The waiting is over, and players from the National Hockey League are once again going to be participants in the Winter Olympics. Come February, the top players from across the league will head to China for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
The 2022 Games should be one of the most competitive hockey tournaments the world has ever seen. The game has become more diverse and countries from across the globe have grown in skill and star power. Teams across the league have become more diverse over the years, as well. Most of them boast upwards of seven different nationalities just on their NHL roster alone.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are no different. Currently there are seven different countries represented on the roster. With that many countries of skilled players, there will be a strong Penguins representation at the games. Let’s look at the players on the Penguins roster that will likely represent their country in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Sidney Crosby, Team Canada
The question isn’t if Sidney Crosby makes Team Canada in 2022, but rather where he will play in the lineup? Will he play on the first line ahead of Connor McDavid or second behind him? Will those two share a line? Will Crosby play with best friend Nathan MacKinnon? Those three names alone are enough to bring home gold.
2022 won’t be Crosby’s first rodeo representing Canada in the Olympics. It will be his third, and possibly last. The sport of hockey is evolving every year and in four more turns of the calendar, Captain Canada will be 38-years-old. It’s hard to tell if he will have the same skill on the ice to cut it with a hockey powerhouse in Canada.
Crosby’s Olympic legacy is already set in stone, though. Two-for-two in gold medals, and being the shooter in one of the most iconic goals in Canadian hockey history. “The Golden Goal” needs no introduction. Any hockey fan has seen the clip of Crosby beating Team USA goalie Ryan Miller for Olympic gold.
In 13 games in the Olympics, Crosby has put up five goals and five assists and has only lost one game. Team Canada will be a different beast in 2022. They will be the team to beat, and Crosby will be a big part of it.
Kasperi Kapanen, Team Finland
Just like his father did three times, Kasperi Kapanen will be in the conversation to represent Team Finland in the Olympics. His spot on the team will be well deserved, as he is among the top Finish natives in the NHL. Last season with Pittsburgh he found a new level to his game, posting 30 points (11-19) in 40 games played. Those aren’t career-high numbers, but it was a shortened season and a huge bounce back from what he described as a not-so-great 2019-20 season.
Kapanen isn’t a top line player on Team Finland, as they have a good amount of star power at forward. But his spot as a third-or-fourth-line winger is perfect. He has experience on both sides of the puck and has flourished into a clutch goal scorer since his return to the Penguins organization.
It would be foolish for Team Finland to look past Kapanen. It would be his first trip to the Olympics and he could see more in the future. He has the skill and speed to be a difference maker at the international level.
Teddy Blueger, Team Latvia
To put it bluntly, Team Latvia doesn’t hold a lot of talent. Teddy Blueger, however, is one of the best players of Latvian descent right now. With their victory in the Group E qualifying tournament, Team Latvia is heading back to the Olympics for the first time since 2014.
Not only is Teddy Blueger making Team Latvia, there’s a very good chance he’s the team captain. He was given the captaincy for Latvia’s Olympic qualifying tournament in late August. Captain Teddy acted as a leader and produced on the scoreboard. He got the primary assist on the game-winning-goal over Team France to advance to the Olympics. He also scored two goals and two assists in three games.
It will be exciting to see Latvia back in the biggest international hockey tournament, and even more exciting to see them be led by a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. It will be Blueger’s first Olympics.
Evgeni Malkin, Team Russia
Sure, Evgeni Malkin is one of the greatest to ever play the sport of hockey, but his spot on the Russian Olympic Team isn’t exactly set in stone. For the second offseason in a row, he underwent some kind of surgery, and his play has left a lot to be desired. He’s already expected to miss training camp this month, and there is still not an exact timetable for his return to the ice.
While Malkin will miss the beginning of the 2021-22 NHL season, he should be healthy come February for the Olympics. Despite a decline in play and some injury setbacks, Russia has never shied away from recruiting older players for their international teams. Pavel Datsyuk at the age of 39 captained Team Russia in 2018 to an Olympic gold medal.
It’s likely Malkin makes team Russia, but he has to perform at the top of his game to be a difference maker. The only thing that will keep him off the roster is if his knee injury persists and he still isn’t back on the ice. He has already played in three Olympic games and has never medaled.
