Slovakia came away from the 2018 tournament rather disappointed. With no NHLers, the Slovaks should have done better than 11th, the same spot they finished in 2014 against the top talent in the world.
That meant they'd have to fight their way back into the tournament via the Olympic qualification round. Slovakia was one of the favorites to win and easily advanced after winning all three games. Slovakia has never missed the Olympics since splitting from Czechoslovakia, with a team-best fourth-place result back in Vancouver 2010.
How will the team do this time around? It's going to be a challenge for the Slovaks, but they always have the potential of stealing a game or two away from the top dogs - they did that against Russia back in 2018.
Let's take a look at what Slovakia's lineup could look like come winter time:
Each team is permitted a roster of 22 skaters (14 forwards, eight defensemen) and 3 goaltenders.
Tomas Tatar - Libor Hudáček - Richard Pánik
Peter Cehlárik - Marek Hrivík - Robert Lantoši
Tomáš Jurčo - Adam Ružička - Kristian Pospíšil
Marian Studenič - Milos Roman - Martin Pospíšil
Juraj Slafkovský, Marko Dano
This certainly won't be the best offense in the tournament, but one that tends to work well together. Obviously, current NHLers Tatar and Panik should lead the team's offensive hopes, but at the very least, the team isn't too shy in the depth department.
If Tatar can rejuvenate his career to the way he played early in his tenure in Montreal, then he should be able to rack up a few points along the way. But this Slovakian team, in general, isn't going to score a lot. They'll need a full-out defensive showcase, and at least they can count on some defensive help from this crop.
Cehlárik will be an interesting non-NHLer to follow. The former Boston Bruins forward was named top forward at the World Championship in the Spring with five goals and 11 points in eight games and followed that up with another two goals at the Olympic qualifiers. To make things better, Cehlárik had a four-point night to open up the KHL season and has generally been riding a high since leaving North America ahead of the 2020-21 season.
There should be significant attention placed on top 2022 draft prospect Slafkovský. A real contender to go in the top five next June, Slafkovský showcased his quick hands on a few occasions at the Olympic qualifiers and is set for his first full season of men's pro hockey in Finland. As he continues to get his feet under him against older competition, Slafkovský could surprise some folks as one of the few draft prospects playing in this event.
Andrej Sekera - Erik Černák
Martin Fehérváry - Christian Jaroš
Martin Marinčin - Peter Čerešňák
Martin Gernát - Simon Nemec
The blueline will definitely be busy for the Slovaks. Sekera and Cernak - a pair of NHLers - should lead the team's back end in ice time, with Sekera likely serving as the team's captain. Cernak will bring the size at 6-foot-4 and skates well on NHL-sized ice, so that'll translate well once he makes his Olympic debut. Fehevary and Jaros will also be making their big-time debuts, with Jaros hoping to capitalize on a new home in New Jersey to become a full-time NHLer for the first time since 2018-19.
One player to keep an eye on will be Čerešňák, a former New York Rangers prospect who had a tremendous Olympic performance in 2018 with four points in as many games. He was an integral piece of Slovakia's Olympic qualification squad with five assists. He definitely heated up at the right time, so we'll see if he gets any time on the man advantage to rack up some assists.
Nemec is another one to follow. Like Slafkovsky, Nemec is a contender to go in the top five of the draft, and has a realistic shot at going in the top three. Nemec has started to get more comfortable playing against men and spending a half-season doing so again should help ahead of the tournament.
Jaroslav Halak, Branislav Konrád, Adam Húska
Halak has one last chance to be a starting goalie for the Slovaks and as long as he stays healthy, he should be good enough to not be an issue. Halak has a new home for the 2021-22 season in Vancouver after a rough final year in Boston. Will it pay off? Potentially. He should get some more starts than he did last season and potentially use that as momentum heading into the Olympics. He's the only Slovakian goaltender in the NHL, but at 36, this should be his last kick at the can. Halak hasn't done many international events over the past decade, but he was a huge reason why Europe made it to the World Cup final. He'll need to be huge again in the round-robin for the Slovaks.
Konrád did a lot of the heavy lifting to get the Slovaks to this point after yet another strong tournament for the keeper. Should Halak need a night or two off, he'll be a nice backup. Huska also might force his way into a backup role as a New York Rangers prospect, but don't count out the option of the team electing to go with Julius Hudacek - a long-time favorite of Slovakian fans - in the role instead to reward him for years of dedication to the national team.