17 prospects to watch in men’s hockey at the 2022 Beijing Olympics
There’s no shortage of intrigue surrounding the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
At least when it comes to men’s ice hockey.
With the NHL opting out of participation in December and a unique blend of rosters forming the 12 competing nations in the event, it truly is anyone’s Games.
It’ll also be an interesting showcase for some of hockey’s top future talents. Team USA and Canada each boast several blue-chip prospects with high draft pedigree. Slovakia features a pair of 2022 NHL Draft eligibles sure to showcase well on the Olympic stage. Russia, formally the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and Sweden also have picks worth keeping eyes on.
Here’s who you can watch at the 2022 Beijing Olympics:
MATTHEW BENIERS, USA, MICHIGAN (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 28GP | 16G | 20A | 30P
Drafted: Seattle Kraken (1/2, 2021)
Matthew Beniers enters the Olympic games on a tear and with a ton of confidence, as he has found another gear in the final five games before his departure. Much of that success was thanks to his Olympic teammate, Brendan Brisson, who played on his right wing. Beniers is a rangy, yet strong, center that plays a 200-hundred-foot game while remaining a top offensive contributor at the college level. He stepped up as a key contributor for Team USA at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, winning gold medal, and could be tasked with important minutes as a top center playing in all situations. Beniers is a special talent with a knack for performing on the biggest of stages, and he’ll continue to try building on his USA Hockey legacy at the Olympic level.
BRENDAN BRISSON, USA, MICHIGAN (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 29GP | 17G | 15A | 32P
Drafted: Vegas Golden Knights (1/29, 2020)
Brisson is enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign for Michigan blossoming into a premier offensive talent. He has great speed and plays a strong two-way game, making him a key complementary piece up front for this team. Like Beniers, he too is entering the Olympic games with a lot of momentum and on a roll offensively. Look for him to do his best to potentially stick with Beniers in the top-six, but he is a versatile forward capable of playing anywhere in the lineup like he did at the 2021 World Juniors.
DREW COMMESSO, USA, BOSTON UNIVERSITY (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 25GP | 2.48GAA | .915SV%
Drafted: Chicago Blackhawks (2/46, 2020)
After a rocky start to the season with Boston University, Drew Commesso appeared to have righted the ship recapturing his game prior to the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he was set to star in net for Team USA. He built off that momentum in his return to Boston and will leave for the Olympics without a regulation loss in his last 15 starts. He has posted a stingy 1.8 goals-against average and a sparkling .942 save percentage in his past five games. His incredible skill set and ability to steal games thanks to his athleticism puts him in a good spot entering the Olympic games. He will look to battle Strauss Mann for the goaltending reins in China.
ARSENI GRITSYUK, ROC, AVANGARD OMSK (KHL)
2021-22 stats: 39GP | 16G | 12A | 28P
Drafted: New Jersey Devils (5/129, 2019)
Arseni Gritsyuk is enjoying an incredible first full KHL season playing for Bob Hartley. His development path has been unrushed, and now he is finally reaping the benefits with a spot on the ROC roster. He is a quick skater that thrives on offensive-zone entries. He loves to shoot the puck whenever he gets the chance, but he is especially deadly when he is in tight due to his release. His shot also allows him to be very successful as a shooter on the power play. It will be interesting to see what role he plays for this team in China as he is in the top-five in KHL goals scored this season amongst his ROC teammates.
DREW HELLESON, USA, BOSTON COLLEGE (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 24GP | 2G | 16A | 18P
Drafted: Colorado Avalanche (2/47, 2019)
Drew Helleson is a hulking, rangy defender that played big minutes for the United States at the 2021 World Juniors on the top-pairing with Jake Sanderson. He continues to blossom offensively and is capable of playing in all situations. He is a very well-rounded player that does everything at a high level. He is going to be a key defender for this team and will look to unleash his untapped offensive potential that he has flashed with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 24 games this season.
