For NHL Players, 12-Year Olympic Break Could Dash Dreams
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How long does one’s “hockey prime” last? For superstars like Alexander Ovechkin it may last two decades, but he’s obviously an extreme example. For most, injuries, competition and attrition wear players down or out much sooner than that. Twelve years is a long career for most who enter the NHL.
I only ask because it appears that a pretty impressive group of young to middle-aged NHL players will potentially be seeing their only or best chance at playing in the world’s most prestigious best-on-best hockey event, the Winter Olympics, kicked on down the road or eliminated completely.
Think about it. Let’s say you became a very good player in the NHL between the ages of 19 and 23 and that started to happen for you in the early 2010’s. Maybe you weren’t quite old enough or good enough to make your country’s roster in Sochi in 2014. Then the league turned away from PyeongChang in 2018 and again from Beijing in 2022. The next games will be held in Milano/Cortina in 2026.
That time span alone, between Russia and Italy, is a dozen years. A few would have played in the 2016 World Cup in Toronto, like the “Young Guns” Team North America featuring Connor McDavid (CAN) and Auston Matthews (USA), but the overall experience and global attention isn’t even close. If they’re healthy, those two will be playing in 2026.
Presently, none of the 11 Canadians on that 23-and-under roster have played in an Olympics, nor have any of the 12 Americans. That includes other Yank’s like Johnny Gaudreau, Seth Jones and John Gibson, all previous World Junior Gold Medalists, and Canadians like Morgan Rielly, Mark Scheifele and Nathan MacKinnon.
The youngest players on the Swedish roster in Sochi were alternate captain Gabriel Landeskog, current Vancouver Canucks defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Marcus Johansson. For Swedes who’ve never had an Olympic chance, will defenceman Hampus Lindholm get a crack at age 32 in 2026? How about forward Filip Forsberg, same age. The Czech Republic’s Tomas Hertl will be 32, one would hope he’d make it. Finland’s Teuvo Teravainen has never participated. It’s weird to think that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has never played for Russia at the Olympics.
The deeper the country’s talent base, the harder it will be for first-time 32 to 34 year olds to make Olympic rosters for the very first time. Adam Larsson of Sweden will be 33, as will Mike Zibanejad.
Taylor Hall was the first overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has had a stalwart career which includes winning a Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player in 2018, but he’s never been to the Olympics for Team Canada. Part of that is depth, the other part is timing. A 34-year-old first timer? Probably not.
JT Miller was a 2011 NHL 1st-round draft pick, a former Team USA WJC Gold Medalist who probably would have made his country’s Olympic team this year. Given the perpetual incoming American depth at forward, the chance of him being a 33-year-old first timer may become slight.
There are handfuls of other examples from around the globe. Regardless of circumstances, it’s just unfortunate that these deserving NHL players may never get the opportunity to play on hockey’s biggest stage. It’s like 1994 all over again.