For the first time in a while, the 2021/22 NHL season is shaping up to be a full, 82-game schedule — and then some.
It’s an Olympic year, after all, and the 2022 Games seem on track to include the first NHL participation since the 2014 tournament.
NHL teams have been sending out — and selling tickets for — a schedule that includes a two-week Olympic break in February, and just last week another major stumbling block was cleared when the IIHF agreed to pay COVID insurance for NHLers taking part in the qualifying rounds.
Updating from a week ago: IIHF has agreed to purchase insurance—including COVID coverage—for NHL players participating in Olympic qualifiers, per PA.
— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) August 21, 2021
In other words, it’s happening.
Let the building of national dream teams commence.
It’s been more than half a decade since the last true best-on-best international competition — the 2016 World Cup of Hockey — and fans are no doubt champing at the bit to see who makes the cut for their country of choice.
And if all goes according to plan, the Beijing 2022 Olympic rosters should include plenty of Vancouver Canucks.
Some Canucks are virtually guaranteed to make their national teams, barring an untimely injury.
Elias Pettersson, Sweden
The only real question as to Pettersson’s role with Team Sweden in the 2022 Olympics is whether he’ll be centering the top line or riding shotgun on Mika Zibanejad’s wing. Either way, he’ll be playing a central role for one of the tournament’s true contenders.
Brock Boeser, USA
There are some who don’t consider Boeser a lock for Team USA, but those people are silly. Sure, the United States is loaded with talented wingers, but they don’t have 12 of them better than Boeser. Nearing point-per-game status, Boeser ranks just behind Patrick Kane on his country’s right side, and will no doubt be a fixture on the USA power play.
Thatcher Demko, USA
Demko is a shoo-in for the USA roster, but not necessarily for any game action. Currently, he ranks about third on the goaltending depth chart, behind Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson, and well ahead of the likes of Alex Nedeljkovic, Jake Oettinger, and Jack Campbell. That said, Demko is gaining ground on Gibson of late, so he could slot in as Hellebuyck’s backup by the time the Olympics roll around.
Jaroslav Halak, Slovakia
As we speak, Slovakia is competing in the Olympic qualifying tournament, where they’re considered the top seed with three spots up for grabs. Halak isn’t on their roster at the moment, but should they secure a spot in the actual Olympics, he’ll be there as their starting goaltender. As the only active Slovak goalie in the NHL, the only thing stopping the 36-year-old from participating would be his own personal choice.
In The Mix
These Canucks are decidedly in the running for an Olympic spot, but have yet to lock it down completely.
JT Miller, USA
Miller is just on the cusp of being a lock for Team USA, and will almost certainly make the cut — though at which position remains unclear. He’s got a bit more depth to compete with on the wings. At center, Miller could rate as highly as the second line behind Auston Matthews, assuming Jack Eichel isn’t healthy in time for the tournament. Others in the running for that slot include Dylan Larkin and Jack Hughes.
Quinn Hughes, USA
A year ago, Hughes would have been considered a shoo-in, but his sophomore slump coincided with some excellent seasons from other Yankee blueliners, sending him plummeting down the depth chart. Right now, he’s competing with Jaccob Slavin, Zach Werenski, Ryan Suter, Torey Krug, Ryan McDonagh, Alec Martinez, and more on the left side alone. A bounce back season could earn him a spot, but it will require some serious defensive fine-tuning.
Conor Garland, USA
Garland hasn’t made it onto many projected rosters, but he’s at least firmly within bubble territory for the Americans. In 2021, his PPG ranked 16th overall among USA-born forwards, and a full season on Bo Horvat’s wing could send him skyrocketing up the list. In the end, it will take a significant step forward from Garland to leapfrog some of the more established names ahead of him, but don’t count him out quite yet.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Sweden
If he bounces back at all for the Canucks in the early running of 2021/22, Ekman-Larsson is an absolute lock for Team Sweden. Even if not, the national team veteran already has the inside track on the likes of Hampus Lindholm, Mattias Ekholm, Oscar Klefblom, and maybe even Erik Karlsson, and is already in the running for a captaincy. Really, it’s OEL’s spot to lose. Ekman-Larsson and Halak are the only Canucks old enough to have participated in the 2014 Games.