Jake Guentzel, Team USA
When Olympic rosters were first being predicted, there was some hesitation surrounding Jake Guentzel. Now, it seems he is a sure fire lock to make Team USA, and that’s what he should be. Since joining the league in 2017, he has become one of the most lethal scorers in the league. A 40-goal season in 2018-19, followed by another 40-goal pace in 2019-20 makes him one of the best shooters America has right now.
Guentzel’s skill isn’t a product of playing with Crosby, either. Guentzel naturally has this skill. He proved it when he played with Malkin and was still scoring at a high rate. Guentzel is a student of the game and can produce with whoever his line mates are. That’s exactly what you want when creating a roster like this.
Team USA might trot out one of their most skilled and powerful rosters ever, and Guentzel should be a big contributor in the lineup. It’ll be his first, and definitely not his last Olympics.
Mike Sullivan, Team USA
We may not know on ice rosters for teams yet, but we do know Mike Sullivan will be behind the bench as Team USA’s head coach. This will be his second trip to the Olympics; He served as an assistant to Peter Laviolette in 2006. He has proven to be one of the NHL’s most successful coaches since coming to Pittsburgh. He has won a pair of Stanley Cups, and is only two wins shy of becoming the winningest coach in Pens history.
Being assigned the head coaching job for Team USA was well deserved for Sullivan, but he will now be measured up to the last Penguins coach to see the Olympics, Dan Bylsma in 2014. Bylsma’s journey as Team USA’s coach wasn’t great; The team finished fourth and is most remembered for T.J. Oshie’s heroics in a shootout against Russia. Sure, it’s not easy to win in the Olympics, but Sullivan should have a stronger team in front of him and give him a better chance to bring home a medal.
Sullivan won’t be alone behind the bench, of course. He will be joined along with some great hockey minds in Pat Quinn, John Hynes, and Ryan Miller, Penguins’ assistant coach Todd Reirden rounds out the Team USA coaching crew. This will be Reirden’s first time representing Team USA at any international level.
Penguins’ video coach Andy Saucier will also be utilized with Team USA. This is his second time heading to the Olympics with the United States, as in 2014 he had the same role.
While those listed above should be locks for their countries, there are a few players who may just miss the opportunity.
Kris Letang, Team Canada
For what it’s worth, Kris Letang has always possessed Olympic level skill. Averaging upwards of 24-25 minutes per game speaks for itself. But Team Canada has routinely had tremendous defensive depth that Letang would just miss his chance. Despite his advancing age and history of injuries, he can still produce on the ice. In 2020-21, he collected 38 assists and 45 points, second among Canadian defensemen.
With Team Canada missing a blue line staple in Shea Weber in 2022, the door for Letang on Team Canada opens a little more. But yet again, Canada has an extremely deep pool of defenders to pick from.
Dominik Simon, Team Czech Republic
This is an interesting case. Dominik Simon was a big part of Team Czech Republic’s IIHF roster in 2019. In 10 games in the 2019 World Championships, he scored 12 points. Since then, however, he hasn’t gotten a fair shake. After signing with the Calgary Flames for the 2020-21 season he only played 12 games between the NHL and AHL. He was glued to the taxi squad all year.
At the end of the day, Simon will probably just miss the cut. Not to any fault of his own, he just hasn’t played much in the past few years and Team Czech Republic keeps getting stronger on the ice.
Bryan Rust, Team USA
With Sullivan coaching Team USA, Bryan Rust’s chances of grabbing a spot on Team USA’s roster increases, but it may not be enough. Rust has proven to be one of the top American players in the NHL over the last few years. Growing into one of the more prolific goal scorers on the Penguins, he has paced for over 30 goals the past two seasons had they been 82 games.
It would be a long shot, and while still possible, it’s not likely Rust joins Guentzel and Sullivan in Beijing.
The Penguins seem to always have a strong representation in the Olympics; 2022 should be no different. With five near definite locks, a handful of coaches, and a few players on the fence, there will be a lot for Pens fans to watch come February.
Nick Horwat is a graduate of Point Park University and was born and raised in Pittsburgh. A lifelong Penguins fan that has been watching and going to games for as long as he can remember.