This past Friday, the NHL and NHLPA ratified a 4 year extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This means that the NHL will have labor peace through the 2025-26 season. This week we will look at how the CBA extension affects the New Jersey Devils. In today’s post, we’ll take a look at which Devils may get a chance to play in the 2022 and 2026 Olympics as the CBA extension means NHL players will be back competing in the Olympics (pending negotiations with the IIHF and IOC).
Attempting to project out to 2022 and 2026 is a bit of an exercise in speculation since we don’t know which of these players will be on the Devils roster in those seasons. A lot is going to change over the next few seasons and some of these players won’t be Devils while there will certainly be other players on the Devils by that point. Trying to project out to 2022 is certainly easier than 2026 at this moment in time but it’s a long offseason so let’s have some fun with it.
I’m going to break the players down into 3 groups for 2022. The first group is “Expected” which is obviously the players that I think will be competing for their respective countries. The next group is “Possible” which is the players that I feel have a solid chance to make their country’s roster but by no means are a lock. To have some fun I added in a “Longshot” category. These are players that I don’t expect to make it but could put their names in the conversation should they really elevate their game to another level in the NHL up until the 2022 Olympics. For 2026, I’m going to write in more general terms since trying to project out the Devils roster and Olympic rosters 6 years down the road is pure speculation. First we’ll take a look at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China and then the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina, Italy.
Potential Devils Olympians in 2022
Expected: Nico Hischier, Nikita Gusev
Nico Hishcier is the most obvious when it comes to a list of Devils players that should be competing at the 2022 Olympics. He’s one of the most talented Swiss players in the world, will be 23 years old for the 2022 games, and he’s signed with the Devils through the 2026-27 season. Matt Larkin of The Hockey News projects Hischier to be the top line center for Switzerland and I completely agree. I’m excited to see how Hischier continues to develop for the Devils and I look forward to seeing him on the biggest stage in international hockey.
Russia will still be competing under the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” banner in the 2022 Olympics. Nikita Gusev is likely to be one of the veteran players on that roster as he will be 29 years old during the 2022 games. Gusev lead the Olympic Athletes from Russia (and the entire tournament) with 12 points in 6 games as the OAR took home the Gold Medal in 2018. Now from a Devils perspective I have to note that he’s only signed through the 2020-21 season and could very well not be a New Jersey Devil by the time the 2022 games roll around. Hopefully the Devils are able to keep him around for a few more seasons and we can see him represent the team in the Olympics.
Possible: Pavel Zacha, Mirco Mueller, Gilles Senn
Pavel Zacha hasn’t lived up to the expectations of a 6th overall pick from an offensive standpoint. He has been solid defensively for the Devils and could represent an intriguing depth option for the Czech Republic. He will be 24 years old for the 2022 games and maybe he will have taken another step forward in his NHL career by that point. Now I should say that I doubt he makes the Czech roster but he certainly has somewhat of a chance.
Mirco Mueller is here because he’s still technically a Devils player (he’s a restricted free agent this offseason), the Swiss aren’t deep on defense, and he will be 26 years old during the 2022 games. I think he’s more likely than not to make the Swiss roster but not a lock to do so. Whether he does so or not as a Devils player is another story. I’d have no issue with the Devils moving on from him this offseason.
The Swiss goaltending competition should be open for 2022 and Gilles Senn could insert himself into the conversation if he plays well over the 2020-21 season and first half of 2022. He’ll be 25 years old for the 2022 games and if he has established himself as a reliable pro in North America by then, then he should have a solid chance of making the roster. He finished the season strong with Binghamton and I’m excited to see how he does next season.
Longshot: Jesper Bratt, Mackenzie Blackwood, Kyle Palmieri, Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich, Marian Studenic
Let me preface this section by saying that this isn’t a shot against these players. It’s just that given their current careers and the competitions they face on their respective national teams that I think the 2022 Olympics could be unlikely for them. In the case for Sharangovich and Studenic, it could be unlikely because Belarus and Slovakia still have to qualify. Now let’s talk about these players.
I’m a big Jepser Bratt fan and believer. I think he’s only going to get better and more consistent for the Devils going forward. With that said, I have a hard time seeing how he cracks Sweden’s 2022 roster. Sweden has no shortage of talented and experience players to draw from. Bratt will be 23 years old at the time of the 2022 games and I think he’ll have a better chance in 2026 to make his claim.
Mackenzie Blackwood had a real promising season for the Devils in 2019-20 but I think he would need to continue to be exceptional all the way up until the 2022 games to be on Canada’s radar. He’d be competing with names like Carey Price, Jordan Binnington, Matt Murray, and Marc-Andre Fleury. He will also be competing with another talented, younger goaltender in Carter Hart. While us Devils fans appreciate him and have high hopes for him, I feel like he may just slide under the radar for the 2022 games. Like Bratt, I think his better chance could be the 2026 games.
Kyle Palmieri has been exceptional for the Devils but I have a hard time seeing him crack the United States roster for 2022. The competition is fierce and I feel like they will go in other directions. Plus, Palmieri will be 31 years old by the time those games roll around and who knows if a goal scorer like him may start to show signs of decline in 2022. Even if he does find a way to make it, he may not be a Devils player at that point as his contract runs out after the 2020-21 season.
