The only hockey tournament in the world that can come close to rivaling the excitement of the Stanley Cup playoffs is the Winter Olympics.
After participating in every Winter Olympics between 1998 and 2014, the NHL did not send its players to the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. While there are still several important issues to work out, there appears to be some hope for a new deal between the NHL and International Olympic Committee (IOC) that would allow the best players in the world to participate in the 2022 Games in Beijing, China.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman tweeted on Feb. 8: “The IOC and IIHF indicated a willingness this week to address NHL issues to get players to go to 2022 Olympics. This includes insurance costs, travel costs and ability to promote on own platforms.”
Here are the three Oilers’ players who I predict will be playing in the 2022 Olympics.
Connor McDavid – Team Canada
Connor McDavid, the best player in the world, should be the easiest choice for Canada’s 2022 Olympic management group. Since 2016-17, McDavid has the most assists (263) and points (405) in the NHL and has won five individual awards. He missed out on a golden opportunity to play for Team Canada in 2018, and was clearly frustrated with the league’s decision.
“It would have been a special group, and you’re just hopeful to be a part of it,” McDavid told the media at a charity event on July 26, 2017. “It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is. You want to be able to represent your country on the highest stage, and the Olympics is obviously the highest stage possible.”
The Richmond Hill, Ontario native has represented Canada six times on the international stage, and is the youngest player in history to win gold at the IIHF World U18 Championship, World Junior Championship, and the World Championship (19 years, 130 days old). He also played on the 23-and-under North American squad in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
McDavid, who will be 25 and at the height of his powers when the next Olympics rolls around, will surely be featured on the first-line and top power-play unit for Team Canada. I think McDavid might move from centre to the wing in this tournament, where his unmatched skating ability and acceleration would be a huge asset on the larger ice surface.
McDavid has also worn a letter multiple times in international competition, so I fully expect he will be a part of the Canadian leadership group. With the opportunity to play alongside fellow superstars like Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon, McDavid will be a top contender to lead the tournament in scoring, and, more importantly, lead his country to gold.
Leon Draisaitl – Team Germany
Leon Draisaitl has never turned down an opportunity to represent his country. He’s played for Germany at the 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 IIHF World Championships. The only reason he didn’t go in 2015 was because he was playing for the Kelowna Rockets in the Memorial Cup at the time.
He even rushed home to Cologne, Germany, following the Oilers’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of their playoff series to join the Germans for the medal round in 2017. In addition, Draisaitl played in Olympic qualifier games for Germany in the summer of 2017, despite knowing he would not be able to compete in the Winter Olympics.
Germany shocked the hockey world by claiming silver at the 2018 Winter Olympics. While it will be much harder for the Germans to medal in a best-on-best tournament, advancing to the gold medal game will be an invaluable experience for the returning players. Moreover, Draisaitl could be joined by talented German-born NHL prospects like Moritz Seider and Tim Stützle.
Draisaitl is the best hockey player Germany has ever produced, and he’s become an NHL superstar over the last 18 months. The 24-year-old should be the captain and face of Team Germany in 2022, helping to inspire the next generation of German hockey players.
Kailer Yamamoto – Team USA
Yamamoto has only played 46 career NHL games, but I believe he will be in the mix for a roster spot with Team USA in 2022. After struggling to find his footing during his first two NHL stints, Yamamoto has put up an impressive 20 points in 20 games with the Oilers this season.
The Spokane, Washington native has represented the United States four times on the international stage. His strongest performance came at he 2016 IIHF World U18 Championship, where he tied for tournament lead in goals with seven en route to a bronze medal.
“I went to four different tournaments with them and they treat me phenomenal,” said Yamamoto prior to the 2017 NHL Draft. “Playing for USA, it’s something else. Being able to make those teams and play with such good players on the teams, it’s unbelievable and I’m really glad I was able to do that.”
The Americans could have the second-best team on paper in 2022, with stars like Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel leading the way up front. Yamamoto won’t likely be in the top-six if he makes the team, but could still find a spot as a skilled, tenacious bottom-six forward on a deep roster.