The 2022 Beijing Olympics represent the next major international tournament on the horizon for hockey fans around the world. After the 2020 IIHF World Championships were canceled and plans for the latest version of the World Cup of Hockey were put on the shelf, the Beijing games and the 2021 Worlds are the next opportunities for hockey fans to enjoy some best-on-best action on the ice.
It’s still unclear if the NHL will allow its players to participate in Beijing, but if they do, we could be in store for one of the most entertaining tournaments to date. For Washington Capitals fans, a very large contingent of players could be in line to represent their countries on the world’s biggest stage in Beijing.
Ever since Alex Ovechkin entered the league, Washington has had a large number of Russian-born players on its roster. That remains the case today with five members of the 2019-20 Caps hailing from Russia. Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov are virtual locks to make the 2022 Olympic team for Russia but beyond those two the picture is less clear.
Ilya Kovalchuk will be 38 years old when the 2022 tournament arrives but he will still merit serious consideration for the team. Kovy scored seven points in six games and was named MVP of the 2018 tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea, leading the Olympic Athletes from Russia to gold. In total Kovalchuk has played over 150 games for Russia internationally, winning gold five times at four different levels.
Another Caps forward will not be eligible for the 2022 games, however. Evgeny Kuznetsov was suspended four years by the International Ice Hockey Federation for testing positive for cocaine in 2019. His suspension will remain in place until June 12, 2023, making him ineligible for the Beijing games regardless of whether the NHL goes or not.
Finally, Caps rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov could merit consideration for the third spot in the Russian crease. Samsonov will need a strong sophomore campaign if he looks to emerge above Igor Shesterkin, Alexander Georgiev, and Semyon Varlomov on the team’s depth chart. Currently, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky project to be Russia’s 1-2 punch in net in Beijing.
2014 Olympic silver medalist Nicklas Backstrom is in line to represent Sweden for a third time at the Olympics in 2022. Backstrom has won gold twice at the World Championships for Sweden and projects to be a key veteran presence down the middle for a relatively young group of Swedish forwards.
Backstrom led Sweden in scoring at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver with six points in four games, before adding four points in five contests in Sochi in 2014.
John Carlson scored one of the most memorable goals in World Junior history back in 2010, netting the overtime winner for the United States against Canada in the gold medal game. Carlson has been a steady presence on the Caps blueline ever since and will be a key member of the American blueline if NHL players take part in the Beijing games.
T.J. Oshie was a bubble player prior to the 2014 Olympics but ended up making a huge mark on those games thanks to his impressive record in the shootout. The decision to add Oshie to the team paid off big time when the then-Blues forward converted four goals in a memorable shootout against Russia in the prelims. This time around, Oshie will be 35 years old and in tough to crack a talented American team that is loaded with young talent up front.
Team Czech Republic
After enjoying a breakout season for the Caps, Jakub Vrana is a lock to represent the Czech Republic in Beijing. Vrana scored 25 goals and cracked the 50-point plateau for the first time this season and could line up alongside David Pastrnak and Tomas Hertl on a talented first line for the Czech Republic.
Beyond Vrana, Capitals defensemen Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas also project to make the team on a blue line that lacks the same star power had by some of the other countries in the tournament.
Other Potential Olympians
Defenseman Jonas Seigenthaler will likely represent Switzerland at the 2022 games. Seigenthaler has competed for Switzerland seven times at the junior level and will be graduating to the big club in the near future.
While Switzerland has already qualified for the 2022 Beijing games, two other Capitals are less certain about the fate of their home countries. Lars Eller has represented Denmark internationally a number of times over the past decade, while Richard Panik has done the same for Slovakia.
Slovakia and Denmark are currently ranked 9th and 12th respectively in the official world rankings and would need to earn one of the final three qualification spots to participate in the Beijing Games. If they do, both Eller and Panik would be obvious choices to represent their countries.
Finally, Caps starting goaltender Braden Holtby will merit some consideration for Team Canada. Had the NHL taken part in the Pyeongchang games in 2018, Holtby would have likely made the club alongside Carey Price and Marc-Andre Fleury. However, the recent emergence of Jordan Binnington, Matt Murray, and Carter Hart make Holtby a long shot to represent the red and white at the Beijing games.
Capitals contributor for THW. Lifelong sports fan, grew up in various hockey rinks throughout Alberta.