Nils Höglander, Sweden
Most Swedish pundits aren’t giving Höglander much consideration for their national team, but that’s their mistake. The rookie led the Canucks in even-strength scoring last season, and any further progression in 2021/22 will put him into the upper tiers of Swedish production. So long as he doesn’t suffer a sophomore slump, it’s not difficult at all to imagine Höglander surpassing veterans like Gustav Nyquist, Jakob Silfvergberg, or Calle Jarnkrok — and his ability to play up and down the lineup only helps his case.
Danila Klimovich, Belarus
The newest and youngest Canuck might just be an Olympian in 2022. Right now, Belarus is attempting to qualify for the tournament, and while Klimovich isn’t on their main roster, he did play in the preliminary games leading up to the qualifiers. If Belarus makes the cut and Klimovich has a strong season in the QMJHL or the AHL — wherever he lands — he’ll undoubtedly get another look.
Arturs Silovs, Latvia
Silovs is also helping his country compete in the 2022 qualifiers. If they make it, Silovs stands a very good chance of either backing up Elvis Merzlikins or serving as the third-stringer — though, make no mistake, the crease will belong to Merzlikins for the vast majority of the tournament.
These Canucks will probably enter the roster discussion for their national teams, but most likely end up on the outside of the Olympic Village looking in.
Bo Horvat, Canada
Horvat, like many would-be Canadian Olympians, is a victim of his own country’s immeasurable depth. Though he made Craig Button’s projected roster, it’s really difficult to imagine Horvat displacing enough established stars to actually earn a spot. At center, he’s competing with Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Patrice Bergeron, Brayden Point, Ryan O’Reilly, Mark Scheifele, and many more — a virtual non-starter. As a winger, Horvat is a bit of a question mark, and even then he’s competing with a good chunk of the aforementioned centers long with the likes of Mark Stone, Brad Marchand (boo!), Jonathan Huberdeau, Mitch Marner, Steven Stamkos, and countless others.
Horvat would fit nicely into a Canadian “B” Team, but that’s probably where he tops out, barring a scoring explosion in the early stages of 2021/22 — which isn’t entirely out of the question.
Vasily Podkolzin, Russia
As a winger, Podkolzin starts out with all of Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, Andrei Svechnikov, Kirill Kaprizov, Alex Radulov, and Pavel Buchnevich rated ahead of him — to say nothing of other national team veterans like Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Dadonov, and Ilya Kovalchuk. That’s probably too much of a hill for an NHL rookie to climb.
Podkolzin’s game does lend itself to a depth role, and he does have some recent international cachet as Team Russia’s captain at the WJCs. A strong debut for the Canucks keeps Podkolzin in the discussion, but his time on the national team will probably have to wait until at least 2026.
Nikita Tryamkin, Russia
Whereas Russia is absolutely loaded in wing depth, they’re exceptionally thin on the blueline. With names like Vladislav Gavrikov, Nikita Nesterov, and Slava Voynov (yuck) reportedly in the mix, there’s an outside chance of Nikita Tryamkin getting the call should he have a stellar 2021/22 campaign in the KHL — and, yes, he’s still technically Canucks property.
Even if Team Russia dips into the KHL well for its defenders, however, there are a few already ranked ahead of Tryamkin. If he didn’t make the cut in 2018, he’ll have an even harder time doing it in 2022.
Olli Juolevi, Finland
Juolevi has to worry about making the Vancouver Canucks roster before he even dreams of suiting up for Team Finland. So, why is he listed here? The Finnish blueline is in flux, as it turns out, with spots already penciled in for players like the unsigned Sami Vatanen and the relatively untested Juuso Valimaki.
Should Juolevi make the Canucks, earn consistent minutes, and show well, there’s an outside shot he gets a call from the national team. Should all those things happen and he still doesn’t get a call, Vancouver fans will be overjoyed all the same.