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An Incredibly Early 2022 Olympics Projection for Devils Players & Men’s USA Hockey

Signs are showing that the NHL expects to pause for the 2022 Winter Olympics next February. Thus, assuming the NHL does participate, this post is a very early projection of which New Jersey Devils players could go to Beijing and who could represent America in men’s ice hockey.

New Jersey Devils v Vancouver Canucks
Quinn Hughes? Jack Hughes? Both? Neither? Let’s guess!

As it is the doldrums of the National Hockey League offseason, let us talk about 2022. Specifically, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The NHL has made no formal announcement about whether players will participate as of this writing. However, there is a sizeable gap in the regular season schedule for 2021-22 in February. Not so coincidentally when Olympics would be. The NHL also recently touted that Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper will be Canada’s head coach. His assistants will be Bruce Cassidy, Barry Trotz, and Peter DeBoer - all head coaches in the NHL as well. If national teams can make Olympic plans with NHL coaches, then I would think NHL players are likely to be involved as well. While plans are always subject to change, I think it is likely we will see the NHL return to the Olympic stage in 2022.

Whether or not you think that is a good idea is another matter. I am not going to get into the geopolitics of China and whether participating in the Olympics means supporting how they do things. I would strongly recommend you do not either in the comments. My lane is in hockey and even in that lane it is a questionable call. A big reason why the NHL sat out 2018 was because the NHL stood to gain not much from going. If a player gets hurt, then the team and not the IIHF have to deal with it. Should a player do really well at the Olympics and/or has a significant moment, the NHL or their team cannot use it to promote the player, the team, or the league. Given that the NHL (and hockey) was more than fine in terms of growth after skipping 2018, the idea that going to the Olympics “grows the game” took a hit. That all stated, the signs within the schedule and the coaching announcements are pointing to a NHL return anyway. It is not set in stone, but I am going to work on the assumption that it does happen. So what then?

Let’s speculate who is going from the Devils and who will go for USA Hockey. As this is a Devils blog, I will begin with the Devils.

Projecting Devils for the 2022 Olympics

The 2022 Olympics for men’s ice hockey will run on the same format from past Olympic tournaments per the IIHF: 12 teams across three groups will play within each other. The winner of each group and the team with the best record among the second-place teams move onto the medal tournament. The remainder play qualification games to get into it. Nine of those teams have been established: China (host) and the top eight teams according to the IIHF rankings as of 2019: Canada, Russia ROC, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, United States, Germany, and Switzerland.

Twelve other countries will be involved in a qualification series that begins at the end of this very month. These countries are Slovakia, Belarus, Austria, Poland in one group; Latvia, France, Italy, and Hungary in a second group; and Norway, Denmark, Korea, and Slovenia in a third group. This is something to keep an eye on because if Belarus makes it, then you can pencil in Yegor Sharangovich to represent his nation. He did so at the 2021 WCs as their captain. He’s going to go if they qualify. Should Slovakia qualify - and as the home team for their group, I think they will - then expect Tomas Tatar to go. Tatar has been a very good NHL player for several seasons. And you may see Marian Studenic too. He did represent the country at two World Championship tournaments so the national team decision makers are aware of him. Plus, there were all of five Slovak forwards that appeared in the NHL last season and Studenic was one of them. Alas, at least one Devil will not see their Olympic hopes realized.

As for the already qualified countries, you might as well write in Nico Hischier’s name in pen for Switzerland. He’s their best center. I could see Jonas Siegenthaler also being called in. Similar to Studenic with Slovakia, there were only a handful of Swiss defensemen who even appeared in the NHL last season. Given that Siegenthaler also went to the 2021 WCs, I would think he at least on their radar. I am confident there will be at least one Devil playing in Beijing should the NHL let the players go there. I think it will be both.

Outside of Switzerland, it is anyone’s guess. Dougie Hamilton may represent for Team Canada. I think Hamilton should based on his past production and on-ice rates being among the best Canadian defensemen in the whole league. But Canada has so many options for skaters that they could leave him off their list and be more than fine on the blueline. Hamilton has not represented Canada since the 2013 WJCs. It is possible he is not selected and the ones picked ahead of him would not necessarily bad options like, say, USA Hockey snubbing Andy Greene for someone like Brooks Orpik in 2014. Again, there is so much Canadian talent that we must entertain that possibility.

