For the first time since the 2014 Sochi Games, the NHL is allowing its players to participate in the Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament in Beijing next February.
National pride and gold-medal glory are on the line for the best players in the world — provided they actually make it to China. Concerns about COVID-19 protocols — and a potential overseas quarantine of five weeks if participants test positive with symptoms — has that participation less than certain around two months before the tournament starts.
Let’s hope they stick with “Plan A.” If they do, hockey fans are in for an epic best-on-best tournament.
Here’s a projection for the six hockey superpowers’ rosters — the United States, Canada, Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland — along with a look at other star hockey players in the Winter Olympics. Assuming the NHL participates, that is.
Note: Kristen Shilton projected the rosters for Canada, Sweden and Finland, while Greg Wyshynski projected the U.S., Russian Olympic Committee and Czech Republic.
Extra skaters: There were plenty of possibilities for the two extra forwards here. If the U.S. wants some offense in reserve, there’s Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators, Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils, Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks, Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars and Vincent Trocheck of the Carolina Hurricanes. If it wants a bit more balance, the U.S. could call on Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders or Bryan Rust of the Pittsburgh Penguins — a player whom coach Mike Sullivan knows well.
The two we’re looking at here are Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor and Canucks forward J.T. Miller. Connor is a pure goal scorer who could help crank up the offense as a lineup replacement or provide ample offense in case one of the wingers is injured. Miller is like having a roll of duct tape on the roster. He can play every forward position. He can play up with the skill guys or down in the bottom six. He can play on the power play or on the penalty kill. Name the problem, and put some Miller on it.
“Where’s Troy Terry?” you might ask. According to Chris Peters of Daily Faceoff, Terry wasn’t on the original long list of players submitted to the World Anti-Doping Agency by the U.S. The team would have to make a special petition to get the Anaheim Ducks revelation eligible, like Sweden is attempting with Calder Trophy favorite Lucas Raymond.
On defense, the names haven’t changed much during the months leading up to the Olympics. It’s just a matter of who gets into the lineup and who ends up a reserve. For our purposes here, we have Hurricanes defensive ace Jaccob Slavin and Canucks puck-moving defenseman Quinn Hughes as reserves. Of the two, Hughes is the one we feel isn’t cemented on the roster yet. Among the other contenders are Jacob Trouba of the New York Rangers, Brett Pesce of the Hurricanes, Torey Krug of the St. Louis Blues and two Penguins defensemen: Brian Dumoulin and John Marino.
Roster construction: Much will depend on the health of Jack Eichel, the Vegas Golden Knights center who underwent artificial disk replacement surgery last month. U.S. general manager Bill Guerin wouldn’t rule him out for the Olympic roster. Eichel’s rehab timetable could make him available for the Olympics, but we’ve left him off the roster here because of that uncertainty. (One assumes he could have Kreider’s spot under this construction.) Needless to say, having Matthews and Eichel would give the U.S. its best 1-2 punch at center since Nagano in 1998.
Other than that, Guerin faces the same questions that his predecessors did in creating this team. Does he build a roster that flaunts the growing collection of American-born skill players or a team designed to beat Canada? Theoretically, these two things should not be mutually exclusive, but USA Hockey has made calls for role players over skill players in past two NHL-infused Olympics.
What about young players vs. Olympic veterans? “I think there has to be a blend. We can’t focus on one or the other. Sometimes you need that youthful energy, and sometimes you need that older veteran experience. There has to be a little bit of both,” Guerin said.
So this roster has a little bit of both, but it certainly has its share of holdovers such as Kane, Pavelski, Carlson, McDonagh and Oshie.
Biggest strength: The Canadians don’t cast a jealous eye at much on the American roster, but they’re totally envious of the U.S. goaltending. Hellebuyck is in the conversation for best goaltender in the NHL. Gibson has bounced back nicely after a few bad seasons behind a struggling Anaheim team. There’s some speculation that Jack Campbell of the Toronto Maple Leafs could get the nod over Demko, but the 26-year-old Canucks goalie is turning his season around.
