We now know for sure that NHL players will be heading to Beijing for the Winter Olympics in February.
The last time NHL players went to the Olympics in 2014, the Vancouver Canucks sent seven players. Dan Hamhuis and Roberto Luongo won gold for Canada, while Daniel Sedin and Alex Edler took home silver with Sweden. Henrik Sedin didn’t participate, as he was rehabbing an injury.
The Canucks also sent Ryan Kesler (USA), as well as Yannick Weber and Raphael Diaz, who represented Switzerland.
Which Canucks players could play in the Olympics this time around? Let’s investigate.
Elias Pettersson (Sweden)
Let’s begin with the easiest choice.
Sweden has a deep pool of players to choose from, but Elias Pettersson is a lock to make the team. Pettersson was limited to just 26 games due to injury last season, but finished second only to Mika Zibanejad in points among Swedish-born players in 2019-20.
Add in the fact that Pettersson can play centre or the wing, and he gives Sweden extra flexibility.
Quinn Hughes (USA)
The United States have no shortage of elite defencemen to choose from, but many of their best blueliners play the right side.
That makes a leftie like Quinn Hughes a lock to make the team. Other left-side American defencemen worth keeping an eye on include Zach Werenski, Torey Krug, and Jaccob Slavin.
Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia)
As the only Slovakian goalie in the NHL last season, Jaroslav Halak will be among his country’s top available goaltenders. The 36-year-old has already played in two Olympic Games, in 2010 and 2014.
They’re in the mix
J.T. Miller (USA)
Only three American forwards have scored more points than J.T. Miller over the past two seasons, but he’s still not a lock to make Team USA.
The Americans have a ton of depth, meaning that good players won’t make their final roster. Miller’s size and versatility do play well in his favour though.
Brock Boeser (USA)
Brock Boeser was eighth in scoring last season among American forwards, and second among right wingers. Intense competition for spots means he’s not a lock to make the team though.
Boeser doesn’t kill penalties, but he does play a responsible two-way game. He also has ready-made chemistry with Miller, his linemate, if USA wants to take both players.
Thatcher Demko (USA)
A third Canucks player with a really good chance to make Team USA, Thatcher Demko could snag the third goalie spot.
Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson are locks to make the team, but the third selection is less clear. Demko, who finished third in wins (16) among American goalies last season, is up against the likes of Jack Campbell and Alex Nedeljkovic. Spencer Knight is also an option, if USA Hockey views it as an opportunity to give the 20-year-old some Olympic experience.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Sweden)
Sweden is deep on defence, so a spot on the team isn’t guaranteed for Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Ekman-Larsson won a silver medal with Sweden in 2014, and that experience plays in his favour.
The 30-year-old up against some very talented left side defenders though, including Victor Hedman, Jonas Brodin, Mattias Ekholm, and Rasmus Dahlin.
Bo Horvat (Canada)
Despite being picked by some pundits to make Team Canada, Canucks captain Bo Horvat will be in tough crack the final roster.
That’s no slight against him, rather it’s an indication of how deep Canada’s pool of forwards is. Horvat was 17th in points among Canadian centres in the last two seasons, and doesn’t have much experience playing the wing. Add in the fact that Horvat doesn’t kill penalties, and it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to snag a spot.
In order to have a chance, Horvat will need to have the best season of his career in 2021-22.
They’ve got a chance
Nils Hoglander (Sweden)
Finishing 18th in scoring among Swedish forwards in his rookie season, Nils Hoglander could snag a spot if he continues to improve his game. At this point, he’s a long shot, but don’t count him out.
Conor Garland (USA)
Conor Garland finished 19th in scoring among American forwards last season, and he has an outside chance to make Team USA. If USA wants an energy player with a scoring touch, maybe Garland snags a spot. He’ll need a big season with the Canucks though.
Vasily Podkolzin (Russia)
The biggest long shot on this list, Vasily Podkolzin has an outside shot to make Russia’s Olympic squad, but only if he has an outstanding rookie season with the Canucks. A good two-way player with an ability to kill penalties, that could be the difference if he proves himself at the NHL level.