When the NHL announced that they had officially pulled out of the 2022 Beijing Olympics for the second straight year, the hockey world was not shy in sharing its opinions. Even some of the league’s biggest stars voiced their displeasure of missing another chance to represent their country; Steven Stamkos, who missed out on joining Canada at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, was especially disheartened, as he may now never get a chance to play in the tournament.
But when one door closes, another usually opens, and while the NHL’s stars won’t make their way over to China, players around the world will be given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play on the biggest hockey stage in the world. Yes, the talent level will be lower, but the playing field will be far more even and allow for some incredibly exciting games that, under normal circumstances, would be incredibly lopsided.
Better yet, the competition will feature rosters filled with familiar names of players who fans cheered for in years past, as well as potential new favourites just waiting for a chance to star on an NHL team. Back in 2018, Team Germany featured Christian Ehrhoff, a veteran of 789 NHL games who had been playing at home for the past two seasons, as well as Dominik Kahun, an undrafted 23-year-old who put up five points in seven games as Germany sailed to a silver medal in Pyeongchang, and was quickly signed by the Chicago Blackhawks after the competition. So, not only will fans be treated to some very good hockey, but they will also get to follow some incredible storylines.
For Ottawa Senators’ fans, there will be plenty of names to watch as the tournament nears, as dozens of their alumni are thriving in leagues outside of North America. Here are five that have the best chance to end up on an Olympic roster.
Artem Anisimov – Russian Olympic Committee
After a career spanning over a decade that included stops with the Senators, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Chicago Blackhawks, Artem Anisimov decided to return home to Russia to finish his hockey career, signing with the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv for the 2021-22 season. So far, he’s played roughly half the number of games as his teammates, but still sits eighth in team scoring with 19 points. It’s hard to believe that the Russian veteran is just 33 years old, making him a strong candidate for an Olympic invite to fill in a leadership position.
Anisimov spent the last two seasons of his NHL career with the Senators, appearing in 68 games and recorded 29 points. However, it was far from an ideal situation for the center, as he joined a team amid a full-scale rebuild. Initially acquired for fan-favourite Zach Smith, he was expected to bring a scoring touch to the young core and some depth defensive responsibility, but the team struggled to give him any support, and he regressed. Still, he chipped in 15 goals in 2019-20, the fifth-highest total on the team.
Another potential addition to the Russian Olympic Team is Andrei Kuzmenko, a 25-year-old rumoured to be close to signing with the Senators. He grabbed international attention after climbing to second place in Kontinental Hockey League scoring 53 points in 45 games, and could be a great candidate to slide into the Russian Olympic Team’s top six, which would give him an excellent opportunity to show off his high-end skill to the world. And, thanks to his age, he won’t be able to sign more than a one-year entry-level deal, which gives the Senators an excellent chance at nabbing the Russian star. He’s not a Senators’ alumni yet, but still, one to keep an eye on.
Mikkel Boedker – Denmark
Mikkel Boedker was another player who joined the Senators near the end of his NHL career, and was expected to be a reliable depth scorer. Known for his speed, it was assumed he’d fit in well with the youngsters like Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Drake Batherson, but like Anisimov, but it just didn’t work out. His arrival was somewhat tumultuous, as he was the replacement to Mike Hoffman, who had worn out his welcome after getting into hot water with star Erik Karlsson, and the team made the best out of a bad situation. He did alright in his two seasons, appearing in 91 games and scoring 39 points, but with his contract expiring at the end of the 2019-20 season, he decided to take his talents back to Europe, signing with the Swiss National League’s (NL) HC Lugano, ending a 12-year career in North America.
In Switzerland, he rekindled his offensive spark, piling up 18 goals and 35 points in his first season with the team, which sat second and third, respectively, in team scoring. The 32-year-old has regressed somewhat this season but still has 18 points in 32 games. However, he’s one of Denmark’s best international players ever, appearing in 106 combined games for his home country in a variety of competitions and scoring 76 combined points. His best performance came just recently in 2019 at the World Championship, when he led the team with five points in seven games.
Boedker will be joined by another Senators’ alumni in Peter Regin. Originally a fourth-round pick in 2004, the Danish playmaker spent parts of five seasons with the organization from 2008-13, putting up a 13-goal, 29-point effort in 2009-10. He was traded to the New York Islanders in 2013-14, along with P-M Bouchard, then slipped to the Chicago Blackhawks a few months later. He didn’t have nearly the impact there as he did in Canada, however, and by 2015, he decided to return to Europe, where he joined Jokerit in the KHL. Now the 35-year-old is playing in his first season in Switzerland’s National League (NL) this season, and while his age is catching up to him, he still has 18 points in 31 games and served as team captain for Denmark at the Olympics Games Qualification tournament.
Marcus Hogberg – Sweden
While both Boedker and Anisimov were acquired via trades, Hogberg spent his entire North American career with the Senators, starting at the 2013 draft, where he was selected in the third round, 78th overall. Although he was the fourth-ranked European goalie, he was the first off the list to go and the seventh goalie selected that year. Standing 6-foot-5 and already with a U18 silver medal under his belt, the Senators felt confident that he could eventually be an NHL regular and take over from the ageing Craig Anderson. After another silver medal, this time at the 2014 U20 World Juniors, it seemed all but guaranteed.
However, even the best-laid plans can go awry. Hogberg wasn’t ever able to carve out a consistent spot in the organization. His junior numbers were solid and it made him a frequent call-up to the Senators. Over his four seasons with the team, he appeared in 42 games and was signed to a two-year extension in 2019. But thanks to a string of injuries and the arrival of several younger, more talented goalies, he saw the writing on the wall. The Senators decided to not tender an offer once his contract ended, and so he decided to finally return home to Sweden, signing a four-year deal with the team he started with – Linköping HC.
