The 2022 Olympic Winter Games have officially begun and are off to a tremendous start. The women’s hockey schedule has already kicked off and, to no surprise, has teams like Canada and the United States going undefeated in their opening games, while Japan has stunned hockey fans with victories over Sweden and Denmark. On the Men’s side of things, their tournament begins on Feb. 9 with a Group B double-header featuring Team ROC taking on Switzerland and Czechia squaring off against Denmark. One of these four teams contains a Nashville Predators alumni, as well five other countries.
Eight players in total, formerly tied to the Nashville franchise, will be on the ice in Beijing. Whether they appeared in at least one game or were drafted but never made it through the pipeline, here are the players who once held affiliation with the Predators. Some may ring a bell, while others will bring back fond memories.
Magnus Hellberg, G (Sweden)
Drafted 38th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Magnus Hellberg was a big pick for the Predators. He was also the first goalie selected that year. He was large, standing at 6-feet-6, and had good positioning and anticipation despite his size. The Predators did not have a pick in the first round of this draft, making Hellberg their first selection that year and also the first player to wear the new, redesigned Nashville jersey. It was an ironic twist as Hellberg opted not to attend the draft due to being unsure he’d even hear his name called. He went unselected in the two previous drafts, first in 2009 and again in 2010.
Hellberg would appear in just one game for the Predators during his tenure with the franchise, replacing starter Carter Hutton and playing 12 minutes against the St. Louis Blues in the 2013-14 season. His time before that came between the Predators’ AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, and ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones. At both levels, Hellberg posted respectable numbers and certainly would have earned more time in the NHL if it weren’t for the Predators’ depth that included the likes of Marek Mazanec and Juuse Saros. Like Scott Darling did before him, Hellberg slipped down the depth chart, and in 2015, he was dealt to the New York Rangers for a 6th-round pick in the 2017 draft.
In two seasons with the Rangers, Hellberg appeared in three games and registered one win. The majority of his tenure came with their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack, where he continued his trend of posting solid numbers across the board. As of 2017, Hellberg has played in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for the likes of the Kunlun Red Star, SKA St. Petersburg, and HK Sochi. Internationally, Hellberg has a gold medal to his name as part of the 2018 World Championship team that defeated Switzerland 3-2 in a shoot-out.
Saku Maenalenen, F (Finland)
The Predators took Saku Maenalenen in the fifth round, 125th overall, in the 2013 draft, and at first glance, it was an excellent selection. He was coming off a second SM-Liiga Championship with Kärpät and was a gold medalist at the 2014 Under-20 World Junior Championship, a tournament in which he also won the scoring title. He also had a silver medal at the Under-20 SM-Liiga level and a bronze medal with the Mestis league’s Hokki. The credentials were there, and he had the size and speed that could translate at the North American stage.
The Finnish forward went unsigned by the Predators ahead of the 2014-15 season, and as a result, Maenalenen returned to Oulun Kärpät of the Liiga, where he would continue to play for the next four seasons. During the 2017-18 season, Maenalenen registered 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) in 59 games, adding another 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in 18 playoff games, helping his team to a third SM-Liiga championship. His performance would not go unnoticed, as the Carolina Hurricanes signed him to a one-year, two-way contract for the 2018-19 season. He’d go on to play 34 games and register 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists).
Upon the conclusion of the season, Maenalenen and the Hurricanes couldn’t come to terms on a new deal, and Maenalenen opted to play in the KHL with Jokerit. After two years, he made his return to Oulun Kärpät for the 2021-22 season as an alternate captain. Currently, he sits at 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 39 games. At 27, he’ll be one of the youngest players on Finland’s roster but also the second-largest, just behind 6-foot-8 Marko Anttila. It’ll be a fourth international appearance for Maenalenen, having appeared in one World Junior Championship (2014) and two World Championship (2018, 2021).
