NHL players are headed to Beijing! The NHL and IIHF came to an agreement today that will see NHL players participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
The 2022 Winter Olympics will take place from February 4th-20th in Beijing, China as the NHL pauses its season to allow its players to participate in the tournament. With NHL players now available for the tournament, a number of Kraken players will be on their respective national teams’ radar. So which Kraken players will be representing their country in Beijing? Here are Seattle’s Olympic hopefuls, ordered from most to least likely.
Philipp Grubauer – Germany
Seattle’s recently-signed Vezina Trophy finalist headlines the Kraken players who could make an impact in the 2022 Winter Games. Barring injury, Grubauer is a lock to make the German Olympic team. Grubauer is certainly the best German goalie in the world right now and probably the best German-born goalie ever. He’s represented Germany many times before, including the World Junior Championship in 2009 and 2011 and the IIHF World Championship in 2014, 2017, and 2019. Grubauer will face a tall task in Beijing as Germany is in a difficult Group A led by Canada and the United States. If Germany is going to have any chance at a medal, Grubauer will have to be at the top of his game.
Alex True – Denmark
As one of only eight Danes currently in the NHL, True will be a lock to make the Danish Olympic team. He’s represented his country in three World Junior Championships and the 2021 World Championship. True also helped the Danish hockey team qualify for their first ever Olympics during the Olympic Qualifiers last week. Denmark beat Slovenia, South Korea, and host Norway to earn their spot in Beijing next February. While True only played a depth role on the national team in the qualifiers, look for him to earn more ice time if he impresses with the Kraken.
Joonas Donskoi – Finland
Donskoi is no stranger to representing his country on the international stage. He’s represented Finland in two World Junior Championships, a World Championship, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. While not assured a spot on Finland’s Olympic roster, Donskoi is more likely than not to make the team. Donskoi’s role for team Finland would likely be similar to the one he’s expected to play for the Kraken: Top-9 winger who can move up and down the lineup, adding skill and scoring ability wherever it’s needed.
Adam Larsson, Calle Jarnkrok, Alexander Wennberg – Sweden
The Kraken have a trio of Swedes who will be expected to grow into bigger NHL roles this season. In addition to increased NHL opportunity, playing for Seattle could be Larsson, Jarnkrok, and Wennberg’s ticket to becoming Olympians. All three players are currently on the outside of Sweden’s roster projection, but the greater opportunity that will come with playing for an expansion team may be exactly what they need to show they belong on their national team in February.
The lone defenseman of the group, Adam Larsson, will have some stiff competition to make the Sweden roster. Sweden is known for producing prolific blueliners and Larsson will have to compete with the likes of Erik Karlsson and Hampus Lindholm for a chance to represent his country in February. It appears that Larsson will be given every opportunity to show his value. This summer, the Kraken signed Larsson to a 4-year, $16 million deal, signaling their belief in Larsson as a top-4 defenseman. If Larsson is able to impress while getting around 20 minutes a night with Seattle, he may play his way into contention for a spot as one of the final defensemen selected to represent the Swedes in Beijing.
Then there’s Calle Jarnkrok. Team Sweden will have plenty of skilled forwards to choose from, but if they decide they need more versatility in their forward group, you’d be hard pressed to find a better Swiss army knife (Swedish army knife?) type player than Jarnkrok. He can play all three forward positions and contribute on both the powerplay and penalty kill. With Yanni Gourde slated to miss the start of the season, Jarnkrok will likely be relied upon to fill multiple holes in the Kraken lineup before the new year. More powerplay time could also provide an uptick in scoring that could catch the Swedish national team’s attention.
Seattle GM Ron Francis surprised some hockey pundits when he said he expected center Alex Wennberg to play in the Kraken’s top-6. Wennberg has historically been a 3rd line center but Francis seems to have zeroed in on Wennberg as a player who’s ready to make a jump to the next level. This season will provide a lot of answers about Wennberg’s true ceiling as a player, and team Sweden will be watching. If Wennberg becomes the top-6 center Ron Francis believes he can be, he may find himself called to play in Beijing.
Yanni Gourde – Canada
Admittedly, this one is a long shot. As an undrafted player who reached his potential later than most, the 29-year-old Gourde never had the opportunity to play for his country in the World Junior Championship or World Championship. Could next year be his first big chance to play on the international stage? Ultimately, Gourde’s shot at making the Canadian Olympic team will depend more on Canada GM Doug Armstrong’s strategic vision than on what Gourde does between now and February. Gourde has proven his capabilities many times, most recently in the Lightning’s 2021 Stanley Cup run, of which he was an instrumental part. As a shutdown two-way center, Gourde plays a very specific role, a role Armstrong needs to decide if he wants on his team. Canada will have an embarrassment of riches at every position, especially center. They can boast Mat Barzal or John Tavares as their 4th line center if they so choose. But, if they want to add a true shutdown center to the mix, Gourde may become an attractive option. He’d likely have to beat out Selke-caliber players in Sean Couturier and Phillip Danault to get the nod, but given Gourde’s recent track record, it’s not entirely out of the question.