Krejci, Staal and Power among Olympic hockey players to watch


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FILE – Vadim Shipachyov of Russia is in action during the ice hockey match between Russia and Belarus in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, January 30, 2018. Shipachyov dressed for just one game for the Russians when they won gold at the 2018 Olympics without NHL players. He is now their captain for the 2022 Beijing Olympics and leads the KHL in points with 67 points in 48 games. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

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David Krejci has returned home to the Czech Republic to play one more season in front of friends and family. Eric Staal didn’t get an NHL contract despite helping Montreal reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Thanks to the NHL’s withdrawal from the Beijing Games, Krejci and Staal are back at the Olympics.

Krejci and Staal are among the biggest names in a men’s hockey tournament that’s a who’s who of former and likely future NHL players.

“It’s going to be competitive,” said Staal, who is Canada’s captain. “It shows that the Olympics are something special. There are a few other guys in other countries who were fresh out of the league last year, and obviously it’s a great experience for us to be able to continue to play competitively. It’s going to be awesome.”

Here are a few players to watch when games start on Wednesday:

DAVID KREJCI

At just 35, the longtime Boston Bruins center would be in the NHL this season if he wanted to. After collecting 854 points in 1,112 games in North America and winning the Cup in 2011, Krejci has registered 17 goals and 19 assists this season in the Czech league and is participating in the Olympics for the third time after playing in 2010 and 2014.

Czech Republic goalkeeper Roman Will said Krejci “will be the best player in the tournament”. After playing against Krejci in the NHL, Lukas Sedlak is happy that they are teammates at the Olympiques.

“He’s really smart,” Sedlak said. “He knows the game. He knows where to go. He thinks one step ahead, so he knows where all the players are going to be, so I think that’s his biggest strength.

Coach Filip Pesan believes Krejci’s experience on the NHL’s smaller ice will help and expects the canny veteran to quickly level up to the international level, which is higher than the Czech league. The Czechs open the tournament on Wednesday against Denmark, which is taking part in the Olympics for the first time.

ERIC STAAL

The new Captain Canada laughed at the idea of ​​being the biggest star in men’s hockey at the Olympics.

“Well, we’ll see when the games start,” Staal said. “I am delighted to be here. It was unique years here with everything going on in the world and when the NHL chose not to play and my situation was what it was and I jumped at that chance.

Staal, 37, played 21 games with the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs last year when they reached the final. He won the Cup with Carolina in 2006 and, with his World Championship titles in 2007 and Olympic titles in 2010, he is one of 29 players for the prestigious Triple Gold Hockey Club.

“I’m sure he wanted to add another Olympic gold medal to his accolades,” said Canadian teammate Daniel Winnik, whose last NHL shift in 2018 came with Staal. “Eric is going to be a soothing voice in the room for us. It wears the ‘C’ for a reason.

And the “C” isn’t just for show. Staal is expected to be the No. 1 center for Canada, which opens the tournament Thursday against 2018 silver medalist Germany.

MATTY BENIERS

Of the 15 college players on the U.S. roster, Beniers offers the most potential to make a difference.

The No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft by expansion Seattle Kraken, Beniers has 36 points in 28 games this season at Michigan, which is one of the top contenders for the NCAA title. He is expected to get some power-play time for the United States, which plays its first game Thursday against hosts China and its handful of American players.

Defender Jake Sanderson could miss this game after his trip was delayed by positive virus test results. The United States will face Canada on Saturday, and the addition of Sanderson for that matchup and beyond would be a major boost.

OWEN’S POWER

The only player Beniers edged out was Power, who went first to the Sabers and could join Buffalo in the NHL this spring after his college season ends. Power is expected to be a top-four defenseman in Canada, which has an older roster than the United States.

Power would have been one of Canada’s best players at the world juniors in December. The cancellation of this tournament due to COVID-19 outbreak fears after play has started means it’s a second chance for Power to wear the Maple Leaf and make an impact.

“We were kind of given notice that (the Olympics) might be a possibility when the NHL announced they weren’t going,” Power said. “I don’t mean made up (for that), but it was pretty good to know that we most likely have another opportunity to come and play for Canada even though the world junior championships were over.

Third pick Mason McTavish, who has three points in nine NHL games with the Anaheim Ducks, is Canada’s youngest player and could spend time on the first line alongside Staal.

“Great player, man,” Staal said. “He will play for a long time. You can tell pretty quickly. … Being there with him right now, for me, is a lot of fun. Great energy, great players. He is a big and strong child. He knows where to be on the ice, I think, moving through those dirty areas, he’s really solid.

JURAJ SLAFKOVSKY AND SIMON NEMEC

The two youngest members of the tournament play for Slovakia. Winger Juraj Slafkovsky and defenseman Simon Nemec are 17 and expected to be first-round picks in the NHL Draft this year.

“(Nemec) has an incredible vision of the game and he has an idea of ​​hockey – how it should be played,” said longtime NHL assistant Craig Ramsay, who coaches Slovakia. “Slafkovsky is just a giant of a guy, and he has good hands and feet. He has incredible potential to be an NHL hockey player. I believe they can both play in the league. and we really hope to see good things from them and that they will have a chance and take advantage of it.

Slafkovsky could be in the top 10 or even the top five. He won’t turn 18 until March – so he has to wear a full cage for the tournament – and is 6ft 4in and 225lbs.

“People who are interested in me, I think they’re going to be watching,” said Slafkovsky, who wants to show “that I can play at the men’s level and show my strength and show that I can play in the NHL soon.”

VADIM SHIPACHYOV

The Russian captain played three NHL games for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion in 2017-18 and scored one goal after signing a three-year, $9 million contract. He refused to report to the minors after being assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, had his contract terminated and returned to the KHL.

Shipachyov only dressed for one game for the Russians when they won gold at the 2018 Olympics without NHL players. He is now their captain and leads the KHL in scoring with 67 points in 48 games.

“He’s a great passer,” said team-mate Mikhail Grigorenko. “He’s one of the best passers in the world and obviously the captain, I think he has good leadership as well.”

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Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More from AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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