You could consider Mackenzie Blackwood to have a long shot to be Canada’s #3 goaltender. Maybe if they wanted to bring a young talent for the future to be a backup’s backup?

For the Czech Republic, it is entirely possible Pavel Zacha is selected. Only 23 Czech forwards played in the NHL last season and a little more than half played more than ten games last season. Similar to Studenic and Siegenthaler, Zacha may be picked because he is a NHL player from a country that does not have a lot of them. Like Hamilton, Zacha has not appeared for the Czech national team since his junior days. Unlike Hamilton, Zacha had plenty of chances to be invited for the WCs and either turned them down or did not get one. That is a little telling. But if the NHL players are allowed and national teams want to bring as many as they could, then I would expect Zacha to go. Likely as a third line center or left winger - similar to where he is in New Jersey.

As for the other nations, they are mostly reaches. I could see Janne Kuokkanen end up being somewhat of a long shot to make Finland. Unlike the Czech and Swiss teams, Finland is not lacking in NHL forwards. And forwards that can play different roles. There are just a lot of names in the Finnish pool and they may choose to prefer more experienced players or future players with higher upsides. I feel the same about Jesper Bratt and Sweden, who can boast oodles of NHL talent up front. At least Bratt did play in the WCs for Sweden in 2019.

Then there is America. USA Hockey. The 2019-20 Devils had 13 Americans on their roster that made at least one appearance. The 2021 Devils had 7. Out of them, only one name is a possibility and even that would be a reach of sorts. You know who it is. But let me segue to the other half of this post: a projection of the 2022 USA Hockey men’s roster for the Olympics.

25 Tickets to Beijing for USA Hockey

Yanks Abroad was a site that tracked American soccer players performing outside of the U.S. Ahead of an international tournament, they would have a series called 23 Tickets to X, where X is the place of the tournament. In international soccer, teams have a roster limit of 23 players. The site would then list out all the candidates based on who is just about a lock to make the team, who is on the bubble, and who is a long shot at best. I liked the concept then, so I will have a go at it now. Looking at past Olympic rosters, the IIHF allows 25 players: 3 goaltenders and 22 skaters. I am an American so I have a more vested interest in seeing USA Hockey perform well internationally. Therefore, I am more interested in their potential roster assuming NHL participation beyond the Devils. Hence, 25 Tickets to Beijing for USA Hockey.

Pack Your Bags, You’re Going (if Allowed)

Auston Matthews (F) - Since entering the league in 2016, he is third among Americans in points with 199 goals and 351 points. Oh, the 199 goals is the most among Americans in that time frame. The wrist injury is a non-factor He’s going. Who are the other two forwards who put up more points than Matthews? They are:

Patrick Kane (F) - Kane will be 33. Has age slowed him down a bit? Perhaps. He only put up production like 66 points in 56 games in 2021. Seriously. He’s going to his third Olympics. (Also: Peep that shooting percentage. Don’t be shocked if he scores a few more in 2021-22.)

Blake Wheeler (F) - Once upon a time, he was seen as a massive off-the-board pick at fifth overall. That does not matter now. They know he is a critical part of the Jets. He does it all in Manitoba, he was a part of the 2014 team, and he’ll do it all for America in China in 2022. He’s going.

Connor Hellebuyck (G) - Since 2018, Hellebuyck made 166 appearances and posted an overall save percentage of 91.7% over the last three seasons. No American is close to him in appearances and only a handful can claim a better save percentage. All that with Winnipeg’s “defense” in front of him. He’s going.

Johnny Gaudreau (F) - Johnny Hockey continues to be a point machine (494 in 520 games) and would be a very threatening wing against most of the world’s opponents. Not a Devil, but will represent the state of New Jersey. He’s going.

John Carlson (D) - This would be Carlson’s second Olympics as he was a part of the 2014 team that came in fourth. Carlson is now older, wiser, and still a massive minutes-eating defender who is a fright to play against in both ends of the rink. He’s going.

Charlie McAvoy (D) - He’s 23, he’s a sterling defender for Boston, and he has represented at past WCs for the US. He’s going.

