It’s all but a done deal. The NHL players will participate in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. They will likely be required to get vaccines and, per new Chinese laws, may not play video games for more than one hour per night between Sunday and Thursday. Phil Kessel is unlikely to grace the Team USA dinner table with an order of nachos as he did years ago, but that will open up a spot to perhaps be filled with a current Pittsburgh Penguins player.
We can essentially guarantee the Penguins will have four representatives in Beijing. Head coach Mike Sullivan will helm Team USA (if there was even a tiny chance of Phil Kessel getting an invite, it ended there). Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby may well captain Team Canada. Evgeni Malkin will skate for Team Russia, health pending, and Teddy Blueger will captain Latvia.
Blueger helped Latvia qualify for the Olympics last weekend when the small country beat France in the Olympic Qualifier.
With those four in place, the Penguins could have three more join them, and maybe a bubble pick, too.
Possible Pittsburgh Penguins Olympic Participants
Jake Guentzel, LW, Team USA
This is an easy one. Even though PHN may like Rust better than Guentzel in the Olympic format, Guentzel is one of the highest-scoring U.S. forwards in the NHL. Guentzel trailed only Kane and Auston Matthews last season.
Kasperi Kapanen, RW, Finland
Easy choice, here, too. Kapanen is the sixth-highest scoring Finn in the NHL, and he’s only getting better. He scored 30 points (10-20-30) in 40 games last season.
Now for the harder choices.
Kris Letang, D, Team Canada
Letang has not won a Norris Trophy but has been a top-10 vote-getter in four of the past six seasons. The Canadian roster could be bloated with big-name blue-liners who have fallen on hard times, such as Drew Doughty who hasn’t surpassed 35 points since 2019.
Letang was the second-highest scoring Canadian-born RHD last season. Letang’s 45 points (7-38-45) trailed only Tyson Barrie.
However, Cale Makar, Dougie Hamilton, Alex Pietrangelo, and Barrie are also candidates. Team Canada brass could also choose some of the defensive defensemen to complete the Canadian powerhouse squad.
We like Makar, Pietrangelo, and Letang, but hedge your bets.
Bryan Rust, RW, Team USA
This will be a tough call. Even tougher than the Canadian defensemen above.
Rust popped 27 goals two seasons ago and 22 in the truncated version of the 2020-21 NHL regular-season schedule. Rust finished ninth among American forwards with 22 goals but was 18th in overall scoring. He is the eighth-highest scoring American-born RW behind Patrick Kane, Brock Boeser, Blake Wheeler, Alex Debrincat, T.J. Oshie, James van Riemsdyk, and Mathew Tkachuk.
But Rust was the fourth-highest goal-scorer in the bunch.
That’s a pretty good list, eh?
T.J. Soshi, er, Oshie has earned his stripes in international play and (should) get a ticket. Kane is the best of the bunch and will wear the colors, again, too.
We like the chances for a Mike Sullivan prompted hometown decision to put Rust on the team. He can play RW or LW and properly fill a bottom-six role more than Wheeler or DeBrincat. Maybe Rust is the 13th or 14th forward, but his ties to Sullivan and his goal-scoring ability give him a good shot. We think he’s a keeper, but great cases can be made for Tkachuk and van Riemsdyk, too.
Overall, Pittsburgh Penguins Olympians?
With four guaranteed and two highly likely, we’ll predict seven. One of Letang or Rust will make it, and one will get the shaft. Isn’t that the way the universe normally balances?