Back in Sweden, Hogberg has looked dominant once again, posting a 0.917 save percentage over 26 games, the ninth-lowest total in the Swedish Hockey League. But, much like his time in Ottawa, he’ll have to compete with younger, more talented goalies like Calle Clang and Jesper Wallstedt for a spot at the Olympics. There’s also KHL star Lars Johansson and fellow SHL goalie Gustav Lindvall, both of whom have been Sweden’s choices for international competition so far this season, despite Hogberg’s strong numbers. Still, he’ll certainly be in the conversation thanks to his NHL experience and previous international success.
Kaspars Daugavins – Latvia
Although his time was short in Canada’s capital city, Kaspers Daugavins was an instant fan favourite thanks to his flashy goals and amazing shootout attempts. He first caught the eyes of the NHL after he appeared in the U18 tournament, World Junior Championship, and World Championship all as an 18-year-old, and so the Senators decided to take a chance on the Latvian, selecting him in the third round of the 2006 draft. He made his way over to North America immediately, playing three seasons in the AHL before going full pro in 2010-11. His best season came in 2011-12 when he appeared in 65 games with the Senators, scoring six goals and 11 points.
After that, though, Daugavins struggled to find his groove in the NHL and 2012-13, the Boston Bruins claimed the winger off waivers after playing 19 games that season. It was not an unexpected move for the Senators, as he had struggled to adapt to the North American game, but the one area he excelled was in the shootout, which fans loved. He’s arguably most famous for his attempt in 2012-13 in which he flips his stick upside down to carry the puck. No one had ever seen something like that attempted outside of an All-Star game, and the move cemented him in hockey history. Imagine how much better it would have been if he scored.
Alas, it ended up being a final hurrah for the Latvian. Daugavins played six more NHL games before leaving the NHL and returning to Europe, first with the Swiss NL and then the KHL, where he became one of the greatest Latvians to ever appear in the league. Last season, he set a record for the most points by a Latvian in a single season, with 49 in 58 games. The 33-year-old still has the moves, too, which he regularly put on display in Russia, no doubt to the delight of fans.
This season, however, he decided to return to the NL and join SC Bern. He hasn’t been the most effective, putting up 12 points in 22 games, but it still ranks ninth on the team in scoring. He also has been a regular for Latvia on the international stage, having served as the nations’ captain four times at the World Championship, and ranks seventh in points in all-time international tournaments. He’s also appeared in two Olympics before this year, travelling to Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, and it’s all but guaranteed that he’ll make his third appearance at Beijing.
Chris DiDomenico – Canada
Several former Senators could join the Canadians, including defenceman Stefan Elliott, 2011 first-round pick Matt Puempel, and energy forward Jayce Hawryluk, to name just a few. But the most interesting of the bunch is Chris DiDomenico. His impact with the Senators was minimal; he suited up for just 27 games and scored 10 points for the team between 2016-17 and 2017-18 before he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. However, few players are more deserving of a spot on Canada’s roster than him.
DiDomenico first jumped into the spotlight at the 2009 World Junior Championship, where he was a surprising selection to team Canada over the likes of Nazem Kadri. He was a star in junior, putting up 75 points in 70 games in his first season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for the Saint John Sea Dogs, which increased to 95 points in his second season. Still, he was undersized and not the best skater, leaving him as an underrated prospect. But that didn’t change the fact that he could score with the best of them, and at the World Juniors, he put up two goals, seven points, tying for fifth in team scoring, and helped the team earn their fifth consecutive gold medal.
However, a nasty injury in the 2009 QMJHL playoffs left him out of hockey for almost a full season and left him without the ability to walk for a time. The Toronto Maple Leafs, who owned his rights, decided to trade him to the Blackhawks in a package for Kris Versteeg, but after two seasons in the organization, he wasn’t any closer to reaching the NHL. So, he decided to shift gears and try his hand in Europe, signing Italy’s Asiago in 2012-13. Not everyone can make the NHL, after all.
Little did DiDomenico know that his career was just beginning. In Italy, he erupted into one of the best players in the league, scoring 132 points over two seasons. Looking for a bigger challenge, he signed in the NL at the end of 2013-14 and was equally as dangerous, putting up 139 points over four seasons with the SCL Tigers. In 2014-15, he led the league in goals and playoff points, helping them capture the league championship and a promotion to the top division. His dominance caught the eye of Canada’s Spengler Cup team, and he helped them win back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. It also caught the eye of the NHL, and when the Senators came calling, the 28-year-old took them up on the offer, signing a two-year, two-way deal in 2017.
After just over a season back in North America, DiDomenico decided to return to the SCL Tigers, where he resumed his dominance in the NL, leading the league in assists in 2018-19 and helping Canada win another Spengler Cup in 2020. Now, he has a chance to do something likely never in his wildest dreams – competing in the Olympic Winter Games. He’s a great choice for Canada to add grit, scoring depth, and defensive reliability, and although he’s now 32 years old, he’s still one of the best players in Switzerland, currently sitting fifth in the league with 39 points in 34 games, just behind fellow Canadian Alexandre Grenier.
While it would no doubt be exciting to see Brady Tkachuk don the red, white, and blue, or Thomas Chabot put on the maple leaf, players like DiDomenico and Daugavins make this Olympic competition far more interesting. There will be countless stories of unexpected players finding success on the Olympic stage, whether they’re a long-time veteran getting another shot at glory or a young gun seeking to make a name for himself. That’s something every fan can get behind, and it will make the 2022 Olympics a can’t-miss event, even with the lack of NHL talent.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.