The NHL has announced that it has reached an agreement to allow its players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The San Jose Sharks have several candidates to represent the team for their home countries at the games. Here are the locks, possible participants, and longshots to appear in next year’s Olympics.
Erik Karlsson, Sweden
While it’s certainly true that Erik Karlsson has lost a step or two against NHL competition since his time with the Sharks, there is no doubt he is still one of the best Swedish defensemen in the world. Karlsson is no stranger to representing Sweden, he has represented his country beginning with the under 16 tournament and his last was the World Cup in 2017 where Sweden lost in the semifinals.
Karlsson has 20 points in 28 international appearances against men for Sweden, not including his junior experience. This includes the World Cup and Olympic Games where he has collected a bronze and silver medal, respectively. Sweden should have a good team, and being in group C away from Canada, the United States, and Russian Olympic Committee, athletes should make their path to the medal rounds a touch easier. They will have their Scandinavian rivals Finland to contend with, though, and they are never an easy matchup.
Karlsson should at least be among the top four, if not on the top pairing. A strong performance for his native country could help him push the Sharks to a playoff spot if they are close. Either way Sharks fans can hope the Olympics are rejuvenating for Karlsson.
Tomas Hertl, Czech Republic
Like Karlsson, Tomas Hertl has a long history of representing his native Czech Republic. Though he doesn’t have the medals to boast, he also has had a less-than-stellar supporting cast. He is clearly one of the best Czech players in the NHL. This Olympic games he should be the top center for the Czechs, though it’s possible if David Krejci plays that he takes the position. Either way, an argument could be made that it’s Hertl’s spot now.
Hertl is in the last year of a team-friendly contract. If he performs well during the first part of the season, and has a great Olympic games, he could very well earn himself a hefty new contract. That could be with the Sharks, or perhaps fetch a good return for San Jose at the trade deadline, which is about one month after the closing ceremony. It’s reasonable that he could rack up points dishing passes to David Pastrnak.
Hertl has been a fan favorite for years with his positive attitude and clutch performances. The Sharks already have several large contract for aging veterans, so they might not be able to offer Hertl what he is truly worth. If the 2021-22 season goes like the last two have, general manager Doug Wilson would be smart to get top assets for Hertl before he loses him for nothing as a free agent in the summer of 2022.
Timo Meier, Switzerland
Timo Meier is clearly one of the best Swiss players in the NHL along with Roman Josi, Kevin Fiala, and Nico Hischier. Meier will for sure make the team and will be one of their best players. The Swiss will likely lean upon him heavily in offensive situations, and he can build on the success he already obtained this year representing his country at the World Championships in Riga, Latvia.
Meier and Hischier were on a line together at even strength, as well as on the power play at the World Championships. Meier had six points in eight games playing alongside Hischier, so it’s fair to say they clicked as Switzerland made the quarterfinals before ultimately losing to Germany. Fiala wasn’t there, however, because his Minnesota Wild were in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Meier and company will hope for a better result in Beijing. The Swiss finished ahead of the Czech Republic in Riga, they’re hoping to do that again and have more luck in the quarterfinals this time.
Rudolfs Balcers, Latvia
Rudolfs Balcers is the best Latvian hockey player in the world, and he is in his prime right now at 24 years old. We didn’t get to see him in Riga playing for the host nation, as he was without a contract at the time of the event, which is truly unfortunate. I imagine their fortunes would have been considerably better with Balcers on the ice.
Latvia had to qualify for the Olympics, and Balcers was a big part of that tournament, scoring six points in three games. Latvia qualified ahead of France, Hungary, and Italy, led by Balcers and fellow NHL players Teodors Blugers and Zemgus Girgensons. If they can persuade Elvis Merzlikins to tend the twine, they might have a better shot at advancing through the group stage. Regardless of who plays in net, Latvia will most likely finish at the bottom of the group in the Olympics, much like they did in Riga, but with Balcers leading the way, they could surprise a team or two.
Joachim Blichfeld, Denmark
Denmark is another team that just qualified for the Olympics finishing ahead of Norway, Slovenia, and South Korea. Joachim Blichfeld was 5th on the team in scoring with three points in three games to go along with his plus three rating. Even though Blichfeld has relatively little NHL experience, he is still likely one of the best choices for the Danes headed into the Olympics.
Denmark certainly has some high end forwards with Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Frans Nielsen is also notable as an NHL player, as is former Shark prospect Alexander True, who was selected by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. Denmark, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic are in the most open group with only the Russian Olympic Committee athletes being clearly the class of the group.
The two players from this group have a decent shot of making the team, but it is not fore sure for two reasons. Both are fairly young, and their teams are fairly well stacked with NHL talent. The latter is more true for Santeri Hatakka of Finland. The Fins have a very good roster and should compete for a medal. Hatakka would have to beat out Henri Jokiharju, Mikko Lehtonen, or Jani Hakanpaa, which, depending on roster construction, could happen.
Hatakka may not be playing in the NHL, but has played 72 professional games in the Liiga and was relied upon for heavy minutes this season for Ilves. If I had to bet I’d say he won’t make it, but it would be a huge feather in his cap and for the Sharks if he does get selected. He would be able to learn a lot from his countrymen on the backend that would no doubt help him transition to the NHL.
Adam Raska of the Czech Republic is the other possible candidate. Raska has yet to play professionally, but is set to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) in 2021-22. He has represented the Czech Republic many times and is a feisty player who brings sandpaper and grit. The Czechs don’t have a lot of players who fit his profile so they might elevate him to the Olympic squad to fill a specific role.
Both William Eklund and Jonathan Dahlen of Sweden are longshots. Sweden should have an excellent squad, and there are no shortage of qualified NHL players to fill their roster. If they did bring along one or two of their most exciting young players, Eklund and Dahlen would certainly qualify. Dahlen should be on the Sharks opening night roster and that might help his case though Eklund has already played a full SHL season so that might help him. Realistically neither will get the call, but it would be super fun if they did.
Nikolai Knyzhov of the Russian Olympic Committee should certainly garner some consideration. Knyzhov was impressive on a really bad Sharks team in 2020-21, earning him Sharks rookie of the year. While the Russians have a lot of strong options for defense, a few of them like Nikita Zadorov and Nikita Nesterov are the fleetest of foot. If they want a more mobile, shut-down defender, Knyzhov could get the call.
Plenty of Options
The Sharks boast a fair number of players who could play for their country in Beijing, China in the 2022 Olympic games. They might even surpass their last highest representation, which was 2010 in Vancouver, Canada where they sent eight players. More than likely they will send at most eight, probably fewer. Either way it will be fun to watch current Sharks teammates playing against one another.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12