*(This story has been modified for VHN, it was originally written by Simmer for the international hockey newsletter Hockey Wanderlüst on Sunday, October 10th. You can follow on twitter @HockeyWanderlst and check out all of the editions at hockeywanderlust.com)
Just before the puck drops on another NHL season this week, the league and NHLPA decided to do a little Olympic tease. They requested that each national Olympic program name the first three players to their respective rosters for Beijing, and the results were indeed exciting.
Not only did the lists provide a tantalizing taste of what’s in store talent-wise at the winter games, it also proved to be a catalyst for a little daydreaming. Imagine an international hockey spectacular, pay-per-view (or not) global TV, where a mini-Olympics would feature the best in the world going three-on-three, head-to-head, NHL overtime style.
The only problem is, not many of the team lists featured a goalie, so some very difficult cuts would have to be made. The idea would be for each country to have one forward, one defenceman and a goalie.
Below are the actual Olympic lists, (while inside the parenthesis are the substitutions I would make). See if you agree.
Slovakia kind of got the idea right, with Vancouver Canuck Jaroslav Halak in net and skaters Eric Cernak and Andrej Sekera. But wait! That’s two D-men. C’mon Slovakia! (Sorry Andrej, you’re 35-years-old, Eric is 24. Sekera is out, in comes forward Tomás Tatar). Meanwhile, I volunteer Hockey Wanderlüst’s Risto Pakarinen, at about 5′-6″, 155 pounds, to go knock on Zdeno Chara’s door and tell the presumed full-Team Slovakia captain that two other D-men were picked ahead of him.
OK, so Latvia went with forwards Rudolfs Balcers, Zemgus Girgensons and AHL-level defenceman Kristians Rubins. (I’m keeping “Girgy”, dumping Rudolfs, and bringing in goalie Elvis Merzlikins from the Columbus Blue Jackets.)
Who nailed it?! Germany of course, always following directions that don’t even exist yet and always ready for anything. Forward Leon Draisaitl, defenceman Moritz Seider, and goalie Philipp Grubauer. Not a bad start Germany. By the way, Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman is planning on Seider being his main man on his blueline for years to come.
Like many of the teams, the Swiss need a goalie. For Beijing they announced forwards Nico Hischier and Timo Meier and 2020 Norris Trophy winning defenceman Roman Josi. (Sorry Timo, for this format I’m going with the kid Nico, and my goalie is Reto Berra, the former NHLer now playing for first place Fribourg-Gotteron in the Swiss National League.)
Welcome to Olympic Ice Hockey, Denmark. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nikolaj Ehlers and Alexander True were the names announced. All forwards, nice job Denmark. (So Ehlers stays, “Ollie” and True, a prospect with the Seattle Kraken who was plucked in the expansion draft from San Jose, you’re out! Freddie Andersen is the Dane’s goalie and hmmm, my D-man is Nic Jensen, the 28-year-old former Vancouver Canuck who has traditionally put up plenty of points in Europe.)
Now to the deeper teams. Canada would be the favourite in the upcoming best-on-best, and they named “Mr. Golden Goal” Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. (Alrightee then, so this may be a bit sacrilegious but Sid, you’re out. Replaced by goalie Carey Price, who we all hope is rocking and rolling again well before February.)
The Czechs decided to make my life difficult, naming three forwards to their real Olympic team; Ondrej Palat, David Pastrnak, and Jakub Voracek. Lovely. (“Pasta” stays, Cup winner Palat and elder statesman Voracek, you’re on the bench. I’m replacing you with defenceman Filip Hronek and goalie Petr Mrazek. There are more experienced D-men like Radko Gudas, but for 3-on-3 we’re obviously going with skating and scoring and Hronek brings more mobility. Mrazek can be streaky, but I saw him catch lightning in a bottle for the Czechs at the 2012 World Juniors. He’s an entertaining international participant.)
The Finns offered up a similar dilemma. Three forwards. And wow, these guys will be a big threat in the real thing; Sebastian Aho, Aleksander Barkov, and Mikko Rantanen. (But for my tourney, I’m keeping Aho and his dangle over $80-million man and Selke Trophy winner Barkov and Colorado’s sniper. Relatively easy call on D, and I’m going to go with Dallas’s Miro Heiskanen over his teammate Esa Lindell and Philly’s Rasmus Ristolainen. My goalie is Juuse Saros since Pekka Rinne just retired and Tuukka Rask is questionable.)
The athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee: Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Thank you for providing us a no-brainer in net with “Vassy”. (Up front, we keep all-around playmaker Kucherov and we add his teammate on defence Mikhail Sergachev. Sorry Ovie. See you in Beijing.)
The United States left us with a difficult choice up front. They did provide us a D-man. Seth Jones, who won a World Junior Gold with his country in 2013, is the keeper. Between the forwards I’m keeping the younger Auston Matthews over Patrick Kane although that’s a coin toss. (Goalie Conor Hellebuyck bumps Kane.)
That leaves us China and Sweden. Umm, we’re not sure China is even going to stay in the tournament just yet. More on that (again) later.
So Sweden. Victor Hedman on defence, with Gabriel Landeskog and Mika Zibanejad up front. (We need a goalie and we need to bump a forward, and for the first time I’m actually going to replace both of these guys. Yes, I get why they were named to the big tourney, but for a 3-on-3 format, give me “Petey” any day of the week. Elias Pettersson is in and I’m adding Jacob Markström over Robin Lehner in net.)
So there you have it, Simmer’s Skating Spectacular. But don’t worry, no one is really dropped – unless personal choice or injury takes one or two of these guys out of a trip to China, you’re gonna see each and every one of these fellahs battling for their countries in Beijing. And that will indeed be spectacular.