Korbinian Holzer, D (Germany)
Having played in 206 NHL games spanning over eight seasons, Korbinian Holzer’s time in the league felt short-lived. He was never a regular at the NHL level, splitting his time with the teams he played for and their AHL affiliates. A rugged, stay-at-home defenseman who could hit hard and was even harder to play against, it’s a wonder why he couldn’t hold a regular spot in the lineup. The Predators traded for the German defender at the 2019-20 trade deadline, sending Matt Irwin and a 2022 6th-round pick back to the Anaheim Ducks.
Holzer would play in just three regular-season games before the NHL shut down operations due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. While he would remain with the team upon the return of play, he was a healthy scratch in the Predators’ opening-round defeat against the Arizona Coyotes. It would be the last we’d see from Holzer at the NHL level, as he made his way to the KHL to play for the Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg in the 2020-21 season.
Following the conclusion of his one-year contract with Avtomobilist, Holzer returned home to where it all started, signing a two-year contract with Adler Mannheim of the DEL. Playing in a primarily supportive role, Holzer has contributed eight points (4 goals, 4 assists) in 22 games this season and is part of a tightly-knit defensive core that sees all three pairings playing 18-20 minutes per game. Team Germany will hope to utilize that type of experience and mileage if they wish to compete against the likes of Team Canada and Team USA.
Daniel Carr, F (Canada)
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Daniel Carr’s name on Team Canada’s roster. For those who have followed his career, it’s evident that he’s talented and knows how to put the puck in the net. Scoring 24 goals in 76 games in his first season at the AHL level certainly left everyone with a positive first impression. Following it up with 10 goals in 24 games the following year would have any team at the ready to call him up, and that’s what the Montreal Canadiens did. Unfortunately, his caliber of play didn’t translate to the NHL level.
In 85 games combined, the Alberta-native registered 14 goals and 34 points, a far cry from what he showed off at the AHL level. It was enough for the Canadiens to let the forward go, opting not to tender a qualifying offer and letting Carr walk. Carr would sign with the Vegas Golden Knights and played in just six games, registering one goal, but his AHL contributions helped the Chicago Wolves reach the Calder Cup Final. Carr hit the 30-goal plateau and subsequently received the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s Most Valuable Player.
His time with Nashville, much like Holzer, was short-lived. Playing in 11 games, Carr never had a regular spot in the lineup and was used more as a depth forward to plug in whenever injuries occurred or if someone was sidelined with COVID-19. He scored one goal during that span and did not play during the post-season. Carr managed 50 points (23 goals, 27 assists) in 47 games with the Milwaukee Admirals that same year. If Team Canada is to improve upon the 2018 result that had them finishing with the bronze medal, they’ll have to get him at his best.
Yannick Weber, D (Switzerland)
The most prolific and notable former Predator alumni on this list is none other than Yannick Weber. The 13-year NHL veteran was just one game shy of the 500 mark before making his return to Switzerland’s National League (NL) for the 2021-22 season. Weber played in just two games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2020-21 season, the final year he’d play at the NHL level. With the ZSC Lions this season, he’s amassed 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) in 41 games.
Weber was never known as an offensive-minded defenseman, even though he possesses a powerful slap shot. He used that shot to post career highs in goals (11) and points (21) with the Vancouver Canucks during the 2014-15 season. He would spend one more season with the Canucks before joining a Predators team in need of some depth on the blue line. He would spend four seasons with the Predators, playing more games with them than any other team he had dressed for. Weber was also named as the Predators’ representative for the NHL Players’ Association during the stoppage to the season as a result of the pandemic. He was held in high regard by both his teammates and management.
After 13 years, Weber announced his retirement from NHL play and returned to Switzerland. He’ll represent his country for the 12th time while also making his third Olympics appearance. Finishing eighth in 2014 and ninth in 2019, Weber and his native country will hope to keep up with the likes of Czechia, ROC, and Denmark, who all make up Group B. His sturdy play in his defensive zone is one of the many ingredients that Switzerland will hope to have as they kick off their Olympic run on Feb 9.
Brandon Yip, F (China), Jeremy Smith, G (China), Simon Moser, F (Switzerland)
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)