Had a little time this Monday afternoon, which combined with an internet connection led to an article looking at the upcoming Winter Olympic Ice Hockey tournament from a Winnipeg Jets' perspective. Personally, I've never followed the Olympics very closely, tending to only watch specific events like hockey, soccer/football, and sometimes the 100 meter dash.
The last Olympics saw the Russians taking home the gold, while Germany surprised the hockey world by taking the silver medal, leaving Canada to take the bronze. Without NHL players going to China, the ice hockey medals are up for grabs once again.
Not all rosters are currently set, as federations have until Jan 24th (which is today, but haven't seen any announcements) to announce rosters for the tournament, which begins with games on Feb 9th. At this point, three countries haven't submitted their rosters (Canada, Germany, & China). Also, it was recently announced that each country will get to bring an extra 6 players for an Olympic "taxi squad", so extra names will get included as we get closer to the opening ceremonies.
The USA has opted to go with a fairly young team for the 2022 games, with 13 of their 25 players being recent NHL draft picks (19-23 yrs old). The Yanks have also kept a veteran prescence with 9 players between the ages of 28 - 34.
When it comes to a Winnipeg Jet connection, the obvious choice of Nathan Smith pops out to you. Drafted by the Jets in 2018 with their 3rd round pick, the right-handed center has led the NCAA in scoring this season (38 pts in 26 games). Smith projects to be used as a right-winger for the US squad, potentially as high as the 2nd line. The 23 year old forward is one all Winnipeg hockey fans will be anxious to get a good look at during the Olympics, all the while hoping to see signs of future scoring help for the beleaguered Jets franchise. If you would like further information about Smith, check out the article devoted to him in the Best Jet Prospects Not Playing in AHL series (in FanPost section).
The Americans have one other player who was donned a Jets jersey and that is Nick Shore. Another right-handed center, the 29 year old had spent time with 5 NHL franchises over his 5 year NHL career. He started out with the Los Angeles Kings, playing parts of 4 seasons with them before splitting the remainder of the year in Ottawa and Calgary. After spending a year playing in the KHL, Shore came back to the NHL in 2019-20 and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Midway through that season, the Winnipeg Jets claimed Shore off waivers and he dressed for 42 regular season (3 pts) and 4 post-season (0 pts) games. The US-born center has spent the past 2 seasons splitting his time between leagues in Slovakia, Switzerland, and Russia.
The Czech's roster is definitely veteran-heavy, with the youngest player being 24 years old. They don't have any recent NHL draft picks playing for them, but they do have a handful of players who have made it to the "big league". Their best known player will be former Boston Bruin David Krejci.
The first player I came across with a link to the Winnipeg Jets was 33 year old winger Michael Frolik. The Czech forward was drafted with the 10th overall selection in the 2006 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers. Frolik spent parts of 3 seasons with the Panthers, including a career-high 45 pts in 79 games in his rookie season. Midway through the 2010-11 campaign, he was acquired via trade by the Chicago Blackhawks. His 2.5 years in Chicago saw his point production drop significantly (less than 15 pts/year), but the Winnipeg Jets saw some potential and traded for Frolik prior to the 2013-14 season. The two years the Czech winger spent in Winnipeg reignited his career as he played all but 1 game, amassing 42 pts each year. The Jets opted not to re-sign Frolik and he joined the Calgary Flames for 4.5 seasons and continued to score at a decent pace. Midway through the 2019-20 campaign, Frolik once again was traded, this time to the Buffalo Sabres. After having one last kick at the can (8 games) with the Montreal Canadiens in 2020-21, Frolik has since spent his time playing in the Swiss league.
The second Jets connection I found was another Michael who also is a forward, this time being Michael Spacek. The right-handed center was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 4th round of the 2015 NHL Draft. After being drafted, Spacek joined the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, putting up 54 pts in 61 games in his 1st season before following with 85 pts in 59 games. Following that season in Red Deer, he joined the Manitoba Moose of the AHL for the remainder of their season, getting 1 assist in 4 games. The next two seasons saw Spacek become a regular for the Moose, totalling 38 pts in 70 games and 41 pts in 74 games. In his final season (2019-20) in Manitoba, the Czech center managed 20 pts in 45 games. After Winnipeg failed to offer him a second contract, Spacek headed back to Europe and spent last year playing in Finnish & Czech leagues. This season, he signed to play with the SHL juggernauts Frolunda and has had an impressive campaign (33 pts in 34 games).