Biggest flaw: One of the reasons that Kreider could hit the roster is a lack of physicality on this U.S. team. In 2014, it had players such as David Backes, Brooks Orpik, Dustin Brown, Blake Wheeler and Ryan Kesler bringing some size and edge. This group will have some edge in players such as Kreider, Tkachuk and J.T. Miller, but it’s not that kind of group. Which makes one wonder if Guerin, a physical player back in his day, would construct a roster that lacks that pugnacity.
Toughest players to leave off: How does one not unite the Tkachuks, right? But given the needs of the lineup, we had to leave Brady Tkachuk at home to watch the games with Big Walt. We’re leaving role players like Brock Nelson and Bryan Rust at home, although it’s always possible the former Penguins assistant GM and the current Penguins head coach bring some of their personal favs to Beijing, which would put someone such as defenseman Brian Dumoulin in play. On defense, Brett Pesce, Jeff Petry and Torey Krug are left home, as is Campbell in goal.
Who’s still on the team in 2026? Like, half the roster? Key players such as Matthews, Matthew Tkachuk, Fox, McAvoy, Quinn Hughes and Demko will make up the core of the next Team USA, along with Eichel, Jack Hughes, Brady Tkachuk and the next wave: Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, Spencer Knight and Matty Beniers. The future is bright.
F1: Jonathan Huberdeau, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon
F2: Brad Marchand, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron
F3: Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Mitchell Marner
F4: John Tavares, Sean Couturier, Mark Stone
Extra skaters: The depth of Canada’s talent pool could easily create at least two Olympic-caliber teams (says this Canadian). Many deserving players were indeed left off this projection, and picking just four reserves was tough. But here goes.
Up front, Ryan O’Reilly‘s versatility and overall leadership capabilities would be a huge asset for Canada, and he has a Stanley Cup-winning pedigree. Then the all-around game Zach Hyman can bring would be a boon for Canada, at 5-on-5 and special teams.
Roster construction: There’s a good mix of young stars and seasoned veterans here for Canada, particularly at forward. Five players were part of the gold medal-winning Team Canada at the 2014 Games in Sochi, and they’ll be surrounded by NHL first-time Olympians, like McDavid, MacKinnon and Makar.
How Canada comes together defensively will be interesting though. There’s plenty of talent but not as much experience there in these big tournaments. Pietrangelo will be a steadying force, and Doughty’s presence would add some heft for the group as needed.
Because Carey Price has not resumed skating yet post-knee surgery and in-patient treatment, he’s not included here with Canada’s goaltenders. However, he was on the long list submitted by general manager Doug Armstrong and could slide in depending on how he feels in January.
Biggest strength: No doubt Canada will be built to score goals, and lots of them. McDavid and MacKinnon alone can do major damage, and here they have an elite playmaker in Huberdeau setting them up. The Crosby line will not only be strong defensively but has three smart, capable scorers. Marner and Point share history from their time together on Canada’s “Kid Line” at the 2017 World Championships, and Point and Stamkos are long-time teammates in Tampa. Canada’s fourth line has hard-working, 200-foot players to use in every situation.
Biggest flaw: This is a younger, relatively inexperienced defense for Canada compared to years past. That could be a good thing, by getting more fresh, creative faces involved. The potential for creating offense is certainly there with Makar, Rielly and Hamilton potentially jumping in. But there also won’t be much time allowed for a learning curve.
Toughest players to leave off: The last cuts are actually deepest. It was so hard not finding a spot for Mark Scheifele and Mathew Barzal, the latter of whom is having a down year in New York but would thrive in this lineup. Darnell Nurse sparked a great deal of internal debate, as did Aaron Ekblad and Thomas Chabot. Each would bring something unique for Canada, but there’s only so much room.
Who’s still on the team in 2026? Would we be surprised to see the entirety of that second line back in four years? Well, probably. Same for the fourth line. McDavid will take the reins for Canada, and Mackenzie Blackwood will be part of the goaltending group.
