We still don't know whether or not NHLers will be allowed at the Winter Olympic Games in China next year, but we're at least getting to see a few in action in right now.
The final three Olympic qualification events are underway right now, with the top team in Norway, Latvia and Slovakia advancing to the big show this coming February. The NHL is covering insurance for some of its players to participate, allowing players like Anze Kopitar and Nikolaj Ehlers the opportunity to try and push their nations to the top event once more.
The added boosts should be impactful, but the pressure is on. The tournament began Thursday and runs until Sunday, with each team playing three games in four days.
Let's break down the NHL participation:
Anze Kopitar, F, Los Angeles (SLO)
The obvious big fish once again. Anytime Kopitar plays for his country, one of the smaller ones in this event, people take notice. Kopitar had five points at the last Olympic qualification tournament to help Slovenia advance to the big show and even had three points at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Kopitar, 34, is coming off an impressive 50-point campaign in 56 games and has played some good hockey in recent years, but can he be the everything-man Slovenia will need to advance?
Marco Rossi, F, Minnesota (AUT)
After a lost season due to complications from COVID-19, Rossi is ready to show he's ready for a big return ahead of making Minnesota as a rookie. In his final year of junior, Rossi had 39 goals and 120 points with the Ottawa 67's to lead the CHL and if it wasn't for his small 5-foot-9 frame, he wouldn't have slipped to ninth overall in 2020. Rossi had nothing to show for in a tough World Junior Championship for him back in the winter, but Rossi is a fitness nut and he'll be ready to shine as Austria hopes to make it back for the first time since 2014.
Nikolaj Ehlers, F, Winnipeg (DEN)
Ehlers scored two goals in the opening game for Denmark and generally played great to start play against Slovenia, as expected. And Ehlers' participation comes at a great time after a near point-per-game season for the skilled winger in Winnipeg. Ehlers had a good run with Denmark at the 2017 qualification tournament but hasn't had a chance to play at the big event in his career. That could change this time around.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, F, Columbus (DEN)
The Danes are getting Bjorkstrand at a great time. Fresh off the heels of his best NHL season to date with 44 points in 56 games, Bjorkstrand had a good first game for the Danes, helping to set up Ehlers for a first-period goal before generating some other dangerous chances in the latter stages of the game. Bjorkstrand doesn't have a ton of success at the men's level with Denmark, but at 26, he's expected to be a leader in Denmark's trip back to the Olympics.
Frans Nielsen, F, UFA (DEN)
Just last week, Nielsen was bought out by the Detroit Red Wings, a move many saw coming for a while. So while Nielsen technically isn't an NHLer, he's still looking for a deal for 2021-22. could use the Olympic qualifiers as his route back. His offensive has completely dried up in the past two years, recording just 15 points in 89 games, but his veteran experience and value as a depth play-maker might earn him one more shot.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F, Tampa Bay (FRA)
A reliable bottom-six forward, Bellemare was signed by Tampa Bay in the off-season and is chasing the first Stanley Cup of his career. But first, he's playing in his whopping fifth qualification tournament, although he has never been successful in his pursuit of sending France to the main event.
Antoine Roussel, F, Arizona (FRA)
Roussel's NHL career has fallen drastically over the past few years, recording just four points in 35 games in a tough season with Vancouver. Roussel was part of the cap dump that sent Oliver Ekman-Larsson back to British Colombia and while he isn't expected to play a big role in the desert, he already was a big reason why the French won its first game against Hungary thanks to his physical presence in front of the net.
Alex Texier, C, Columbus (FRA)
When the French needed a big goal against Hungary in the opener, Texier came up big with an early one in the second period. The 21-year-old Blue Jackets forward last played for France at the 2019 World Championship and was too young for the team's previous Olympic qualification effort, but he's already been impactful early in this event. Texier had 15 points in 49 games last year and while he hasn't been a big point producer in the NHL, he's got the speed and shot that can do some damage at this event.
Mats Zuccarello, F, Minnesota (NOR)
Zuccarello is a veteran when it comes to this event, having been crucial to Norway's trip to the 2018 Winter Olympics with five points in three games last time around. Injuries have reduced his play a bit in the following years, but for Norway, he's still their guy. Zuccarello had the chance to play at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympic Games with Norway and hopes to add another one to the resume.
Rudolfs Balcers, F, San Jose (LAT)
Will Balcers be a difference-maker for Latvia? He was the last time he suited up for his nation, scoring a goal and nine points in seven games at the 2018 World Championship. In fact, he was the top scorer on his country in both previous men's international tournaments he has played in, so expect a bit of that this time, too.
Zemgus Girgensons, F, Buffalo (LAT)
Like Rossi, the Olympic qualification is a great chance for Girgensons to get back into action after missing the entire season due to a hamstring injury. The loyal Sabres forward has never been a big offensive contributor, in the NHL or internationally, but he can be a good defensive forward and his experience is key for Latvia. Girgensons last played for Latvia internationally at the 2017 World Championship, but he also played in the qualification tournament earlier that season.