If negotiations go well, NHL players will make their return to Olympic competition next February at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
While not yet official, the NHL included an Olympic break in its 2021-22 schedule (the Jets have no games scheduled between Feb. 2 and Feb. 22.) NHL players last played at the Winter Games in 2014, having not participated in 2018 when the Olympics were hosted by Pyeongchang, South Korea.
If NHL players do get the chance to go overseas, the Jets would have a number of players heading to Beijing to seek golden glory. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the top-tier talents.
Scheifele is a safe bet to make Team Canada. The elite centre is a proven and consistent point producer, as he’s notched 201 goals and tallied 306 assists for 507 points in 575-career games.
Scheifele, at 28 years old, is in his prime and he showed it in 2020-21, leading the Jets with 63 points in 56 games. He would fit right in with other Canadian dynamos — Sidney Crosby, Mitch Marner, Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and many others — but given Canada’s depth at centre, might have to play wing.
Morrissey is not as sure to make the team — while he is undoubtedly a quality top-four defenseman, he has struggled at times over the past two seasons.
There are a few of reasons for his struggles since 2018-19. First, a myriad of defensive partners made chemistry a struggle. But in 2020-21, the main reason was that his father Tom’s battle with brain cancer was heavy on his mind. Morrissey couldn’t see his father often — owing to the pandemic — which was obviously extremely difficult.
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Morrissey even practiced last offseason alone in a literal barn on a tiny strip of ice — instead of at a rink with other Alberta-area players — so he wouldn’t risk bringing COVID-19 to his dad while he underwent chemotherapy and radiation, the Winnipeg Free Press recently reported (from “Morrissey’s biggest battle,‘ Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 20, 2021.)
Tom passed away on Aug. 8, 2021.
Despite his thoughts being with his father, Morrissey never used that as an excuse, and picked up his play toward the end of the season, finishing with four goals and 17 assists, a minus-1 rating, and a career-high TOI per game of 23:33. In the playoffs, he looked confident and aggressive, especially when paired with Dylan DeMelo.
Canada’s list of contenders for blue-line roles is a long one and includes Thomas Chabot, Drew Doughty, Cale Makar, Alex Pietrangelo, Morgan Rielly, and Shea Theodore. Morrissey’s performance in 2021-22 will dictate whether he snags a spot.
Nikolaj Ehlers is a shoo-in to be the cornerstone of Team Denmark — there are only eight active Danish NHLers, and he’s the best of the bunch.
Ehlers was instrumental, while playing alongside fellow NHLers Oliver Bjorkstrand and Frans Nielsen, in helping his country qualify for the Olympics for the first time ever. In the 12-team Olympic Qualifiers last month, Ehlers led the tournament with five goals and nine points in just three games.
The speedy Dane was the Jets’ best forward in 2020-21. He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s an elite offensive talent, finishing third on the team with 46 points (21 goals and 25 assists) in 49 regular season games and two goals and one assist in the playoffs. He was the strongest Jets forward at even-strength, posting a team-high plus-15 rating.
Gawanke, a 22-year-old right-handed defenseman who has spent the past two seasons with the Manitoba Moose, should be a lock to patrol Germany’s blue line. He already played for Germany at the 2021 IIHL World Championships in June, recording two goals in 10 games, skating nearly 15 minutes per game, and helping them finish fourth.
Connor is an obvious selection to play for the U.S., and could perhaps grace their top line. The Shelby Township, Michigan product a pure goal scorer on the left wing and led the Jets with 26 tallies in 2020-21.
Connor seems to excel regardless of who he plays with and is a scoring threat from many different areas of the ice. Although he’s criminally underrated by the NHL as a whole, he should have a good chance to show his stuff on the world stage. It sure would be fun to see him play with Auston Matthews or Jack Eichel.
There’s no doubt who will be between the pipes for the Americans. The 2020 Vezina winner and Commerce, Michigan native is a rock who can steal games even when his team isn’t playing its best.
In 2020-21, the 28-year-old was trotted out more often than any other goaltender as he started a league-high 45 games. In those games, he posted a 24-17-3 record, 2.58 GAA, .916 SV%, four shutouts, and 25 quality starts. He was also first in shots against and saves.
His numbers were even better in eight playoff games, with a 2.23 GAA, .931 SV%, and one shutout.
Wheeler, unlike Connor and Hellebuyck, is no sure bet. He would have been a shoo-in a few seasons ago, but Father Time has started to catch up with him and his 2020-21 campaign was his worst as a Jet, as he was often a liability at even strength and on defense rather than an asset (part of the reason for that was he was quietly playing with broken ribs.)
That being said, if the Jets’ captain can stay healthy, he’s got a shot. He has a proven track record as a prolific playmaker, having two 91-point campaigns to his credit and 807 points in 981-career games. The U.S. may see the Minnesotan’s experience as too valuable to pass up.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.