Jack Hughes has a ton of potential and I expect him to improve drastically every season for the Devils. Still, he would be just 20 years old for the 2022 games and it seems like he won’t have reached a high enough level to represent a team as deep as the United States on the Olympic stage just yet. Like some of the other players mentioned earlier, I think 2026 (where he would be just 24 years old) will be his debut in the Olympics.
I’m going to lump Yegor Sharangovich and Marian Studenic together. There nations still have to qualify for the Olympics but if they do then perhaps one of these players makes the roster. Belarus and Slovakia aren’t especially deep nations and both players have already played senior level hockey for their nations. They will both be 23 years old in 2022 so they should be more established by that point.
Potential Devils Olympians in 2026
As I said earlier, projecting Olympic rosters out 2 years is hard, let alone 6 years. Couple that with trying to figure which players could be on the Devils roster and it takes it up another notch. So I’m going to keep things more general in this 2026 section.
I expect Nico Hischier to make his Olympic debut in 2022 and follow that up with another huge role for Switzerland in 2026 when he will be 27 years old. Hischier is also the only current Devils player signed through the 2026 Olympics so he’s by far the most certain representative the Devils will have in 2026. Nikita Gusev was my other expected pick for the 2022 Olympics and I think he would have a chance of being on Russia’s 2026 roster. He will be 33 years old by then but maybe his skills will still be high enough to compete for Russia then. Of course the Devils would still need to re-sign him long term for him to represent them in 2026.
I had Pavel Zacha, Mirco Mueller, and Gilles Senn in the possible section for 2022. Zacha will be 28 years old for the 2026 games. Perhaps if he can establish himself as an elite defensive NHL player by that point with some more offensive consistency then he will be in the conversation for the Czech Republic in 2026. I still don’t think it’s likely but we’ll see what happens. I’d like to think that Switzerland probably hopes they have more reliable defensemen to choose from than a 30 year old Mirco Mueller in 2026. I’d also be absolutely shocked to see him still in the Devils organization by then. Gilles Senn could absolutely be on the Swiss team in 2026 at the age of 29 years old if he establishes himself for the Devils in a back up role to Blackwood.
I said this earlier in the 2022 longshot category but I think Jesper Bratt, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Jack Hughes also have a better shot of participating in 2026 than 2022. I also expect these players to still be with the Devils in 2026. Bratt will be 27 years old in 2026 and in his prime. Blackwood will be 29 years old but if he is able to show that he’s an above average NHL goaltender then I have to think he plays his way into the conversation. Hughes will be 24 years old and I think by that point he will establish himself as one of the top players in the NHL.
Yegor Sharangovich and Marian Studenic will be 27 years old in 2026 and have a solid chance of representing their respective countries should they make it. Then again I doubt Sharangovich is in the Devils organization by then and while I’m still a fan of Studenic, a lot can change in 6 years.
Now let’s consider some other players not yet mentioned. There is Damon Severson and Will Butcher who will both be 31 years old in 2026. Now there is a good chance that neither of these players are still Devils by 2026. If I had to guess I’d say Severson is but Butcher isn’t. Still, I don’t see either making an Olympic roster.
Now let’s move onto some young players and prospects that could establish themselves in time for 2026. For Canada you have Ty Smith and Nolan Foote. Both of these players will be 25 years old in 2026 and could theoretically play themselves into contention for a roster spot by establishing themselves in the NHL. Both Smith and Foote figure to be in the Devils long term plans and I expect them around in 2026.
Then we have Janne Kuokkanen and Aarne Talvitie for Finland. They will both be 27 years old in 2026. I think Kuokkanen is more likely to make it for the Devils but I shouldn’t discount Talvitie’s past as a WJC Captain for a Gold Medal winning team. Obviously a lot would have to break right for some of these prospects but as of right now, they have to be on the radar for 2026 from a Devils perspective.
Russia in 2026 could be an interesting team for the Devils if any of Arseni Gritsyuk, Nikita Okhotyuk, Daniil Misyul, or Yegor Zaitsev pan out. Gritsyuk is an offensive dynamo and will be 24 years old in 2026 so he could be entering his prime then. Moving on to the defensemen, Okhotyuk and Misyul will be 25 years old in 2026 while Zaitsev would be 27 years old.
Perhaps Akira Schmid could push Gilles Senn for a spot on the Swiss team. I doubt both of them are still in the Devils organization by 2026 but I suppose given Switzerland’s lack of depth, Schmid could be on the radar for 2026 when he will be 25 years old.
I have hopes that Jesper Boqvist and Nikola Pasic can join New Jersey’s core with fellow Swede Jesper Bratt for years to come. If they are successful then perhaps a 27 year old Boqvist and 25 year old Pasic can push for spots in 2026.
I also have hopes that Joey Anderson and Reilly Walsh can be members of New Jersey’s core going forward. Anderson would be 27 years old in 2026 and is a former WJC captain for the US. Walsh is an offensively skilled defenseman who could figure into the US plans as a 26 year old in 2026. Of course the Devils still have to sign him after he finishes his senior season for Harvard (whenever that will be).
Of course most of these players won’t be on Olympic rosters in 2026 and/or the Devils then but this is just meant to give an overview of who could be on the radar should things go well for them.
How do you feel about NHL players being allowed to compete in the Olympics once again? What are your expectations for 2022 and 2026? Which Devils players do you expect to contribute in the Olympics? Which players do you think will make it to the Olympics and which players do you think will be on the outside looking in? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!