Russian Olympic Committee
F1: Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov
F2: Artemi Panarin, Vadim Shipachyov, Vladimir Tarasenko
F3: Kirill Kaprizov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Andrei Svechnikov
F4: Pavel Buchnevich, Mikhail Grigorenko, Valeri Nichushkin
Extra skaters: The Russian Olympic Committee — so named because Russia is still under sanctions for its state-run doping program — has plenty of options at forward between the NHL and the KHL.
We think Buchnevich makes this roster, given his play this season for the St. Louis Blues and his versatility. We wouldn’t be surprised to see his teammate Ivan Barbashev get his first Russian national team call as a depth center, given that 33-year-old center Artem Anisimov — projected by many to be on this roster — hasn’t played anywhere this season as an NHL free agent. Another center in the mix: Sergei Andronov, a 32-year-old for CSKA who played for the Olympic Athletes from Russia in their run to the gold medal in 2018.
Winger Nikita Gusev of SKA St. Petersburg was also on that gold medal team and could be a factor here. But if the Russians want another winger in reserve, we expect it’ll be NHLers like Denis Gurianov of the Dallas Stars or Ilya Mikheyev of the Toronto Maple Leafs — provided his injured thumb is all healed up. We’re thinking Barbashev and Gurianov get the call.
On defense, there are five names we’re eyeing: Nikita Zadorov of the Calgary Flames; Alexander Romanov of the Montreal Canadiens; former NHLer Nikita Nesterov of CSKA; former NHLer Alexei Marchenko of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who played on the 2018 gold medal team; and Alexander Yelesin of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, who had a cup of coffee with the Flames in the NHL.
Roster construction: One name you might have noticed missing from the roster is Ilya Kovalchuk. That’s because Kovy is actually the general manager of the Russian Olympic Committee team, after playing 16 games for Avangard Omsk last season. We’re not saying it’s impossible that Kovalchuk pulls a Mike Richards “Jeopardy!” host search gambit and names himself to the team … just that it’s unlikely.
It’s a team that has seen some significant turnover since the 2014 Sochi Games, with players like Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Alex Semin all having aged off the roster. Obviously, the Russian roster construction begins on the wings, where players like Kucherov, Panarin and Ovechkin can drive a line no matter who is playing center. In keeping with previous national teams, it’s a roster that’s NHL-heavy but leaves room for some KHL talent like Dynamo Moscow’s Shipachyov and CSKA’s Grigorenko, a name familiar to Avalanche and Blue Jackets fans.
Keep in mind that Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov is ineligible for the Olympics. He’s serving a ban from international play through June 2023 after testing positive for cocaine at the 2019 IIHF world championships.
Biggest strength: Goaltending, without question. While he’s appeared at the world championships for Russia, this is Vasilevskiy’s first Olympics. He’s won two Stanley Cups, and established himself as a dominant postseason goalie with a Conn Smythe to his credit. The Russians haven’t had a goalie who can win games on his own like Vasilevskiy in a long time. Bobrovsky gets the nod over Semyon Varlamov, given the trajectory of their respective NHL seasons. The third spot on these teams typically goes to the goalie of the future. Shesterkin gets the call over Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders, provided he’s healthy. Which is never a guarantee with Shesterkin, unfortunately.
Biggest flaw: The defense corps in front of that goaltending is no great shakes, but the additions of Sergachev, Provorov and Orlov make it better than the one Russia iced in Sochi. So the biggest flaw on this roster has to be in the middle, where there’s not much behind Malkin — especially when you consider what the other hockey superpowers are bringing to Beijing.
Toughest players to leave off: Two NHL veteran scoring wingers might not make the cut. Vegas Golden Knights winger Evgenii Dadonov is an instant offense player who has 14 points in 27 games this season. Then there’s Alexander Radulov, a veteran of multiple teams, who has sputtered to one goal in 25 games for the Stars this season. That output should have him on the outs, especially with the younger options on the wing. But a player with that many international caps for Russia can’t be dismissed.
