(Steven Stamkos , Andre Ringuette/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images via TSN)
By Jake Ricker
With the NHL confirming that they will be participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics, many are wondering how many of their favorite players will have an opportunity to participate. The Lightning should have plenty of representation in the upcoming Olympics, with what many would consider one of the stronger rosters on paper. Let's go through some of the major countries and see what Lightning players could be looking to bring home the Gold for their respective countries.
With arguably the best roster on paper, there will be no shortage of superstar talent on Team Canada. But even with so much star talent, the Bolts have a few players that could crack the roster.
Stamkos is more than likely a shoo-in for a spot on the team. Surprisingly, Stamkos has never had the opportunity to represent Canada in the Olympics due to several situations. In 2010 Stamkos was only a reserve for Team Canada as he was only 19 at the time. In 2014 Stamkos suffered a significant injury that kept him from playing, and then in 2018, the NHL did not participate in the Olympics, taking another opportunity away from the Bolts captain. Stamkos has represented Canada very well in every international tournament he's participated in, garnering six points in seven games during the World Junior Hockey Championship back in 2008, while putting up two points in five games (including a key goal) during Canada's gold medal win in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. As he showed last year with 34 points in 34 regular-season games and 18 points in 23 playoff games, Stamkos can still play at an elite level. Stamkos can bring lots of talent and leadership to Team Canada, and barring a significant injury (knock on wood), should be a lock for the Olympics this year.
Point is another very likely candidate to make the team. Point, who had 23 goals, 25 assists for a total of 48 points last year, has been one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. Point also scored a goal in 9 straight playoff games last season, so there's no question his talent is there. Point also brings a lot of speed to the team, which few other players can offer. Chemistry is something that can be difficult to build with an Olympic roster that will only have a limited time together. With head coach Cooper already coaching the team and Stamkos a likely teammate, they would have a much easier time working together.
While not as stacked on paper as Canada, Russia still has a lot of talent. The Bolts, however, have arguably the best Russian trio in the league.
There's not much to say here, as Kucherov has become one the best players in the NHL with his elite scoring ability and high hockey IQ. Despite missing the entire regular season last year, Kucherov dominated in the postseason leading the league in points and assists. With Alex Ovechkin on the other wing as well, they will be a force to be reckoned with in this year's Olympics.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has become one of the greatest goalies we have seen and will no doubt have a spot on the Russian team as their starting goaltender. For Vasy, who is known to play a large amount of regular-season games, the biggest opponent will be fatigue. But with the addition of Brian Elliott, Vasy will hopefully be able to have a lighter workload. Knowing how much of a competitor Vasy is, even if he has to take on another large workload, he will be ready to go for the Olympics.
Sergachev has continued to improve his game each year, and he has become one of the better defensemen for the Bolts in recent years. Sergachev put up 30 points in just 56 games last season, which put him on pace for the highest total of his career if the NHL played a full 82 games. The Russians don't have the deepest pool of defensive players to pick from, so Sergachev should have little trouble making the roster. If Sergachev can continue to improve his game and minimize his mistakes, look for him to make a huge impact not only for the Russians but for the Bolts as well.
The United States 🇺🇸
It always feels like the US comes up just short when it comes to the Olympics, but a certain two-time Stanley Cup Champion could give them a good chance at bringing home the gold.
McDonagh has had a long NHL career as he now enters his 12th NHL season. With such a long NHL career, McDonagh can lay claim that he is one of only two Bolts on the current roster to have played in the Olympics, gearing up for the US in 2014 as a member of the New York Rangers (also on that Olympic team were former Bolts Ryan Callahan and Kevin Shattenkirk). McDonagh brings veteran leadership to the table, which could be an important trait on a potential younger US roster. McDonagh's calling card is his defensive ability blocking shots and shutting down passing lanes is his specialty. If he can play anywhere near where he did for the Bolts in last year's playoff run, McDonagh can be one of the best defensemen on this roster.
Sweden may not be a top-tier team like Canada or Russia, but they still have a solid team. The Bolts have one player, though, that will not only make the Sweden roster but have a chance at being the top player for the whole team.
Hedman, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and 2018 Norris Trophy winner, has consistently been one of the best defensemen in the NHL, both offensively and defensively. He brings veteran experience, lots of talent, and a great flow of hair to this Sweden roster and, without a doubt, will help lead this team to a potential deep run.
The Czech Republic 🇨🇿
While they are one of the smaller countries when it comes to NHL players, the Bolts still have two very good players that could make a big impact during the Olympics.
Palat has been a player who often gets overlooked because he plays with guys like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point. However, Palat is one of the better forwards on the Bolts and could probably be 1st liner on a decent number of NHL teams. Palat put up 15 goals, 31 assists for a total of 46 points last season. Like McDonagh, Palat can also claim Olympic experience, as he was on the 2014 Czech team. Palat's ability to create plays has helped him improve his game, which probably comes from working with teammate Nikita Kucherov so much. Palat should have a large role on the Czech Republic team and should defiantly be someone to keep your eye on.
Rutta has become a solid defenseman for the Lightning and should have the chance to represent the Czech Republic this year. While they do not have a very deep roster, Rutta can be a great guy to round out that bottom pair on the defense. While he doesn't put up a lot of points, he knows how to keep the mistakes at a minimum which is extremely valuable to a team.
Slovakia will have to qualify for their spot in the 2022 Olympic Games, but one Lightning player will be a lock if Slovakia makes it.
Cernak has improved his game over the last few years, both offensively and defensively. Cernak put up five goals and 13 assists last season for a total of 18 points. Cernak also brings a lot of physicality with his game which is something every team could benefit from. Cernak has made the case he can be a top 4 defenseman recently, and playing well with a team like Slovakia could only add to his resume.
France is another team that will have to earn their spot in the qualifying round of the Olympics this year. But there is one Bolt that will look to try and help them do just that.
While we have not seen Bellemare play in a Lightning uniform as of the writing of this article, he has been touted as one of the best 4th line centers in the NHL. Bellemare put up nine goals and two assists for a total of 11 points with the Avalanche. With France only laying claim to three current NHL players, Bellemare is a lock to make the team if they can make it to the qualifying round. France's Men's Hockey Team is looking to qualify for their first Winter Olympic games since 2002.
So there you have it. Every Lightning player that should be able to represent their team in the Olympics. The Lighting will be well represented, with 11 players competing for gold. Of course, we can't forget our head coach Jon Cooper, who will be coaching Canada. Let us know who you are most looking forward to seeing play or if we missed anyone on this list in the comments below.
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