Pretty Safe Bets

Matt Tkachuk (F) - He can be quite effective. He can give opposing players a lot to handle and fill the net. I just need him to behave in international play.

Kyle Connor (F) - What is it with Winnipeg and American players? Connor has been great. The 82-game season could see the 24 year old left winger put up his fourth 30+ goal season.

Brock Boeser (F) - Despite how poor Vancouver was in 2021, he was one of their better forwards in the run of play and has been one of their more consistent goal scorers. I think he is likely to go at the right wing position.

Dylan Larkin (F) - Larkin has been one of the few bright spots for a dismal Detroit team in recent seasons. He also represented America at in World Championships from 2015 to 2019, wearing an ‘A’ for the last three.

Jaccob Slavin (D) - Slavin has become one a top defenseman for Carolina and earned a Lady Byng trophy. He can play the position for a while and not take fouls. Always a big plus in short, international tournaments.

Seth Jones (D) - Jones may have had a poorer season in 2021 compared to past ones. But a bounce back in the first few months in 2021-22 should quiet the critics. You can never have too many quality defensemen for a tournament like this.

Zachary Werenski (D) - Werenski and Jones were a tantalizing pairing in Columbus. USA Hockey can put them back together one more time and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Adam Fox (D) - Norris Trophy winners should be a safe bet to make an international roster. Even if they play for Our Hated Rivals.

He’ll Go...But There is an Injury Concern

Jack Eichel (F) - On talent alone, he would be in the first tier with the other mortal locks to make the USA Hockey roster. But the ongoing beef with Buffalo management involving neck surgery is a cause for concern. If Eichel is ultimately fine, he’ll go. If issues crop up, then it could become a more difficult question.

I May Like (Some) of Them, But They Have Some Work to Do

Alex DeBrincat (F) - DeBrincat has 119 goals and 229 points in 286 games in his young career. What you cannot count is how dumb he has made a lot of NHL executives and scouts look for overlooking him due to his size since he was a scoring machine in juniors. USA Hockey, I suggest not making the same mistake and overlook him for Beijing.

Jake Guentzel (F) - He really should be a safe bet if only because he has put up 176 points in 177 games over the last three seasons. That is a point per game rate on par with Gaudreau and only behind Matthews, Wheeler, and Eichel. How would he do internationally? He never played on that stage. Then again, it is not his fault Pittsburgh kept making playoffs and going deep in some of them so World Championships were never an option. I would take him in a heartbeat and I’d like to think Mike Sullivan - USA Hockey’s head coach for 2022 - would defend his player if asked for his take. However, I would be lying if I felt USA Hockey management would snap him up in a heartbeat. I hope Guentzel does so well to start 2021-22 that they have to take him (except in Devils-Penguins games, of course).

Bryan Rust (F) - Analytics and their supporters love his performances and he broke out big-time in 2019-20. His 22-goal 2021 showed it may have not been a fluke. Again, I would think Mike Sullivan would stand up for Rust - another positive in his favor. It may come down to a numbers game for wingers, but Rust should at least be in the conversation, right? Right? I hope Rust makes the argument less contentious for management with his play in 2021-22.

T.J. Oshie (F) - He is definitely on the older side of the pool as he will be 35 by Christmas. However, he has been productive into his 30s, he is at least capable in a shootout, and he remains at least good in the run of play as recent as last season. If USA Hockey wants a veteran presence who can more than hold his own, then Oshie is good option. Just watch how he gets on this season before telling him to get his bags ready.

Brady Tkachuk (F) - Surprising to me, Tkachuk has 60 goals and 125 points in his young career of 185 games so far. That is not bad at all but many more American forwards have out-produced him. Throw in the fact he takes plenty of penalties, and I think he is a risky selection. But bringing the 21-year old now as a fourth-liner may suit him well and set him up for the future. Let us see how he does in Ottawa as he starts his fourth season.

Joe Pavelski (F) - If you think Oshie is just too young for this roster, then try out the 37-year old Pavelski. He is still producing (I didn’t know he had 25 goals and 51 points last season!) and he is more than capable of being a depth center on a roster like this. If - and it is not a small if - he is continuing on in 2021-22 like he has been, then he is an option to go to China.