Who’s still on the team in 2026? Panarin, Kucherov and Vasilevskiy will be the elder statesmen for the 2026 Games, while players like Kaprizov and Svechnikov will be in their prime. But let’s be real: Ovechkin will be over 40 and probably still scoring over 30 goals a season. Heck, Jaromir Jagr was 42 for the Sochi Games.
F1: Gabriel Landeskog, Mika Zibanejad, William Nylander
F2: Filip Forsberg, Nicklas Backstrom, Lucas Raymond
F3: Rickard Rakell, Elias Pettersson, Elias Lindholm
F4: Joel Eriksson Ek, William Karlsson, Viktor Arvidsson
Extra skaters: Mikael Backlund could supplant Karlsson here, depending on how the Golden Knights’ center fares post broken foot. Victor Olofsson is having a strong season production-wise in Buffalo, and Andre Burakovsky would be a good fit as well.
Rasmus Dahlin should get a lot of consideration too on the back end, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a safe choice to add veteran depth. That would be particularly important if Erik Karlsson opts not to accept an invite to the Olympics, which he alluded to as a possibility on Wednesday.
Roster construction: The Swedes were already dealt a blow in net when Robin Lehner announced earlier this month he would not accept an Olympic invite this season due to COVID concerns. He would have battled it out with Markstrom for the starter’s job, but Calgary’s standout netminder should have the gig locked up now.
Raymond is also an interesting case because he was actually left off Sweden’s initial 55-man list submitted in October. General manager Johan Garpenlöv requested an exemption be made for Raymond to enter the required anti-doping control so he’d be able to compete. This projection assumes that ask was granted, and Raymond is free to participate.
Rakell is a bit like Karlsson, in that they’re jack-of-all-trade types coming off injury but with potential to play any number of roles. And then there’s Pettersson, who could use these Olympics to get his groove back after a brutal start to the NHL season.
Biggest strength: Those top two forward lines are formidable, but it’s the defensive depth that draws you in. Brodin is an especially nice addition to the top four given what an incredible season he’s having so far.
Biggest flaw: Does Sweden have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with (and take down) a powerhouse like the U.S. or Canada? On paper, it could look like a mismatch. But that’s why they play the games.
Toughest players to leave off: We would have liked to find space for Carl Hagelin, a great special teams difference-maker with Cup-winning experience. The real difficult choice though is leaving Patric Hornqvist off the roster. At 35 years old with a lengthy injury history, the Swedish stalwart is a more difficult sell on a team that’ll need to play fast up front.
Who’s still on the team in 2026? Other than maybe Backstrom — who’ll be in his late-30s by then — everyone else would seem to have a good shot at another Games (assuming continued good health, naturally).
Extra skaters: The Czechs have a few interesting calls to make at forward, all of them based on experience. Will the team turn over a reserve spot to someone like the New York Rangers‘ Filip Chytil or the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ David Kampf, both centers without previous Olympic experience? What about Tomas Nosek, the Boston Bruins‘ depth winger? Do they call on international players like 36-year-old Swiss league center Roman Cervenka, who played in three Olympics, or 30-year-old Czech league forward Andrej Nestrasil, who saw time with the Red Wings and Hurricanes? What about some old friends in HC Sparta center Vladimir Sobotka or forward Michael Frolik, currently with Lausanne HC in the Swiss league?
Ultimately, we think they opt for Leafs winger Ondrej Kase, who is having a significant bounce-back season for them, and Chytil, the 22-year-old Rangers center.
On defense, there are a number of interesting depth options like Rangers prospect Libor Hajek, Boston defenseman Jakub Zboril, Jokerit’s David Sklenicka, KHL defenseman Jakub Jerabek and Michal Moravcik of Sparta in the Czech league. We’ll go with Andrej Sustr, the 6-foot-7 NHL veteran in the Lightning organization, and Sklenicka, who has a ton of international experience.
Roster construction: The Czechs are strong down the middle, with former Bruins center Krejci and San Jose star Hertl anchoring two lines. After that, they can opt for Faksa, Zacha and Necas, although he’s mostly played right wing with the Hurricanes this season. Pastrnak is the most potent offensive force on the roster, while Voracek is arguably the best playmaker.
