Olympic Stock Watch: Will top Flyers, Islanders fall with their teams?

2022 Winter Olympics
NBC Sports

The NHL currently plans on sending players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, with an early February break in the schedule. For some Olympic men’s hockey teams, most roster spots are no-brainers. That said, there’s room to move. Players can work their way off or onto Olympic rosters. In some cases, a fringe player could end up being key.

PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch monitors ups and downs for players for the U.S. men’s ice hockey team, Team Canada, and other countries hunting for medals.

Click here for the first Olympic Stock Watch from early November.  Our last Olympic Stock Watch was headlined by Troy Terry and Steven Stamkos.

Unless otherwise noted, stats come from before Thursday’s NHL games.

Olympic Stock: Down

Struggling Islanders, slipping 2022 Winter Olympic hopes

In the grand scheme of things, people expect a turnaround for the Islanders. At least compared to sprawling teams like the Canadiens, Canucks, Flyers, and Senators. But for Islanders fighting for especially competitive roster spots at the 2022 Winter Olympics, this slump could really hurt.

Mathew Barzal

Often, it’s unfair to allow a team’s struggles to undermine a single player’s 2022 Winter Olympics chances. That seems especially pertinent to the Islanders’ underrated defensive duo of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock.

But this really has been a tough season so far for Mathew Barzal.

Arguably, Barzal set expectations too high, too early with his captivating Calder campaign from 2017-18. As tantalizing as his 85-point explosion was, he’d likely take a more contained presence in exchange for team success.

Over the past three seasons, Barzal’s RAPM charts argue that he’s found a nice balance: quality offense without the sort of defensive lapses that would earn too much Barry Trotz ire.

Olympic Stock Watch: Will top Flyers, Islanders fall with their teams? Barzal RAPM three year
via Evolving Hockey

So far this season, that balance is off.

Importantly, note that the sample size is small. Don’t take this as some broad statement about Barzal’s overall all-around abilities.

Instead, graphics like Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts can provide quick snapshots, even in small sample sizes. In this case, Barzal’s RAPM chart reads more like those candid photos of people screaming down the scariest drop of a roller coaster.

Olympic Stock Watch: Will top Flyers, Islanders fall with their teams? Barzal this season
via Evolving Hockey

Again, no reasonable person would argue that Barzal can’t rebound and that he’s not a first-line center.

But Team Canada’s 2022 Winter Olympic choices translate to the usual buffet of overflowing options. Sure, it’s nice to dream about Barzal fully unleashed with forwards who can bury the beautiful chances he’d surely set up.

[Before this season, PHT projected Team Canada’s Olympic roster]

Look at PHT’s Team Canada Olympic Projections from before this season. Every PHT staffer (myself included) listed Barzal on Team Canada’s projected roster. However, three of the four rosters including Barzal as an extra forward, and one had him in a lineup — on the equivalent of a fourth line.

In other words, Barzal’s grip on an Olympic roster spot was already tenuous. With troubling two-way numbers and so-so offense (14 points in 21 games), Barzal’s season only dents his chances.

That said … I wouldn’t fault Doug Armstrong one bit if he was merely too enticed by Barzal’s game-breaking talent.

• Islanders defensemen Pelech, Pulock

On Nov. 9, The Athletic’s Arthur Staple noted (sub. required) that Team Canada may consider one of Adam Pelech or Ryan Pulock. Staple identified Pelech’s chances as the strongest, picturing the wildly underrated defenseman as the 2022 edition of Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Judging by PHT’s staff picks, Pelech was by far the more likely Olympic consideration.

So far this season, Barzal’s struggled more prominently than those two Islanders defensemen. In their cases, it’s been more about missing time with injuries.

That said, for a seemingly all-defense consideration like Pelech, this bumpy start could really hurt. What if Team Canada merely searches for someone who can fit that Pelech role, but who’s been healthy and on a more successful team?

(For what it’s worth, I’d still have Pelech on Team Canada.)

Falling Flyers

Carter Hart

No, it’s not really fair to blame all of the Flyers’ failings on Carter Hart. That said, his season’s been up and down. His .911 save percentage and almost even GSAA argue that he hasn’t been able to overcome his team’s failings. Team Canada might look at that and ask, “What if we need a goalie to bail us out?”

Most simply, he’s also on a personal six-game losing streak.

Sean Couturier

Overall, I’m not too concerned about Sean Couturier’s chances of making Team Canada. Once you get past explosive scorers like Connor McDavid, you’ll want two-way options. Couturier justifies most of that hype.

But he hasn’t been immune to the Flyers’ struggles. Consider where he ranks in xGAR this season, via Evolving Hockey:

Olympic Stock Watch: Will top Flyers, Islanders fall with their teams? Couturier xgar
via Evolving Hockey

Big picture, that’s nothing to panic about. Again, though, it’s important to remember that Team Canada enjoys a ludicrously deep array of options. Hence, the nitpicking.

James van Riemsdyk

Generally, JVR was already a dark horse Olympic candidate. He didn’t make any of the PHT staff lists.

But it’s worth noting that, on last season’s disappointing Flyers team, James van Riemsdyk enjoyed a heck of a season. With 43 points in 56 games, JVR tied for the team lead in scoring.

In this latest disappointing Flyers season, van Riemsdyk’s been a big disappointment, too. He’s only scored six points in 24 games, and it’s not as though his power play time dropped too dramatically.

When things are clicking, JVR’s “nose for the net” can make him a rare weapon, especially on the power play. Things are not clicking.

Quick hits: Olympic candidates whose stock is up

  • In much of this post, we look at Olympic contenders sorting through an embarrassment of riches. The U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team isn’t overflowing with premium center options — at least not compared to the other elites. With that in mind, you have to think there are a lot of eyes on Jack Hughes since he returned.
  • Similarly, Team Canada’s goalie pickings still look a little slim. With that in mind, don’t count out Marc-Andre Fleury. After an awful October, Marc-Andre Fleury is 7-5-0 with a .922 save percentage in his past 12 games. Can you blame Team Canada if they picture how MAF might shine behind a far better defense than the one he’s dealt with in Chicago?
  • By similar logic, Seth Jones‘ believers are emerging once more.
  • Chances are, we’ll dig deeper on Darnell Nurse‘s Olympic push in a future stock watch.
  • Was there much of chance that Erik Karlsson wouldn’t get an invite for Team Sweden at the 2022 Winter Olympics? Maybe not, but either way, it’s delightful to see him back among the league’s best defensemen.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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