The Danes will field a veteran lineup in China, with only a handful of players under the age of 30. They do have 1 recent draft pick as a probable back-up goalie and 4 or 5 others who have seen playing time in the NHL, including Mikkel Bodker and Frans Nielsen.
Since the obvious Winnipeg Jet connection to the Danish team is ineligble to play (Nikolaj Ehlers), that only leaves us with his father, the Denmark head coach, Heinz Ehlers.
The Russians are going with a roster breakdown that is fairly similar to the Americans, a good mix of veteran players and recent NHL draft picks. The veteran group will include former NHLers like Nikita Gusev and Artem Anisimov.
Unfortunately, neither of the Winnipeg Jets 2021 draft picks (Nikita Chibrikov/Dmitri Rashevsky) were included on the initial roster, it may be possible that they can crack the taxi squad.
As it stands, the Winnipeg Jets can be linked to only one of the Russian players, forward Andrei Chibisov. The 28 year old Russian went undrafted and spent his time developing his skills in the Russian hockey system. In 2019-20, Chibisov opted to take the leap across the pond and signed with the Winnipeg Jets. In his one year playing hockey in North America, the Russian winger played 53 games (25 pts) with the Manitoba Moose, as well as 2 games (0 pts) with the Jets. Chibisov has since returned to the KHL and has put up 34 pts in 48 games with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
The only other connection to Winnipeg can be found behind the bench with head coach Alexei Zhamnov. An absolute gem of a find for the original Winnipeg Jet franchise, since they drafted him in the 4th round of the 1990 NHL Draft. The offensively gifted forward put up a career-high 72 pts (68 games) in his rookie season with the Jets and followed that up with 3 more strong seasons in Winnipeg. Zhamnov was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 1996-97 season and he spent 7.5 years playing for them, working his way up to assistant captain and then ultimately captain of the Hawks. In 2003-04, he was traded at the deadline to the Philadelphia Flyers and he helped them with a playoff run (14 pts in 18 games). Zhamnov played in Russia during the NHL lockout the following year, before taking one last shot at the NHL with the Boston Bruins (10 pts in 24 games).
The Finns have decided not to take any young players to China, with all their players falling between the 26 to 34 years old range. They do have some noteable former NHLers on their roster, include Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula, Sami Vatanen, and Markus Granlund.
As far as a connection to the Winnipeg Jets goes, their recent Finnish draft picks are either playing in the NHL (1st round picks Patrik Laine/Kristian Vesalainen) or weren't expected to be in the running (4th round picks Henri Nikkanen & Santeri Virtanen).
Despite not seeing a link to the Jets after reading all the Finnish player's names, I figured that I would still take a look at each player's history and it paid off. It appears that the name of Juho Olkinuora should have meant something if I truly was a knowledgeable die-hard Winnipeg Jets fan. Although the Finn goalie wasn't able to get drafted by an NHL team, he turned a couple strong seasons (2.18 GAA/.924 save % and 2.35 GAA/.927 save %) with the University of Denver (NCAA) in 2012-13 into a contract with the Winnipeg Jets. Olkinuora ended up getting in 15 games in the AHL with the St. John's IceCaps between 2013-15, putting up unmemorable numbers. The Finnish netminder put up better numbers in the ECHL with the Ontario Reign and Tulsa Oilers, getting one last shot at the AHL with the Manitoba Moose in 2015-16 (6 games/5.13 GAA/.864 save %). Olkinuora moved back to Finland for the next 3 years with improved statistics. He shifted to the KHL (Metallurg Magnitogorsk/Admiral Vladivostok) the past 3 years and has really established himself as a consistent keeper (.929/.935/.917 save %).
The Latvians will have 5 players under the age of 25 on their team in China, as well as sporting a few players that have had brief stints in the NHL.