The Czechs usually have a blend of NHL and international players, carrying eight of the latter in 2014. Sedlak and Hyka are teammates on Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL, and could play on the same line for the Olympic team. Klok is a left-handed defenseman from the KHL’s Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, who can bring point production and a little edge.
Also, for what it’s worth, we assume Jaromir Jagr won’t be celebrating his 50th birthday in Beijing. But his international hockey “retirements” have about the same permanence as KISS farewell tours.
Biggest strength: The top-six forwards, who bring a lot of experience along with offensive pop. Krejci and Hertl are a solid one-two punch at center. Pastrnak has dazzled in previous international play. Palat and Voracek are steady complementary veterans on the wing. They can slot Zadina or Kubalik on the left side of either center and be confident they’ll get production.
Biggest flaw: The Czechs don’t have the overall depth to compete with the tournament’s superpowers, and unfortunately may not have a goalie that can be the great equalizer. Mrazek probably comes closest, if they catch him on the right week … and he’s healthy. But Dominik Hasek isn’t walking through that door. Though if he did, he might still be the best goalie on the roster.
Toughest players to leave off: Jakub Vrana has missed the entire season for the Detroit Red Wings after preseason shoulder surgery. They don’t expect him back until after the Olympic Break, so it’s hard to imagine he’d lace them up for the Olympics. Also tough to leave behind: Jan Kovar, a 30-year-old forward with EV Zug of the Swiss league who was a member of the 2018 Czech men’s Olympic team; and David Rittich, the Predators’ goaltender.
Who’s still on the team in 2026? Pastrnak will be around 30 in the next Olympics, meaning he’ll remain the focal point of this team. Necas, Zadina, Chytil and Hajek project well, too.
F1: Roope Hintz, Aleksander Barkov, Mikko Rantanen
F2: Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Patrik Laine
F3: Joonas Donskoi, Mikael Granlund, Kasperi Kapanen
F4: Artturi Lehkonen, Anton Lundell, Jesse Puljujarvi
Extra skaters: The Finns have solid forward depth, and bringing 30-year-old vet Erik Haula and up-and-comer Kaapo Kakko along gives them even more options to fill various roles. Joel Armia is another strong contender for the reserves group up front.
On defense, veteran Sami Vatanen and St. Louis’ Niko Mikkola are both intriguing choices to have on standby. Vatanen adds such punch and edge to the mix, and Mikkola has a long history with Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen going back to the under-20 tournament in 2015.
Roster construction: Traditionally, the Finnish teams have great goaltending and a potent offensive attack, both of which they should channel into these latest Games.
Barkov with Rantanen packs a punch, while Teravainen and Aho have chemistry to spare from years together with the Hurricanes. And even if Laine hasn’t been his top-flight self in recent years, he’s unquestionably talented and will be surrounded by great teammates.
Defensively, the Finns will lean on Heiskanen to control the game in every facet, as he is wont to do. Everyone else falls in line from there.
Biggest strength: Depending on where Rask is following hip surgery, Finland’s goaltending depth could be some of the tournament’s best. Saros is having a terrific season in Nashville and Korpisalo is more than capable of playing well behind such a dynamic forward group. The Finns’ top-six group is strong and should provide layers of goal support.
Biggest flaw: There’s a bit of a drop on the Finnish blue line after Heiskanen. Keeping pucks in the hands of their forwards will be key to competing against the tournament’s other top teams.
Toughest players to leave off: We ran out of room for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who hasn’t had a great season in Carolina. There was also serious consideration for Mikko Koskinen for the third goalie slot over Korpisalo.
Who’s still on the team in 2026? We have to think all of the top-six group has a good chance of returning, with Barkov, Rantanen, Aho and Laine leading the way. Kakko should also play his way into a more prominent role with Finland in the future.
Other NHL stars we expect to see
Along with the six already listed above, there will be six more countries represented in the men’s hockey tournament.