Max Pacioretty (F) - The man has been a consistent scorer throughout his career. The issue may be for the 32-year old is that there are wingers ahead of him (e.g. M. Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Connor, Guentzel, DeBrincat) in terms of performances in recent seasons, and he may end up a victim of the numbers game. His 2014 experience was not exactly sterling either, but at least he has it. If he can do well and other wingers falter, his name should become higher up the list.

Quinn Hughes (D) - The issue for Quinn Hughes is not that he is an offensive defenseman. He is a very good one. The issue is that if it is a lock that Carlson is going and Fox and Werenski are also going, then does it make sense to bring him on as a seventh or eighth defenseman? I think so. But I could see the decision makers wanting a more experienced player for depth. It could really help if he continues to take forward steps in Vancouver.

Torey Krug (D) - Here is an experienced player for depth. He’s 30, he has produced at a rate slightly lower than Quinn Hughes since Quinn joined the league, and he has plenty of tournament experience with all of those playoff runs with Boston. Can he be more commanding in St. Louis? That would help his cause.

Ryan McDonagh (D) - I think his odds are likely better than every other defenseman in this tier. He’s a 2014 Olympian. McDonagh was great for Tampa Bay in the postseason in 2021. He has always been a very capable defender. However, he is a bit on the older side at 32 and I do not know if I would be fine with sitting one of Jones, Werenski, Fox, or Slavin to play him. That’s the issue I see. I think he goes, but I think he needs to keep showing he’s still among the upper tier of defenders in this league.

John Gibson (G) - Experience favors him. He has been doing the best he can behind a worsening Anaheim team. Only Hellebuyck has made more appearances among American goaltenders since 2018. I think he has the inside track to be Hellebuyck’s backup. I would like to see a little more from him to feel better about this.

Cal Petersen (G) - Petersen finally got more than just a handful of appearances with Los Angeles last season with 35 games. He did pretty well considering the team’s quality. Then he went to the 2021 World Championships and took the #1 job over with an awesome 95.3% save percentage in the tourney. He is at least in the mix. And he could end up going at least as a #3 goalie if he shows in 2021-22 that it was not a fluke.

Thatcher Demko (G) - He had a good second season in Vancouver compared with his rookie campaign. His potential and performances surely helped Vancouver buy out Holtby. In terms of the future, the 25-year old Demko may be a part of it and so bringing him over even as an extra may do some good.

Long Shots (In My View)

Jack Hughes (F) - Finally, I reveal the Devil you likely guessed would be a long shot to make the team. If Hughes breaks out in 2021-22, then expect there to be more demand that he go. Even as an extra forward, I can see it as to confirm he has a long future as a part of America’s national team. But if Hughes struggles or others also get into form, I think he is watching at home. Likely with Quinn. Not Luke, he will be playing at Michigan.

Vincent Trochek (F) - I do not know how much buzz he would get. So let me be one of the few to point out he has been one of the league’s best shootout takers since 2018-19 (8 for 17), he has been really good in the run of play, and he has put up 0.7 points per game since 2018-19. For a bottom-six option and shootout taker, I would think he would be a really solid pick. And it would show that management is paying attention beyond who they are familiar with. That’s why I think he is a long shot: will USA Hockey even consider him?

J.T. Miller (F) - The production has been quite good. The run of play, less so. Maybe as a fourth-line center or an extra forward? Maybe if he gets on well with the other teammates? Maybe?

Anders Lee (F) - Character? Yes. Understands playing on a team? Yes. Past US experience? Yes, years back at the WCs. A 40 goal season? Yes, back in 2017-18. Since then, he has netted 60 total. That is not bad, but it is not among the most for American forwards. Also, he would be coming off an ACL injury. I am not seeing it but I cannot entirely rule him out.

James van Riemsdyk (F) - I think JVR is still a capable player at age 32. I also think a lot of wingers are ahead of him right now. He is almost like a slightly lesser Pacioretty. If I do not think Pacioretty is a safe bet to make this team, then what of van Riemsdyk?

Cam Atkinson (F) - I think Cam Atkinson is a capable player and I fear he will continue to give Devils fans something to worry about. But he is 32, he has not been as productive as van Riemsdyk, and I think USA has better right wingers. If this was 2018 or 2019, then I’d say he has a better shot. It is not 2018 or 2019.