The Winnipeg Jets have an association with one of the veteran Latvian defensemen, Arturs Kulda. Selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 7th round of the 2006 draft, the left-handed defender made his AHL debut in 2007-08. The following season saw Kulda put up 15 pts in 57 games with the Chicago Wolves and he got his first taste of NHL action the next year (2 pts in 4 games). Kulda spent the majority of his time with the Wolves, putting up 25/17 pts in 66/69 games those two seasons. In 2011-12, the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg and the Latvian d-man spent the majority of that campaign with the St. John's IceCaps (20 pts in 63 games). However, he did get to don a Winnipeg Jets jersey, suiting up for 9 games and ending with 0 pts/+ 3 rating. That marked the end of Kulda's North American career and he has continued to play in Europe in the Russian & German leagues.
The Latvian team will be coached by Harijs Vitolins at this year's Olympics and he has a link to the original Winnipeg Jets franchise. Vitolins ended up being drafted in two NHL drafts, the first time by the Montreal Canadiens in 1988 (9th round). The second time he was selected, the Winnipeg Jets used their 9th round pick in the 1993 draft on the offensively talented forward. In 1993-94, Vitolins had a solid debut with the Moncton Hawks of the AHL, amassing 62 pts in 70 games. He also made his NHL debut that year with Winnipeg, getting into 8 games (0 pts). Vitolins only stayed that one year in North America before finishing his playing career is Swedish and Swiss leagues before moving onto coaching.
The Slovaks will be an interesting team to watch in the Olympics, as they have 2 players (Simon Nemek - RD/Juraj Slafkovsky - LW) that are expected to be drafted in the top 10 of the 2022 NHL Draft. They have 4 other young/recently drafted players on their roster, to go with former NHLers Martin Marincin & Tomas Jurco.
The only tie to the Winnipeg Jets on the Slovakian squad is forward Marko Dano. Originally selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 1st round (27th overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft, Dano made his NHL debut with them in 2014-15 (21 pts in 35 games). Before the next season, the Chicago Blackhawks acquired Dano in a trade that also featured Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov. He played for 34 games (23 pts) with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, before dressing for 13 games (2 pts) with the Blackhawks. Midway through the 2015-16 season, the Winnipeg Jets sent Andrew Ladd & others to Chicago for Dano and a 2016 1st round draft pick. Dano finished the season with the Jets, getting into 21 games (8 pts). The following two seasons saw the Slovakian forward play 38 games (11 pts) and 23 games (3 pts) with Winnipeg. Dano started the next year with the Manitoba Moose (AHL) before being called up to the Jets. He didn't get a game in with Winnipeg before being sent down to the minors, but the Colorado Avalanche claimed him on waivers. Dano got into 8 games (0 pts) with the Avalanche before they tried to send him to the minors, only to have the Winnipeg Jets re-claim him. In the end, Marko amassed 30 pts in 51 games with the Moose that year. After all that, the Jets declined to offer Dano a contract in the off-season and he signed a 1 year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He spent that majority of that year with the Cleveland Monsters (AHL), getting 19 pts in 46 games. Dano also played his last 3 NHL games (0 pts) with the Jackets that season. In one final link to the Jets franchise, the Slovakian forward signed a contract with the Manitoba Moose (AHL) in 2020-21, totaling 3 pts in 13 games. This year saw Dano playing in the Czechia hockey league (15 pts in 30 games).
The majority of the Swedish lineup consists of experienced players (26 to 31 years old), though they do have one young Maple Leafs prospect. Many of their players have some NHL experience, with the most noteable being Lucas Wallmark and Marcus Kruger.
The most obvious connection to the Winnipeg Jets is forward Carl Klingberg, elder brother of Dallas' John Klingberg. Carl is a 6'3" right-handed winger that was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 2nd round of the 2009 NHL Draft. In 2010-11, Klingberg got into 8 games (1 pt) with the Chicago Wolves (AHL) and one game with the Atlanta Thrashers. The following season saw the franchise relocate to Winnipeg and Klingberg made his debuts with both St. John's IceCaps (AHL) and the Winnipeg Jets putting up 37 pts in AHL 66 games and failing to find the scoresheet in 6 NHL games. The next 3 seasons saw him mainly playing in the AHL, but he did get into 5 NHL games (1 goal). He did put up his best AHL season in this time period, scoring 42 pts in 65 games. During the 2014-15 campaign, the Jets shipped Klingberg to the NY Rangers for Lee Stempniak and he finished his North American playing career with the Hartford Wolfpack (11 pts in 13 games). Since then, the Swedish forward has been playing in the top Swiss league.
