It’s been a long fight, but NHL players are finally back at the Olympics. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid on the same team is a reason to tune in by itself, but if you’re a Predators fan, you’re not there to watch them. Of course, it’s a great side effect, but it’s more fun when you get to watch players from your favorite team play and, most importantly, win. So which players from the Predators will be headed to Bejing, and what can they bring to their country’s team?
Sweden is a country that I always find myself paying attention to in most Olympic sports for literally no good reason. I have zero connection to it, but the yellow screams, “watch me.” So I do. However, now I’ll be even more invested with two of the biggest players on the Predators being put in the lineup.
We all know what Filip Forsberg is capable of on a line with capable players. With Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, who is now a Los Angeles King but will most likely make the roster, he scored many points before that line fell off a cliff. The same way he scored a ton of points with Matt Duchene and Mikael Granlund before the Laviolette line shuffle game began to infiltrate the lineup.
Forsberg brings size, speed, and creativity to Sweden’s top six. The line combinations remain to be seen but putting him with someone like Elias Lindholm and Arvidsson could be very beneficial for all of them.
The Swedish coaching staff could make many combinations, whether with Mika Zibanejad centering him and Lindholm or Nicklas Backstrom with him and Arvidsson. Either way, all that really matters is getting him a good center that can help drive the play along with him. One of the Predators' problems is that he’s left to drive play for the first line when Duchene isn’t there. Someone like Backstrom can really move the puck well, and he’s not afraid to skate it up with speed and look for options after entering the zone.
The only thing that Forsberg needs to be worried about is scoring goals and creating for his line. He’s not going to be the star of the forwards like he is in Nashville, which hopefully relieves some of the pressure.
The final member of Team Sweden is the lovable and flamboyant 6-foot-4 defenseman, Mattias Ekholm. He could definitely be a leader on a Sweden team that slowly incorporates young players into the lineup. His inherently vociferous nature on the ice would make him an excellent captain or assistant captain material. As for his play, the second pair would be the most likely option considering the best defenseman in the world—Victor Hedman—and the once best defenseman—Erik Karlsson—will be on the first. One thing I’m interested to see is who lines up next to him.
The immediate thought is John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars. Klingberg ended the Predators’ season in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs, so it will most likely be a little bit odd at first for most, but once they hit stride, I’m sure there will be no issues.
Gone are the days of players like Pekka Rinne and Mikko Koivu representing Finland in the NHL. Now, it’s time for a new and younger age led by Sebastian Aho, Aleksander Barkov, Mikko Rantanen, and Miro Heiskanen.
Mikael Granlund isn’t one of the young players leading the team, but he will be a good veteran presence for said young guys. He’s an excellent passer, and I’m extremely confident that he will provide some solid two-way play in a depth role. He will play with is unknown at this point, but Kasperi Kapanen, Roope Hintz, and maybe even Eeli Tolvanen, who I’ll touch on in a moment.
Here’s the biggest piece to the puzzle. Juuse Saros proved himself to be one of the best goaltenders in the league last season. He put up some Vezina-caliber numbers but was ultimately robbed of a finalist position because of Philipp Grubauer and the voters. He has always been a freak of nature.
Standing at a stout 5-foot-11, he’s going to be looked at in a lower light compared to goalies that are over 6-foot. However, he’s incredible with his lateral movement, and that's what truly puts him ahead of the competition. The one thing you won’t have to worry about with Saros in net is his commitment. He plays every puck like it’s his last, and it results in a lot of saves.
Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins will most likely be going but in a backup role. Obviously, he still has to sign an NHL contract, and his age and injury history may be limiting his play. It’s time for a younger and more recently prominent goaltender to take the spotlight on the world stage.
Maybe: Eeli Tolvanen
As I mentioned in the section with Granlund, there is a possibility that Tolvanen makes the roster. However, it would depend on a ton on how he starts the season. If he produces enough during the first two months, I could see it. There was a point in time during the 2020-21 season where Tolvanen could have been a Calder Trophy candidate if he didn’t get hurt, so it’s entirely possible. However, a lot has to go right.
Another option is he is added as a depth player at even-strength, but he’s played on the first powerplay unit. That situation eerily reminds me of what happened between the newest Predator Cody Glass and the Vegas Golden Knights. He was used on the top powerplay, but he wasn’t given enough chances at even-strength to contribute anything at all. Of course, Tolvanen isn’t going to be looked at to score a ton of points during the tournament, but having him as a reliable powerplay option and depth scoring presence could be good for team structure and overall confidence.
Switzerland is interesting. They’ve never been a hockey powerhouse, and the best player they’ve boasted up to this point is who I’m going to talk about here. Former Predators forward Kevin Fiala will be one of the better forwards on the team, but he isn't the best now.
The 31-year-old Predators captain Roman Josi will be the best player on the Switzerland roster. What is there to say about him that hasn’t been said already? He’s a natural-born leader, and although he may not be the most vocal, he leads by example. He won the Norris Trophy in 2019-20, and he’s always been an excellent source of offense for a team that has been notably unable to score points. His claim to fame is his excellent transition metrics. Outside of star Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, there’s no other defenseman in his league in possession zone exits and entries.
Josi will be the go-to guy for the Switzerland team both in the offensive and defensive zone. He’s always been a slightly below-average defensive player (outside of his Norris year), but it’s certainly not egregious, and his offensive prowess can explain itself. Any time you tune into a game, there’s always a reason to stick around when he's on the ice. Not only does he use his extremely smooth, Scott Niedermayer-Esque skating to open up lanes for himself, but the amount of defenders that he attracts is almost otherworldly.
The Switzerland team and coaching staff are getting a valiant leader that will do anything to win games. They may not be the most talented compared to the likes of Canada and the United States. Still, if we know anything about Josi after watching him for his entire career, he’s going to compete at the highest level, and his team will follow.
The Predators will be well-represented in Beijing in 2022. New lines with familiar faces may be the key to some players breaking out of their shells and showing what they can truly do in a different system. It’s all a matter of time before we see which countries take home the gold and which Predators players will come back to the league victorious.