Islanders: Who Will Go To The Olympics?
By Brian Weinberger
After a brief break in 2018, NHL players will officially be able to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics! It’s way too early to think about rosters – players might get hurt, opt-out, or play better or worse than we expect in between now and February. But with all of hockey Twitter talking about it, I decided to jump in and look at which New York Islanders might have a chance at their team’s rosters.
We’ll begin with a fairly obvious choice – Mat Barzal. He ranked 16th among Canadian forwards in points last season, and 14 forwards make the team. Barzal’s youth and star power should give him the nod over, for example, David Perron, Ryan Strome, and Evander Kane, who all scored more points than him.
It’s possible Barzal is among a group of several players who all have reasonable cases to make the team. SportsNet projected him as the 14th forward, and while it’s hard to argue with any of the top 9, I personally would take him over Sean Couturier and Mark Scheifele.
All things considered, his spot isn’t guaranteed, but I find it hard to believe he won’t be on the team. I’d give him about a 90% chance.
The Islanders do have other Canadian forwards, but none of them will make it – Team Canada is just too star-studded to have room for JG Pageau or Josh Bailey.
That brings us to defensemen and a more interesting choice. Any Islanders fan will tell you Adam Pelech deserves to be in the Olympics. He’s arguably the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL. But will he make the team over flashier, offensive defensemen?
There are some shoe-ins – Dougie Hamilton, Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, and Cale Makar will all be on the team. That leaves four more spots, and Pelech will be competing with players like Thomas Chabot, Morgan Rielly, Devon Toews, Aaron Ekblad, and Shea Weber.
I will say, Pelech has gained some national attention recently. Three out of NBC Sports’ four projections actually had him making the team, and if he continues to play incredible shutdown defense this year, who knows? He deserves to make the team. I hope he does.
Ryan Pulock falls into the same category as Pelech but with worse odds – he’s just not as well-known, and he had a down year (in terms of scoring) last year. I don’t think he has a chance of making the Olympics.
This will be the one where the Islanders really get robbed. Anders Lee should make the Olympic team, and I just don’t think he will. None of NBC Sports’ four projections had him on the team, picking players like Brady Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Blake Wheeler above him.
While it’s fair to argue Lee is worse than those three, it seems like at least one projection should have him over one of them, and none do. Much of that can probably be attributed to Lee’s injury – if he had continued his goalscoring pace from last year for the full season, he’d be getting more attention.
Team USA’s center depth is quite strong, and I don’t see a place for Brock Nelson anywhere. Same with the right-wing and Kyle Palmieri. Lee is the Islanders’ only realistic hope for a Team USA representative, and I don’t see it happening.
Russian Olympic Committee
The Russian Olympic Committee – which is officially not Russia, due to a “suspension” for doping violations in many sports, but in practice is absolutely just Russia – will once again have an excellent Olympic hockey team.
Their starting goalie will be Andrei Vasilevskiy, no doubt. The backup? That could be Semyon Varlamov. Last season, he had the best stats of any Russian goalie (better than Vasilevskiy, too, but star power will definitely give Vasy the starting job).
A young goalie (Igor Shesterkin, Ilya Samsonov, or even the Isles’ own Ilya Sorokin) could have a great start to the season and earn the backup job. Sergei Bobrovsky could remember how to play hockey. But right now, the backup job is Varly’s to lose.
Don’t laugh. Seriously, don’t laugh. deep breath Leo Komarov is Finnish. In fact, Leo Komarov wore the A for Team Finland in 2014.
Okay, I’m not saying that Leo will be on the Finnish Olympic team this year. Finland usually has a reasonable percentage of their players come from a non-NHL league (usually the KHL or Liiga, the top Finnish league), and Leo isn’t even one of the 14 best Finnish NHL forwards.
But you never know. Finland might go for a veteran with Olympic experience. In JFresh’s unofficial Twitter poll, 19% of voters selected Komarov for a spot on the team:
Just to be clear, I don’t think Uncle Leo will be on the team, and I also don’t think he deserves to. But it’s not impossible, and that’s kind of hilarious.
I bet you didn’t expect that! There are only five Slovakian players who played more than 20 NHL games last year, and one of them – Richard Pánik – is now an Islander. He’ll absolutely be on the team, and will actually probably be on the first line.
Before I end this article, here’s a fun game. Four current Islanders have played in at least one Olympic hockey game – who are they, and who has the most?
- Leo Komarov – Team Finland, 6 games played, 2014
- Richard Pánik – Team Slovakia, 4 games played, 2014
- Semyon Varlamov – Team Russia, 3 games played, 2014 (also made the team in 2010 but didn’t play at all)
- Ilya Sorokin – Olympic Athletes from Russia, 1 game played, 2018 (in 2018, NHL players didn’t participate in the Olympics, so the Russian team was mostly KHL players, including Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin)
So there you have it. Mat Barzal, Richard Pánik, and Semyon Varlamov look likely to make the Olympics. Adam Pelech has a reasonable chance, Anders Lee has a slight chance, and Leo Komarov has a very, very small chance. Three to five Olympians is pretty good!