We’ve unofficially completed the “too early to speculate” phase of 2022 Olympic roster talk. The Beijing Winter Games are less than three months away, and the IIHF requires the men’s hockey teams to submit their final rosters by early January.
That means any fringe players who might be playing their way into roster consideration roughly five weeks into this NHL season are absolutely worth discussing. Which have spiked their stocks early on?
Troy Terry, RW, USA
Take a big sip of coffee, peruse the top of the NHL scoring leaderboard and… “Drasaitl, McDavid, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov… (spit) TERRY!?
Yes, Troy Terry, who entered this season averaging 9.5 goals and 30.5 points per 82 games, has exploded for 11 goals and 20 points in his first 15 games with the Anaheim Ducks this season, punctuated by an active point streak of 14 games, meaning his first game of 2021-22 is the only time he’s been held off the scoresheet.
The Americans project to have a deep blueline, strong goaltending and an enviable group of big forwards who can score goals (Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty, Kyle Connor, etc.) and play a heavy game (the Tkachuk brothers). The silky-mitted Terry would offer a shifty playmaking/goal-scoring hybrid element complementary to what Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau will bring to the top-six forward group.
Might Terry displace an older roster candidate such as Joe Pavelski or T.J. Oshie? It largely depends on whether Terry cracked the Americans’ 50-skater “long list” submitted in October. One reason he might have: he was already on USA Hockey’s radar as a folk hero, having scored the gold-medal clinching goal in a shootout at the 2017 world juniors.
Lucas Raymond, RW, Sweden
On play alone, the uber-intelligent Raymond looks the part of Olympic-worthy. It’s just a matter of whether the Swedish brass deem him ready. He was a WJC mainstay but hasn’t competed in a World Championship yet. If Swedish GM Johan Garpenlov names Raymond to the Beijing team, it’ll be an upside play, and it would mean nudging out a safe, high-floor veteran such as Rickard Rakell or Viktor Arvidsson.
For what it’s worth, Sweden didn’t shy away from youth in its last Olympic venture with NHLers. Gabriel Landeskog made the team at 21 and Oliver Ekman-Larsson did at 22. Raymond, however, is quite the babyface at 19. Garpenlov was asked about Raymond in late October, and his comments indicated Raymond may not have been on Sweden’s 50-player long list. Or perhaps Garpenlov was simply tempering expectations for a prospect who did make the list but isn’t a lock to make the team.
Zach Hyman, LW, Canada
Canada has a history of galaxy-braining picks at the Olympics, tracing back to Rob Zamuner in 1998. That’s not to say Hyman belongs in the Zamuner-level talent tier, but picking him would mean passing on a collection of higher-skill players – anyone from Mark Scheifele to Mathew Barzal. Still, from a chemistry standpoint, it might make sense to put Hyman on the team, not just because of his fit with Connor McDavid in Edmonton but also because of Hyman’s previous chemistry with Mitch Marner in Toronto.
Canada brought Jay Bouwmeester to play with Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Kunitz to play with Sidney Crosby at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and it brought Jake Muzzin to play with Drew Doughty at the 2016 World Cup, so a Hyman pick wouldn’t constitute the first time Canada prioritized players that have history with each other.
Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Finland
Five years ago, when Puljujarvi was an elite 2016 draft prospect, anyone would’ve forecast him as a mainstay on the 2022 Finnish Olympic squad. A slow start to his NHL career, a trade request and a return to Finland clouded his future, however. But he’s begun realizing his potential since rejoining the Oilers for 2020-21 and, now, he’s found a home making magic on McDavid’s line.
‘The Bison King’ has grown up and learned to use his special combination of size, speed and skill to become a force around the net. The Finnish team has a lot of star power, but it should have a home for Puljujarvi, who gave his countrymen a close-up look at his talent in 2019-20 when he finished fourth in Liiga scoring.
Carter Hart, G, Canada
During a nightmarish 2020-21 campaign, the normally steely-nerved Hart imploded. Among 43 netminders who played 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5 last season, he graded out dead last in the NHL in goals saved above average per 60 minutes. This season? Among 57 goalies with 100 minutes played so far, he’s sixth-best in GSAA/60. He’s found his groove despite facing higher-quality chances on a Philadelphia Flyers team struggling to protect him defensively and, given his elite pedigree leading up to last season’s flop, it’s fair to call last season the anomaly.
Hart landing on the radar is important, as it gives Canada options if Carey Price decides not to compete and Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t find his groove. At the very least, Hart is in the mix for the No. 3 job with Jordan Binnington, Darcy Kuemper and Mackenzie Blackwood. Hart and Blackwood were on the outside of the six a month ago but have narrowed the gap with their play.
BONUS RISERS: Carey Price, Canada; Jack Eichel, USA
Price and Eichel don’t fit the purpose of this exercise, which is to identify those whose play has earned them Olympic consideration, but there’s no denying Price and Eichel’s situations have changed for the better in the past few weeks.
Price has rejoined the Montreal Canadiens after spending most of October in the NHL player assistance program and theoretically could be game-ready by the time Canada GM Doug Armstrong picks his team in about two months. New Vegas Golden Knight Eichel finally got his disk-replacement surgery, and it carries a recovery timeline of approximately three months. It would be a risk for Vegas to send him to play for Team USA in Beijing but, on the other hand, the Olympics could double as a “pre-season” that would help him find his sea legs in time for the NHL stretch run.