Group A will be Canada, the United States, Germany and China
Group B has the Russian Olympic Committee, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark
Group C is made up of Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Latvia
Each team has already designated three players who have made the roster (denoted below by an *). And there are a few more NHLers who could see their names on the board when final teams are announced.
*Leon Draisaitl, C: The Edmonton Oilers‘ Hart Trophy winner has scored the most NHL points ever by a German-born player, and did so in about half the number of games required by Germany’s next leading scorer, Marco Sturm.
*Moritz Seider, D: Detroit’s sixth overall pick from 2019 is having a phenomenal rookie season in the NHL, playing a smart, two-way game that’s landed him an Olympic spot.
Tim Stutzle, LW: When the Games begin, Stutzle will have just turned 20 years old, and he’s had some natural growing pains in Ottawa this season. But the potential is high for what Stutzle can still contribute in Beijing.
*Roman Josi, D: Nashville’s captain is a perennial powerhouse on the blue line and could well be in the Norris Trophy mix again this season.
*Nico Hischier, C: The Devils’ first overall pick in 2017 hasn’t quite reached his full potential in the NHL. He’s still a high-end forward though, and Switzerland will be counting on his best game for the tournament.
*Timo Meier, F: This has been one of Meier’s best NHL seasons in years, during which he’s averaging over a point per game.
Kevin Fiala, F: He’s been a little snakebit around the net in Minnesota this season, but has been a 20-plus goal scorer before and can tap into that for the Swiss.
The host nation’s team almost didn’t have a place in the Beijing men’s hockey tournament.
International Ice Hockey Federation officials mulled pulling China from the event out of concern that it would be absolutely embarrassed by the NHL player-laden teams in its group. For a while, it looked like the team could be replaced by Norway. But in early December, the IIHF decided that it would still be “game on” for China.
China’s roster will be composed of players from Kunlun Red Star of the KHL. The CBC reports that 19 of its players are Canadian, having been recruited over the years in preparation for the Olympics. Part of the process for the IIHF was to check on the eligibility of those players. A few of them have some NHL experience, like former Colorado and Nashville forward Brandon Yip and former Calgary forward Spencer Foo.
*Erik Cernak, D: The two-time Stanley Cup champion will make his Olympic debut and carry big responsibilities on the blue line.
*Jaroslav Halak, G: The 35-year-old Slovakian stalwart and veteran of more than 500 NHL games will make his third appearance at the Olympics.
*Andrej Sekera, D: Like Halak, this will be Sekera’s third time at the Games. He’ll be the veteran backbone for Slovakia’s defense.
Tomas Tatar, RW: The Devils forward has slowed down in recent years, but can still add some grit and offensive upside in a bottom-six role.
*Rudolfs Balcers, LW: The 24-year-old played well in helping Latvia qualify for the Olympics in August. He was recently placed on IR (lower-body injury) by San Jose.
*Zemgus Girgensons, F: Buffalo’s eight-year veteran will suit up for his second Olympics after appearing for Latvia in the qualifiers.
*Kristians Rubins, D: The blueliner made his NHL debut with Toronto earlier this month, a good primer to get him set for tournament competition.
Elvis Merzlikins, G: He’s been carrying Columbus all season in net, so there’s little doubt what impact Merzlikins could have for Latvia on an international stage.
*Nikolaj Ehlers, F: Winnipeg’s offensive weapon is fourth all-time amongst Danish-born NHL scorers, and has five straight seasons with 20-plus goals.
*Oliver Bjorkstrand, F: The 26-year-old has been Columbus’ leading scorer and most consistent forward throughout this season
*Alexander True, F: Fun fact: True and Ehlers are actually cousins. True was selected from San Jose by Seattle in the expansion draft last summer, but hasn’t played an NHL game yet this season.
Frederik Andersen, G: This NHL season has showcased some of Andersen’s best hockey. There’s little doubt Denmark will be looking at him to carry the load in net.
Lars Eller, C: The Capitals forward brings plenty of experience, both from the NHL and past international appearances.