PONTUS HOLMBERG, SWEDEN, VAXJO LAKERS HC (SHL)
2021-22 stats: 34GP | 10G | 18A | 28P
Drafted: Toronto Maple Leafs (6/156, 2018)
Pontus Holmberg may have had the strongest finish of all prospects last season after leading Vaxjo to an SHL Championship while receiving MVP honors in the process. That momentum has carried into this season, as he has nearly doubled his points-per-game pace from last year. He is a well-rounded player that learned to play a strong two-way game while working his way up the SHL ranks. Like Mason McTavish, he has also signed an entry-level contract (ELC) with the Toronto Maple Leafs and is on loan back Sweden, which made him eligible for the Olympics. If he can raise his game like he did in the SHL playoffs last spring, then Holmberg will be a key player for this team.
KENT JOHNSON, CANADA, MICHIGAN (NCAA)
2021-22 Stats: 23GP | 6G | 24A | 30P
Drafted: Columbus Blue Jackets (1/5, 2021)
Kent Johnson has been activated off the taxi squad just in time for Canada’s opening game. He brings a creative offensive element that makes him unpredictable to defend. Eyes are peeled whenever he has the puck, as Johnson can create something spectacular of highlight-reel variety. He plays the game at a high pace thriving with and without the puck. With the puck, he is such a threat that he seems to always attract multiple defenders, ultimately beating them with his escape ability or finding an open linemate with a crafty pass. Without the puck, Johnson has a knack of finding space and dead zones where he can pounce on loose pucks or swoop in to retrieve passes. Look for him to work his way up the lineup and be relied upon if the team struggles offensively out of the gate.
MATTHEW KNIES, USA, MINNESOTA (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 26GP | 9G | 16A | 25P
Drafted: Toronto Maple Leafs (2/57, 2021)
Matthew Knies has created a ton of buzz this season thanks to his size, speed, and maturity of his game. He has seamlessly stepped in as a key contributor and an absolute force for a strong Minnesota. He will look to use his elite speed, imposing frame and offensive skill set to impact the game on both ends of the ice on an Olympic sheet. He should be an incredibly valuable piece thanks to his size and speed enabling him to play whatever role he is tasked with.
DEVON LEVI, CANADA, NORTHEASTERN (NCAA)
One can argue that Devon Levi has not only been the best goaltender in college hockey this season, but arguably the most valuable player, which is evident in his nomination for the Hobey Baker and laundry list of other awards he has racked up so far this season. Levi played lights out at the 2021 World Juniors over a year ago — coming up just short in the gold medal game — and it looks like he has used that as motivation this season with every opposing shooter feeling the wrath ever since.
KIRILL MARCHENKO, ROC, SKA ST. PETERSBURG (KHL)
2021-22 stats: 39GP | 12G | 8A | 20P
Drafted: Columbus Blue Jackets (2/49, 2018)
Kirill Marchenko may be young, but he has plenty of experience playing for his country on the international stage. He is a big, offensive-minded power forward that is already competing in his third KHL season. He has been inconsistent at times and still can be, but there is no doubt that he can put the puck in the net. He is a very good skater for his size, with a strong shot and deceiving playmaking abilities. His size and skill set should make him both a versatile and valuable piece for this team.
JACK MCBAIN, CANADA, BOSTON COLLEGE (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 18GP | 13G | 11A | 24P
Drafted: Minnesota Wild (3/63, 2018)
Jack McBain is enjoying a breakout senior campaign for Boston College and has been rightfully rewarded with the opportunity of representing his country in the Olympics. He is a hulking pivot with great wheels that is capable of bullying defenders. His size and strength enable him to dominate in all three zones and on both special team units. McBain is capable of scoring in a number of ways, but he is at his best when he is going to and crashing the net. He has a quick release on his shot and is difficult to stop when he is in tight with the goaltender. McBain’s skill set and versatility will bring a lot to the table for Canada.
MASON MCTAVISH, CANADA, HAMILTON (OHL)
2021-22 OHL Stats: 8GP | 9G | 5A | 14P
Drafted: Anaheim Ducks (1/3, 2021)
McTavish has played all over this season and that will continue with Canada at the Olympics. He didn’t seem out of place in his nine-game stint with the Anaheim Ducks to start the season. He then dominated in two games for Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, returning home before being traded to Hamilton in the OHL. Everywhere he has played this season, McTavish has found a way to make an impact by driving play while showing great physicality in the process. He isn’t going to beat opponents with his speed, but he finds those soft scoring spaces and gets to the net. His shot is one of the best amongst fellow prospects. Most importantly, he is built like a fire truck so he will have no trouble engaging physically against grown men. Canada’s coaching may move him to the wing due to his age and experience level, but look for him to play a key role despite his age.