Phil Kessel (F) - Kessel can still shoot and score. He is a 2014 Olympian. However, that was also the last time he represented the country so I do not know if USA Hockey has him in mind. And he shot at over 17% last season, so he may end up looking “colder” in this coming season. That may not bode well for an invite in 2022. But the 34-year old right winger is available as a veteran option at wing and a power play unit. I’m not confident he will be in the mix, though.

Jason Robertson (F) - Great rookie season in 2021, but I think it is too soon. Then again, he did suit up for USA Hockey at the 2021 World Championships and put up 9 points in 10 games. He is at least on their radar. Should he progress, expect him for 2026.

Conor Garland (F) - Garland had a very good 2021 on a very bad Arizona team. He led the Americans in scoring with 13 points at the World Championships. Like with Robertson, he is at least in the minds of management. But it is going to take a lot for him to go ahead of other players.

Ryan Suter (D) - Suter would bring a wealth of experience and he wore an ‘A’ in 2010 and 2014 for the US. He is also 36 and was bought out from Minnesota for a reason. He may have enough gas in the tank to be an offensive producer, but USA Hockey may need more than that. I think this will be dependent on how he starts with Dallas in 2021-22.

Jakub Chychryn (D) - He has been growing into a fine offensive defenseman in Arizona - of which there are several significantly better players than him. Let us revisit this in 2026.

Jeff Petry (D) - Unless USA Hockey really wants another minutes eater, sure? I like him a defenseman and he has done quite well for Montreal. But I do not think he is better than McAvoy, Jones, McDonagh, Slavin, Werenski, Fox, or Q. Hughes. I think he is a victim of the numbers game.

Alex Nedeljkovic (G) - He had a great yet little run as Carolina’s goaltender in 2021. I think they will regret moving him to Detroit. Still: 23 games played is a very small sample size to bet on. But for a #3 goalie position, does that matter that much?

Jack Campbell (G) - Campbell had a fine season in Toronto. He has not had a lot of fine seasons, so it is questionable whether he should go ahead of Demko or Nedeljkovic beyond a #3 option. Even then, it may be better to go with a younger option.

Jake Oettinger (G) - He finally got an opportunity to play in Dallas last season and made 29 appearances. Then he backed up Petersen in the 2021 World Championships. He has a future in this league. I do not think that may be enough among the American goaltenders to go this year. Keep him in mind in four years when someone does 25 Tickets for Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Casey DeSmith (G) - If he can unseat Tristan Jarry in Pittsburgh, who is again coached by Mike Sullivan, then he has to at least be considered, right? Then again, he’s 30 with only 70 NHL appearances. I am not confident in his chances at either. Again: This is the long shot tier for a reason.

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Kyle Palmieri (F) - 2019-20 was a bad time to have a down season. Between that and his only past international experience as a pro was back in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Before that, it was the 2012 WCs. The playoff run mitigates his recent season and if he gets back to his scoring ways, he could have a chance to be in the conversation as a right winger. But there are a lot of guys ahead of him, he is not getting younger, and his rate of production (0.61, a touch ahead of Clayton Keller, who is not going) since 2018 is 30th among American forwards. The Pride of Montvale, New Jersey should not represent the Garden State in China for men’s ice hockey.

Zach Parise (F) - The back and the knees and the decline are all real. There are better, less risky 35+ year old Americans who can go play wing. Sorry, Zach.

Chris Kreider (F) - Forwards who love to charge the net and occasionally crash into the goaltender are not ideal for tournament settings where an ill-advised power play can make a huge difference. Also, there are many more forwards who have been more productive than him over the last three seasons. No.

Paul Stastny (F) - He’s 35, he’ll turn 36 by the Olympics, and his production is showing signs of decline. Unless you have a rejuvenation machine or can turn back time, I do not think he should go.

Tony DeAngelo (D) - Yes, he has been rather productive on the ice. His on-ice metrics are fabulous. However, locker room cohesion is especially important in a short international tournament. DeAngelo could wreck that alone with his notorious personality. Even if he finally learns to play nice with others, his issue is the same as Quinn Hughes. And Quinn Hughes is better than Tony DeAngelo. If I don’t have Quinn going beyond being an extra, then Tony D is going to be chilling in Raleigh in February. Likely by himself given his recent past of teammate treatment.

