The NHL opted out of the Olympics due to its regular-season schedule issues caused by COVID-19, meaning players from the world’s top league won’t partake in a second straight Games.
But that doesn’t mean the Olympic hockey tournament in Beijing will be lacking exciting talent.
From recent high draft picks to ex-NHLers and overseas stars, here are nine of the top hockey players to watch in Beijing.
Who are the best men’s ice hockey players at the 2022 Winter Olympics?
Matty Beniers, Team USA
The first ever draft selection of the expansion franchise Seattle Kraken, 2021 No. 2 overall pick Matty Beniers has racked up 24 goals and 30 assists in 48 career games with the Michigan Wolverines. The 19-year-old was part of the gold-medal winning United States team at the 2021 World Junior Championships.
Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics
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Valtteri Filppula, Finland
Valtteri Filppula, 37, accumulated 530 points over his 1,056 NHL games, most recently appearing in 38 contests for the Detroit Red Wings last season. The Finnish forward spent the bulk of his NHL career with the Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, winning a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2007-08. Filppula won bronze with Finland at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Nikita Gusev, ROC
Nikita Gusev scored a tournament-high 12-points for the gold-medal winning Russians at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. A 2012 seventh-round pick of the Lighting, Gusev played 97 total NHL games over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, mostly with the New Jersey Devils. The 29-year-old forward led the KHL in scoring in 2018-19 and returned to the Russian league this season.
David Krejci, Czech Republic
One of the biggest names in the tournament, forward David Krejci will make his third Olympic appearance with the Czech Republic. The 35-year-old played 15 seasons with the Boston Bruins, recording 730 points in 962 career games. He tallied 12 goals and 23 points in the 2011 postseason to help power the B’s to a Stanley Cup championship. Krejci left the NHL ahead of the 2021-22 campaign and returned to the Czech Republic to compete in the Czech Extraliga.
Mason McTavish, Canada
Mason McTavish is one of two top-five selections from the 2021 NHL Draft who is on Team Canada. The forward was selected third overall by the Anaheim Ducks after posting 29 goals and 13 assists in 57 games with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes in 2019-20. McTavish, who just turned 19 on Jan. 30, appeared in nine games with the Ducks this season, scoring two goals and assisting on another, before getting sent back to Peterborough.
Owen Power, Canada
The No. 1 overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2021 draft, defenseman Owen Power will arguably be the most highly touted player at the Games. The 19-year-old prospect has tallied 21 assists and three goals in 22 games as a sophomore at Michigan. Power became the first Canadian defenseman to score a World Juniors hat trick at the 2022 tournament.
Jake Sanderson, Team USA
Like Beniers, 19-year-old defenseman Jake Sanderson was also a member of the Team USA squad that won the 2021 World Juniors. Selected fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, Sanderson has put up eight goals and 29 assists in 41 career games at the University of North Dakota. Sanderson, Beniers and 19-year-old defenseman Brock Faber (2020 second-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings) are the first teenagers on Team USA’s roster since 1992.
Sanderson might not be ready for the start of the tournament as he's still in COVID-19 protocols. He entered the protocols while in Los Angeles on Feb. 4 and is still awaiting clearance to travel to the Beijing Games.
Vadim Shipachyov, ROC
Vadim Shipachyov’s NHL career didn’t go according to plan. The forward signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Vegas in 2017 and appeared in three just games before retiring from the NHL and returning to the KHL. He’s absolutely lit up the KHL over the past few years, as he’s currently on pace to lead the league in scoring for a third consecutive season. After appearing in just one game at the 2018 Olympics, the 34-year-old will play a much bigger role in Beijing.
Sami Vatanen, Finland
Defenseman Sami Vatanen was a member of Finland’s 2014 Olympic team that beat out the United States for bronze in Sochi. Vatanen, 30, played 473 games in the NHL over nine seasons, recording 200 points. He made 39 combined appearances for the Devils and Dallas Stars last season before joining the Swiss National League.