Projecting the Flames’ 2022 Olympics Participants
The 2022 Beijing Olympics, much like the current NHL season, has many questions surrounding it. Hockey fans all over the world would love nothing more than to see NHL players back in the Olympics after not playing in 2018. Many current players have been vocal on this as well, making it very clear they want to participate.
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Unfortunately, it is not a guarantee the NHL players will be participating, although a final decision on that has yet to be made. If they are able to attend, here are players from the Calgary Flames’ roster that would have a chance to compete for their respective countries.
Johnny Gaudreau – USA
Johnny Gaudreau will be a lock for Team USA if the NHL does end up attending. Though he has not played in the Olympics at this point in his career, the 26-year-old has played in many international events, including the 2013 IIHF World Juniors, the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and three separate World Championships.
For his lofty standards, Gaudreau was having a bit of a down season prior to the league stoppage, posting 18 goals and 40 assists in 70 games. However, just one season prior, he set career highs with 36 goals and 99 points. This was simply an off year, and it is very likely he bounces back in a big way next season. He is a no doubter to make this team and would be one of their most skilled players.
Matthew Tkachuk – USA
Much like Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk will without a doubt be included on this team. The 22-year-old seems to get better every single season, which should have USA hockey fans very excited to potentially watch him in the tournament. His last time playing on the international stage came during the 2016 IIHF World Juniors, where he put on a show. He scored four goals and added seven assists in seven games to help Team USA win a bronze medal.
Tkachuk has had a monster season for the Flames, and is a big reason they were in a playoff spot prior to the NHL pause. While his 61 points lead the team in scoring, he has also kept up his fiery style of play with a team leading 74 penalty minutes. There is a good argument to be made that he would be Team USA’s most well-rounded forward.
Elias Lindholm – Sweden
Centerman Elias Lindholm may not be quite as much of a guarantee as Tkachuk and Gaudreau, but it seems extremely likely he would play for Team Sweden at the 2022 Olympics. The former fifth-overall pick really arrived at the NHL level after a trade to the Calgary Flames prior to the 2018-19 season. He shattered his previous career highs of 17 goals and 45 points in his first season with the Flames, posting 27 goals and 78 points.
This season, his point totals are slightly down as he had 54 points in 70 games; however, he yet again established a new career high in goals with 29. Lindholm has never played in the Olympics, but has represented Team Sweden in many different international tournaments over the years. As of right now he is one of the NHL’s most underrated forwards.
David Rittich – Czech Republic
Flames goaltender David Rittich joins Carolina Hurricanes Petr Mrazek along with Colorado Avalanche Pavel Francouz as the only current Czech Republic goaltenders in the NHL. If they were to be going to the Olympics this season, it would be a big-time toss-up as to who the starter would be. Francouz’s 2.41 goals against average (GAA) along with his .923 save percentage (SV%) are the best of the three goalies this season. However, he has played just 36 career NHL games to this point, compared to Mrazek’s 263 and Rittich’s 115.
At 27 years old, Rittich is the youngest of the three listed above. Though his numbers of a 2.97 GAA and a .907 SV% don’t seem overly impressive, he remains one of the best Czech born goalies in the world. Of course, it is possible a new Czech goalie makes his way into the NHL prior to the 2022 Olympics and steals the spotlight, but it seems very likely Rittich makes this team, regardless of what his role may be.
Tobias Rieder – Germany
There is no doubt that the last two seasons have not gone how Tobias Rieder would have hoped. After scoring zero goals throughout the entire 2018-19 season for the Edmonton Oilers, it appeared his NHL career may be over. However, the Flames brought him in on a professional tryout offer and he was able to secure a one-year contract thanks to a good training camp. Unfortunately, the former 16-goal scorer has mostly struggled again this season, posting just 4 goals and 10 points while being healthy scratched on numerous occasions. (from ‘Versatile Rieder being tested at centre for Flames,’ Calgary Sun, 12/19/2019)
The positive for Rieder is that Team Germany will not have nearly the same firepower as the majority of other countries playing in the Olympics. In fact, the only current German forwards that have been full-time NHL players this season are Leon Draisaitl, Dominik Kahun, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Rieder himself, making it a near guarantee he will suit up for Team Germany in the 2022 Olympics.
Mikael Backlund – Sweden
The 31-year-old Backlund has been a very reliable centermen for the Flames over the course of his 690-game career. He has posted solid numbers during that time with 145 goals and 365 points. If the Olympics had been this year, he would have very likely made the team as a third or fourth-line center. However, by the time the tournament would be set to begin, Backlund will be nearly 33 years old — many players hit their decline by this age.
Backlund, to this point in his career, has not represented Team Sweden at the Olympics, but has competed on many international stages including the 2016 World Cup. If he is able to maintain his current level of play over the next few seasons, he certainly stands a chance to crack this roster, but he is not a lock like his teammates listed above.
Rasmus Andersson – Sweden
The 23-year-old Rasmus Andersson seems to improve every single game for the Flames. His 22 points this season certainly won’t blow you away, but he has turned into an extremely reliable second-pairing defenceman who is solid on both ends of the ice.
The problem for Andersson is that Team Sweden’s blue line figures to be stacked for the 2022 Olympics. With names like Lindholm, Victor Hedman, Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Rasmus Dahlin, and Mattias Ekholm, Team Sweden will likely have the best blue line in the entire tournament. Due to how strong their back end appears to be, Andersson may not be able to make the roster. However if he continues to improve, he will certainly be considered.
Erik Gustafsson – Sweden
Erik Gustafsson made a name for himself in the NHL when he posted a career-high 60 points for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2018-19 season. Unfortunately, things did not go nearly as well this season for the 27-year-old defenceman as he struggled to produce offensively and was a healthy scratch multiple times before being traded to the Flames near the trade deadline.
It doesn’t seem very likely that Gustafsson would be able to make Team Sweden given that, besides last season, he has not done much in his 221-game career. However, if he is able to produce like last season on a more consistent basis, he may get some consideration.
Juuso Valimaki – Finland
This season was not one to remember for Juuso Valimaki, as he had not played a game prior to the NHL pause due to injury. The former first-round pick of the Flames has not yet gained recognition at the NHL level, playing in just 24 career regular season games to this point. However, he possesses high-end skill and, at just 21 years old, has tons of potential.
Team Finland has a few well-known NHL defencemen around the league, but there aren’t many. He likely wouldn’t have a very big role if he were to make the team, but certainly stands a chance depending on how he plays these next two seasons given Team Finland’s lack of depth.
Flames Have Top-End Talent
As this list shows, the Flames have many talented players from many different countries. It shows in the standings as well, as they were sitting in third place in the Pacific Division prior to the NHL stoppage.
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It would certainly be exciting for Flames fans as well as fans all around the league if the players do end up attending, but at this point we will have to wait and see.
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