Keith Yandle (D) - There are better offensive minded defensemen and he’s 34. He also just got bought out, which is never a good sign ahead of a selection process. What makes for a nice cheap veteran pick up in the NHL does not mean it would be a nice selection for a NHL-participating Olympic tournament. I would pass.

Neal Pionk (D) - OK, he was arguably Winnipeg’s best defenseman last season. That means, what, exactly?

Kevin Shattenkirk (D) - Decent enough 5-on-5 numbers on a bad Anaheim team and past Olympic experience. But he is not what he once was. See Cam Fowler.

Cam Fowler (D) - Decent enough 5-on-5 numbers on a bad Anaheim team and past Olympic experience. But he is not what he once was. See Kevin Shattenkirk.

Jacob Trouba (D) - Unless the USA Hockey roster needs to meet a cap floor, no. That is a joke. There is no cap in the Olympics. Trouba has been passed by several other American defensemen, including his teammate, Adam Fox. That is also no cap.

Spencer Knight (G) - Four NHL games in 2021 and two playoff games in Florida. He’ll be backing up Big Money Bobrovsky. But the Olympics? No, not yet. I think we could see him in 2026.

Jonathan Quick (G) - Quick’s last three seasons of overall save percentage in the NHL: 88.8%, 90.4%, and 89.8%. And it appears Petersen took the #1 job in L.A. last season. Sorry, Quick, it is what it is.

Ben Bishop (G) - If he is healthy, then he is at least in a conversation to go. I really, really, really doubt he will be healthy.

Concluding Thoughts

That is a lot to go through, which speaks to how much the American pool of players has grown over the years. I have not even included the likes of Nick Schmaltz, Brock Nelson, Josh Norris, or and a lot of the 2014 roster I did not mention since I do not think anyone is clamoring for Dustin Brown or Derek Stepan in 2022. To wrap this up, here is what I think will happen with the 2022 Winter Olympics.

  • The NHL will allow player participation.
  • Hischier will definitely represent Switzerland. Siegenthaler might as well given the lack of Swiss NHL defensemen.
  • Studenic and Tatar will likely go for Slovakia if they qualify given the lack of Slovak NHL forwards.
  • Sharangovich will go for Belarus if they qualify.
  • Zacha may actually make the Czech roster. Especially if he legitimately turned a corner this time.
  • Kuokkanen is a long shot for Finland.
  • Hamilton (decent shot) and Blackwood (long shot) may make Canada but it is far from guaranteed.
  • Jack Hughes would be a long shot to make the USA roster right now.

My 25 tickets for the American team to go to Beijing are:

  • Goaltenders (3): Hellebuyck, Gibson, Demko
  • Defensemen (8): Carlson, McAvoy, Werenski, Jones, Slavin, Fox, McDonagh, Quinn Hughes
  • Forwards (14): Matthews, Eichel (assuming his neck is OK), Larkin, Pavelski, Matt Tkachuk, Gaudreau, Connor, Guentzel, Kane, Wheeler, Boeser, DeBrincat, Rust, Trocheck

The homer in me would bring Jack Hughes as an extra but right now, no. The roster that I’m projecting would be a good one. Unfortunately, they’re in the same group as Canada so their best bet is to beat the snot out of Switzerland (sorry, Nico) and China to get that best second-place record to avoid the playoff qualifying rounds.

Your Take

Now that you know my thoughts on this super-early projection for the 2022 Winter Olympics for the Devils players and the American team, I want to know what you think. Did I miss anyone on the Devils who may get Olympic consideration? Who did I miss for the 25 Tickets to Beijing section? Would you like me to bring that back later in the season after official confirmation of NHL participation? Please leave your answers, reactions to my projections, and all other things hockey-related to the Olympics in the comments. Thank you for reading.

And, of course, get your lists in for the 2021 AAtJ Top 25 Devils Under 25 Community Survey. The poll closes tomorrow at 11 AM ET. Make your voice count. Some of the names in this post were even mention in this post.