If the NHL permits its players to play in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, then we can expect to watch several members of the Colorado Avalanche compete. The current Avalanche roster is loaded with the best players from the top Olympic teams, and there’s a good chance we’ll see at least one of them in the gold-medal game.
Here’s the list of the countries expected to compete and the current Avs who will most likely represent their respective homelands. This massive opportunity to showcase the league to 1.5 billion people in China is in the hands of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
2014 Finish (NHL players eligible): Gold Medal
2018 Finish (NHL players ineligible): Bronze Medal
Canada’s top line will represent arguably the best scoring trio in the world. In every projection that I have seen, the only common player is Nate MacKinnon at right wing. That speaks to the depth at center of the Canadians, but also to the widely held belief that MacKinnon is the best Canadian player.
Hyperbole aside, MacKinnon should flourish in the Olympics. He carried the Avalanche in 2019-20 with its record amount of injuries, at one point having scored 40 points more than the nearest teammate. Teams can’t isolate players on the deep Canadian scoring lines, so MacKinnon should have a lot of space to flourish.
MacKinnon could be joined by teammate and possible Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar in Beijing. Makar represented Canada West in 2015 & 2016 at the World Junior A Championships, winning gold in 2015. He won gold again with Canada in 2018 at the U-20 World Junior Championships and was named to the All-Tournament team, having scored eight points in seven games.
I’m excited for Makar to show the world what Avalanche fans have seen all season — a rookie playing with the poise, vision, and nose for the goal that’s well beyond his years. By 2022, he could easily be the best Canadian offensive defenseman.
Sam Girard has an outside chance of making the Canadian squad. He’s certainly NHL All-Star caliber, but I expect someone like Josh Morrissey to secure the final blueliner roster spot. Canadians will need size and length more than offense from their defenders to adequately guard some of the hulking European forwards.
2014 Finish: 6th Place
2018 Finish: 4th Place
Pavel Francouz may be the Avs’ starting netminder in 2022 but he’ll face steep competition to hold onto the top job from Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich and Carolina Hurricanes keeper Petr Mrazek. Francouz can help his cause by supplanting Grubauer as the top Avs netminder in 2020-21 so that he has more than a full season of starter’s experience heading into the Olympics. I think it’s more than likely that all three netminders see action in the Olympic round-robin games, with the hot hand carrying the squad into the elimination rounds.
I think Martin Kaut just misses receiving an invite to the Czech Olympic Team. He’ll need to have a big year for Colorado in 2020-21 to convince decision-makers back home that he deserves a roster spot over other Czech right wingers like David Pastrnak, Jakub Voracek, Ondrej Kase, and Ondrej Palat. In all reality, he probably won’t receive the scoring line ice time next season to have a proper breakout season.
2014 Finish: Bronze Medal
2018 Finish: 6th Place
The Avs will represent Finland in close to half of all even-strength play, with Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi playing the first and fourth-line right wings, respectively. Rantanen’s expected to join Winnipeg Jets left-winger Patrik Laine and Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov on the top line, and I think it will challenge for the most productive in the tournament.
Currently, Barkov is one of the best and most underrated NHL players and will be the line’s elder statesman at 26 by the start of the Olympics. Fourth-year Laine is an elite goal scorer too, having ended the 2019-20 regular season just two goals shy of his fourth consecutive 30-goal season.
Donskoi is projected to play on a line with two young prospects, Aatu Raty and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Raty may get drafted first overall in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and Kotkainiemi was drafted third overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2018 Draft. This line will give the prospects the chance to play with an NHL veteran who brings the experience of 149 games played on the international stage representing his country, dating back to 2007 in juniors.
2014 Finish: Didn’t Qualify
2018 Finish: Silver Medal
Philipp Grubauer will backstop Germany, the defending Olympic runner-up from 2018. However, they’re unlikely to have as much success in Beijing if NHL players are eligible to play, which they weren’t two years ago. I still expect them to be competitive and fun to watch.
Their two scoring lines will feature 2019-20 NHL scoring champion and Art Ross trophy winner, Leon Draisaitl, and possibly four first-round draft picks: Dominik Bokk (No. 25 overall draft pick in 2018 by the St. Louis Blues), Tim Stützle (expected top-10 2020 pick), Lukas Reichel (possible 2020 late first/early second-round pick), and J.J. Peterka (possible 2020 late first/early second-round pick).
Even if NHLers are prohibited from playing, Bokk, Stützle, Reichel, and Peterka may not yet have made their big-league debuts by 2022, so there’s a good chance that we’ll see these young goal scorers either way. It would be an amazing opportunity for them to play with Draisaitl and a lot of fun to watch.
Olympic Athletes from Russia
2014 Result (as Russia): 5th Place
2018 Result: Gold Medal
Formally, Russia is banned from competing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, courtesy of its state-sponsored doping program. Like in 2018, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will again permit unsanctioned Russian athletes to compete under the designation of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR). Two current Avalanche players will represent the club on the OAR squad: Vladislav Namestnikov and Nikita Zadorov, but I expect the club to move on from both this offseason.
As for the OAR team writ large, they are the defending Olympic champions and will be a favorite to make the gold-medal game again regardless of whether NHLers are let back in. In fact, it’s in their best interest for NHLers to not return to the Games because then their domestic product from the KHL can shine brighter. In 2018, this group included former NHL stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk (who returned to the NHL in 2018-19 after five seasons in the KHL).
2014 Finish: Silver Medal
2018 Finish: 5th Place
If THW’s projected 2022 Sweden roster holds true, then it will be loaded with elite talent. Gabriel Landeskog should man the second-line left wing and see time on the second power play unit. Barring injury, it’s unlikely that he’d crack the top scoring line of LW Elias Pettersson (Vancouver Canucks), C Mika Zibanejad (New York Rangers), and RW William Nylander (Toronto Maple Leafs).
Nashville Predator Filip Forsberg may challenge Landeskog for the position, but I expect Landeskog’s intangibles to push the scale in his favor and beat out competition for that wing. Centering Landeskog would be Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals and to the right of him, Buffalo Sabre Victor Olofsson.
I’m going against the THW projection because Gustav Nyquist will be 32 by the Olympics, and Olofsson just 27 and in his prime. Nyquist could easily drop to the fourth line if Predator Arvidsson returns to the 60-point mark like he last did in 2017-18. Either way, the Swedes and Landeskog are talented enough to make the gold-medal game.
Clash of the Titans
If NHL players return to the ice for the 2022 Olympics, the Avalanche will properly represent several nations with medal intentions. It will be exciting to watch MacKinnon and Rantanen going head to head on the ice together in different jerseys, and I wonder whether Landeskog will have any veteran tricks up his sleeve to get around Makar if Canada and Sweden face off. Provided you are an Avalanche fan, there’s a good chance that you’ll have someone to cheer for even if your country doesn’t make it to the medal podium.