SIMON NEMEC, SLOVAKIA, HK NITRA (SLOVAKIA)
2021-22 Stats: 32GP | 1G | 22A | 23P
Drafted: No. 3, 2022 draft
Simon Nemec will continue his international tour after finishing last season at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, starting off this season at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, then to the shortened 2022 World Juniors, and now to the Olympics. His play has improved significantly in his second full season with HK Nitra in Slovakia’s top professional league. He does this with his strong skating skills and the incredible amount of energy he plays with. Nemec plays with so much intensity and tenacity, never giving up on plays. Look for him to bring his game to another level and take it to the older, more experienced competition. If he can bring his usual energy and establish himself early as a reliable defender, Nemec can definitely earn himself a large role.
ALEXANDER NIKISHIN, ROC, SPARTAK MOSKVA (KHL)
2021-22 Stats: 46GP | 8G | 4A | 12P
Drafted: Carolina Hurricanes (3/69, 2020)
Having just turned 20, Alexander Nikishin will be making his international hockey debut on the biggest of stages as the youngest member of the ROC. While he may lack international experience, Nikishin is already a KHL veteran competing in his third full season. He is a big, strong skating, sturdy defenseman that plays a solid two-way game. He is much more adept offensively than his numbers would lead you to believe. Nikishin is very confident in his decision-making with the puck and isn’t afraid to carry it himself leading to many successful offensive-zone entries. It will be interesting to see how the defense corps shake out for the ROC in China.
OWEN POWER, CANADA, MICHIGAN (NCAA)
2021-22 Stats: 24GP | 3G | 23A | 26P
Drafted: Buffalo Sabres (1/1, 2021)
Owen Power is the most dominant defender that Canada has seen at such a ripe age in some time. He is a towering blueliner with elite skating ability that covers nearly every inch of the ice. He uses his size, skating and reach to close in quickly on opposing forwards to separate them from the puck to take it the other way for an odd-man rush. He is capable of playing in all situations — penalty kill, power play, defensive and offensive. He is very agile at the point in the offensive zone allowing him to get his wicked snap and slap shot on net. Most importantly, Power has experience playing with Canada’s men — winning a gold medal at the World Championship last spring. Canada now could rely on Power as their top blueliner and task him with significant minutes.
JAKE SANDERSON, USA, NORTH DAKOTA (NCAA)
2021-22 stats: 21GP | 7G | 17A | 24P
Drafted: Ottawa Senators (1/5, 2020)
Sanderson, like Power, is arguably the best defensemen that isn’t currently playing in the NHL, at least in terms of prospects. His skating has drastically improved over the past few seasons making him the elite 200 foot all-situation blueliner he is today. He was a key member of the 2021 World Junior Championship gold medal team and will once again be relied upon heavily to log big minutes once he arrives in Beijing. He has the ability to be the team’s most important player — if cleared to play — and they will need him to be at his best if they hope to make the medal rounds.
JURAJ SLAFKOVSKY, SLOVAKIA, TPS (LIIGA)
2021-22 stats: 21GP | 1G | 3A | 4P
Drafted: No. 8, 2022 draft
Alongside Nemec, Juraj Slafkovsky will continue his draft-eligible year tour in China. Unlike Nemec, he decided to take his talents to Finland to play in their top professional league where his numbers wouldn’t indicate the strength of his game. Slafkovsky has been dominant in Finland’s top junior league (U20 SM-sarja) recording 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 11 games. He is a hulking, heavy power winger with great speed that loves to shoot the puck on the fly then follow it up and crash the net. What sets him apart are his elite size and skating skills at this age, as he can really get up and down the ice with ease. He has been honing his skills against top talent in the Liiga so he will be more than capable of keeping up and will look to drive play the way he does at his best. He didn’t play a lot in the 2021 World Championship, but if he utilizes his elite size and speed to establish himself physically while proving to be responsible defensively, he can definitely earn himself a role for this team.