsky for a spot on the roster. Perhaps he will have a better case for Italy in 2026.
Carl Hagelin- Sweden
Hagelin had a great 2020-21 season in Washington. He skated in all 56 games and was a key role player to help push the Capitals into the playoffs. Yet, his age plays a factor. Hagelin, 33, would have to compete with the likes of Gabriel Landeskog, Elias Petterson, Mika Zibanejad, and William Nylander—just to name a few. To reiterate, Sweden is very good. Hagelin did score two goals in six games played during Sweden’s 2014 silver-medal run.
T.J. Oshie- United States
The great thing about the United States is that they have some exciting young talent projected to head to Beijing. The bad news, past Olympic heroes must pass the torch. T.J. Oshie, 34, is an elder casualty. In 2014, his only Olympic appearance, he recorded four points, but his shootout performance is possibly what made him a subsequent star in the NHL.
The Capitals are Going for Gold
These, of course, are mere projections. Anything can happen from now until then. Skaters could perform well above their assumed preseason predictions, and others may sustain an unfortunate injury or not feel comfortable traveling if there’s another virus spike. For now, we wish all players the best of luck and for all future Olympians to be safe as they pursue gold, silver, and bronze.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?”
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