More tenous links include Swedish defenseman Dennis Everberg, who signed a contract with the Winnipeg Jets prior to the 2018-19 NHL season. Having previously played 70 NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2014-15/2015-16, this wasn't his first attempt at professional hockey in North America. His time in the Winnipeg Jets organization didn't go well, with just 11 games (1 pt) with the Manitoba Moose (AHL) to show for it before he was loaned to EV Zug in Switzerland to finish the year. Since then, Everberg has made the jump to the SHL with Rogle.
An even less tangible connection exists to the Swedish head coach, Johan Garpenlov. Garpenlov was originally drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1986 NHL draft, but spent the majority of his NHL career with the Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks. His link to the Jets comes with the Atlanta Thrashers selecting Garpenlov in the 1999 expansion draft. The left-handed winger completed his NHL career with 16 pts in 73 games with Atlanta before playing one final season in Sweden.
While Canada's roster hasn't been announced yet, we do know that there will be a connection to the original Winnipeg Jets franchise with General Manager Shane Doan. Doan was drafted 7th overall by the Jets in the 1995 NHL Draft and got to play for one year in Winnipeg (17 pts in 74 games) before the franchise relocated to Phoenix. He went on to a storied career with the Coyotes, putting up a career-best 78 pts in 2007-08, and ended up being their long-time captain (13 seasons).
With the final 3 rosters now determined, I have completed my review and found 3 more players with connections to the Winnipeg Jets, despite not finding any links to the German squad. So let's start where I left off, with Team Canada....
Team Canada decided to go with a mix of ages, with 4 under 22 yrs old prospects (Devon Levi - G, Owen Power - D, Jack McBain - F, & Mason McTavish - F) to go along with 15 -players older than 30 yrs old. There are quite a few former NHLers in the lineup, with guys like Eric Staal, Daniel Winnik, & Jason Demers.
When it comes to a link to the Winnipeg Jets, you can find it in net with Eddie Pasquale. Pasquale was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 4th round of the 2009 NHL Draft. In 2011-12, the Canadian goaltender got his start in the AHL with the St. John's IceCaps and went on to put up save percentages between .907 and .920 for the next 4 seasons. In 2014, the Jets ended up sending Pasquale to the Washington Capitals for multiple late round draft picks. The goalie eventually spent time with the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings, but it was the Tampa Bay Lightning who dressed him for 3 NHL games. For the past 3 seasons, Pasquale has been playing in the KHL (Barys-Nur-Sultan & Lokomotiv Yaroslavl).
Another Jets connection comes with forward Eric O'Dell being named to the Canadian Olympic roster. The center was originally drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2nd round of the 2008 NHL Draft. Before he got a shot to start with the Ducks franchise, they shipped him to the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010. O'Dell got his professional hockey start with the St. John's IceCaps in 2011-12, playing parts of the next 4 seasons with them. He had some solid seasons, putting up 55 pts in 59 games once and 42 pts in 42 games on another occasion. O'Dell also got in 41 games with the Winnipeg Jets, amassing 3 goals and 5 assists. After not being offered a contract by the Jets the following season, the goaltender signed a contract with the Ottawa Senators and eventually was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, but couldn't manage to get into another NHL game. O'Dell then moved his talents to the KHL where he has spent the last 6 seasons playing for 4 different teams.
When it comes to the Chinese Olympic team, you find that they will be a bit younger than the majority of other teams. They have 7 players over the age of 30 & 10 players 24 yrs old or younger. There are some recognizable names in their lineup, such as Canadian Ryan Sproul and American Jake Chelios (son of Chris Chelios).
When it comes to the Winnipeg Jets, there is only the one connection and it's defenseman Zach Yuen. In their first ever draft, the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 drafted the Chinese-Canadian in the 4th round of the 2011 NHL Draft. Winnipeg never did offer him a contract and he spent 3 years playing in the AHL/ECHL after being signed by the Toronto Marlies in 2013-14. Since then, Yuen has spent his time playing for the Kunlun Red Star of the KHL.