The 2022 Winter Olympics in China will have more of a Calgary flavour than we’re typically used to. The Flames will almost certainly have multiple players representing the United States and Sweden, while Andrew Mangiapane’s Team Canada case continues to grow. Up to 15 players could be in consideration to participate in Beijing and a good number of those have strong chances.
When Mangiapane made the Canadian 56-player long list prior to the regular season, it was a nice feel-good story. A quarter of an NHL season later, I believe Mangiapane is very much in the mix to make Canada’s final roster. His 15 goals in 21 games is part of it, but it goes beyond that.
Mangiapane is once again one of the NHL’s most effective five-on-five players this season. No one has a better goals-per-60 rate than Mangiapane’s 2.48; not Alexander Ovechkin, not Leon Draisaitl, not Kyle Connor. If Canada is looking for a natural winger who can play a 200-foot game in a fourth line role, Mangiapane absolutely fits the bill.
On the outside but deserving of more consideration is Chris Tanev. The right side of Canada’s defence is deep with names like Alex Pietrangelo, Cale Makar, and Dougie Hamilton. But Tanev has been a driving force on one of the NHL’s best and most consistent pairings for a second year in a row. I’m not expecting it to happen, but on merit, Tanev deserves to be in the conversation.
Mikael Backlund, Elias Lindholm, and Jacob Markström are all strong bets to represent the Swedes. Of the goaltenders in consideration to be Sweden’s starter (Robin Lehner, Linus Ullmark), Markström has been the leader of the pack with a 0.937 SV% in 16 starts. Even if that swings in the next couple months, Markström is a lock to be on this roster.
If Lindholm wasn’t a sure thing prior to the start of the season, his outstanding first quarter would make him one now, either as a centre or on the wing. If Sweden is looking for someone to centre a shutdown line, Backlund is as good a candidate as anyone and his season has started to pick up steam.
With strong starts, I also wonder if Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington have at least put themselves on the radar. Working against them is the fact Sweden boasts a deep blueline. Working for them, and specifically Andersson, is the fact they aren’t as deep on the right side.
Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were locked in for me prior to the season. The fact they’re flanking Lindholm on one of the NHL’s best lines has only solidified that. They’ll both be wearing red, white, and blue in Beijing and I’ll be fascinated to see whether they play on the same line with another high-end centre. Tkachuk and Gaudreau would look pretty good with, say, Auston Matthews or Jack Eichel.
Blake Coleman’s case is interesting in a tough minutes, shutdown role similar to the one he played while winning a pair of Stanley Cups with Tampa Bay. He hasn’t had a great offensive start to his first season with Calgary, but Coleman’s all-around game and recent playoff success should have him on the American fringe.
Finally, Noah Hanifin has worked his way into a competition as one of Team USA’s eight defencemen. It’s no guarantee, as this is a deep group that might omit names like Ryan McDonagh, Quinn Hughes, Torey Krug, and Jacob Trouba. Hanifin was great last season, his game is trending in the right direction, and he’s a high-level skater. All of those things have elevated his case in a significant way.
Dan Vladar, Czech Republic. There’s a chance both Flames goaltenders could be headed to China. Vladar has been outstanding in his first five Calgary starts and his 0.946 SV% is top three in the NHL. It’s early yet, but other Czech goalie candidates like Petr Mrazek, David Rittich, and Pavel Francouz have barely played this season and haven’t been great when they have.
Nikita Zadorov, Russia. Zadorov has been a hot button player for many Flames fans, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s likely to play in Beijing. Russia isn’t deep on defence, and while they also have KHL options, it would be surprising if Zadorov doesn’t make the final roster.
Adam Ruzicka, Slovakia. You can basically take this one to the bank, especially knowing Ruzicka helped Slovakia win all three of their games to qualify for the Olympics in August. With ten goals and 16 points in 13 AHL games this season, Ruzicka has done nothing to hurt his cause.
Juuso Välimäki, Finland. Välimäki was on a lot of projected rosters in September and early October, but its been an up and down start to his season. Välimäki has played once in Calgary’s last 14 games, which is turning into more of a contentious topic by the day. I still think he’s in the mix, but might have to duke it out with a few defenceman in Finland’s domestic league.