NHL players are officially heading back to the Olympics in 2022.
A joint announcement Friday by the NHL, NHL Players Association and International Ice Hockey Federation cemented what the three parties had been planning for months.
After skipping the 2018 tournament, NHL players will now comprise the majority of the rosters of the 12 teams qualified for the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February. Canada, the United States, Germany and host China form Group A; Russia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark form Group B; and Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Latvia form Group C.
There remain a number of hoops to jump through. It’s expected only vaccinated players will be allowed to participate, and there will be no insurance for COVID-19 infections. The window will be tight, too. Participating players will fly to China on Feb. 6 — the day after the NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas — and will be needed back in North America for the resumption of the NHL schedule Feb. 23.
But the involved parties are going to make it work. And from a local perspective, the Blackhawks may be one of the highest-represented NHL franchises at the Olympics.
Seven players on the Hawks’ current roster are very likely to make their respective countries’ rosters, and a few others could also be considered. Here’s a look at each of those players’ situations.
Patrick Kane — USA
Kane will be 33 by February, but he remains one of the centerpieces of the projected American team. The Buffalo, New York, native tallied five points in six games in the 2010 Olympics when the USA earned a Silver Medal, then four points in six games in the 2014 Olympics as the USA finished fourth.
The 2022 US team will benefit from having two of the best young centers in the world — Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel — as anchors, and it’ll be fun to see what Kane can do alongside one of them.
Alex DeBrincat — USA
There’s a very real possibility DeBrincat, a Michigan native, could be the opposite winger on Kane’s line. Max Pacioretty is the only other American winger with an argument to earn first-line minutes over one of them.
DeBrincat and Kane’s on-ice chemistry and off-ice friendship has blossomed in recent seasons, but being Olympic linemates would top any of their shared experiences so far. With no offense to Pius Suter, their most frequent center last season with the Hawks, flanking someone like Matthews could elevate their games to another level.
Seth Jones — USA
Jones just missed Olympic selection in 2014, when he was a rookie in the NHL. The USA defensive corps have strengthened since then, and some very good players will inevitably miss the cut again this year, but Jones should have an inside track to make the team.
The Texas native will compete against — but probably ultimately play alongside — the likes of Charlie McAvoy, John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Jaccob Slavin, Jeff Petry, Ryan Suter, Quinn Hughes, former Blue Jackets partner Zach Werenski and reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox.
Marc-Andre Fleury — Canada
After sitting idle behind Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur but technically winning a Gold Medal with Canada in 2010, Fleury was snubbed from the 2014 roster in favor of Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith — and he was upset about it at the time.
Eight years later, however, Fleury and Price — even at ages 37 and 34, respectively, by February — are shoo-ins to backstop the 2022 Canadian Olympic team. A roster loaded with many of the best players in the game, from Connor McDavid to Sidney Crosby to Nathan MacKinnon, should make life pretty easy for them.
Dominik Kubalik — Czech Republic
Kubalik actually participated in the 2018 Olympics because he was only playing in Europe at the time. He scored two goals in five games on a Czech team consisting entirely of non-NHL players.
Much has changed since then, both in Olympic hockey and in Kubalik’s career, but one thing won’t: he’ll be an important player for the Czechs again in 2022. He was their leading scorer at the World Championships this summer, although that team didn’t feature stars like David Pastrnak, Jakuk Voracek and Tomas Hertl.
Philipp Kurashev — Switzerland
After breaking out as an NHL rookie last season, Kurashev — who has both Swiss and Russian ancestry — climbed into a top-six role on the Swiss team at the World Championships.
As a result, he’s on track to make his Olympic debut for Switzerland next year. With Roman Josi on defense and Nino Neiderreiter, Kevin Fiala, Timo Meier and Nico Hischier up front, the Swiss team has some big-name talent at the top of the roster but will struggle with depth.
Lukas Reichel — Germany
Reichel has yet to play an NHL game — although that may change between October and February — but will almost certainly represent Germany in Beijing. In the World Championships, the 19-year-old top prospect ranked third on the team with six points in nine games.
The Germans boast a fantastic goaltending duo in Philipp Grubauer and Thomas Greiss, and Leon Draisaitl will be one of the best forwards in the tournament, but they too will struggle with depth.
Kevin Lankinen — Finland
Between Juuse Saros, Antti Raanta, Kaapo Kahkonen and Lankinen, the Finns will need to leave one very good goaltender off their Olympic roster.
But Lankinen’s previous success on the international stage, heroically leading Finland to a gold medal in the 2019 World Championships, and domestic popularity through his Finnish book club will make him difficult to exclude.
Jonathan Toews — Canada
Considering how Toews’ availability for the Hawks this season remains a mystery, his availability for the Olympics is practically impossible to forecast.
It’s very plausible the 33-year-old center will cherish a three-week break in February to rest his body and prepare for the stretch run of the NHL season, especially having already won gold in 2010 and 2014. But if he does want to participate, he could crack the Canadian lineup yet again.
Connor Murphy — USA
The USA’s aforementioned loaded defensive corps make Murphy’s road to Beijing difficult, but injuries and opt-outs could feasibly open a spot for a reliable guy like him. Murphy, an Ohio native, held a captain or alternate captain role on USA teams at the 2016, 2017 and 2018 World Championships.