The Olympics are decidedly less fun to watch without NHL players, or junior players, or really any players that we still have some vested interest in. The idea of staying up until 4am in order to watch a high stakes Spengler Cup isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. You need your sleep.
If you do decide to stay up for it, or even more questionably decide to record Olympic hockey, there will still be some Leafs content for you, or at least former Leaf content.
Here are some of the Leafs “Greatest Misses” that could be representing nations at the Olympics.
Martins Dzierkals (Latvia) 23 pts in 33 gp in Czech ExtraLiga
Remember this savvy 3rd round pick who seemed destined for a middle six wing position on the Leafs? Whatever happened to him? Well, he didn’t pan out and went to Europe. He’s now one of the top scorers in the Czech ExtraLiga, and on Latvian team that doesn’t have a lot of places to look for offensive upside, Dzierkals will probably fit in with a largely Dynamo Riga driven lineup.
Marcel Muller (Germany) 20pts in 31 gp in DEL
Korbinian Holzer (Germany) 7pts in 19 gp in DEL
Here’s a throwback to Brian Burke’s attempt to tap into what appeared to be rise of German hockey. Unfortunately he was too early and Draisaitl wouldn’t happen for a couple more years.
Holzer managed to stick in the NHL longer than he should, largely because he was comfort food for NHL coaches wanting defensive depth they felt they could trust.
Muller, well… we kept on thinking he would be good for some reason and were wrong like almost every Burke era found wallet.
Juraj Mikus (Slovakia) 20 pts in 34 gp in Czech ExtraLiga
Martin Marincin (Slovakia) 12 pts in 30 gp in Czech ExtraLiga
Marincin might be one of the bigger names of the former Leafs that could find their way into the tournament. He seems like not only a lock for Slovakia, but has the potential for captaincy consideration.
Mikus is a pre Burke era Leafs draft pick that might be one of the more obscure names on this list.
Pars Lindholm (Sweden) 16 pts in 24 GP in KHL
Joakim Lindstrom (Sweden) 21 pts in 29 gp in SHL
Here’s a couple of Swedish forwards from the Leafs coming out of the dark era. Lindholm was a Rickard Wallin redux, and Lindstrom was a means to an end. Still, both have a very good chance of filling bottom six roles on a Swedish team that will lean heavily on SHL veterans.
Miro Aaltonen (Finland) 33 pts in 39 GP in KHL
Kalle Kossila (Finland) 21 pts in 36 GP in KHL
Mikko Lehtonen (Finland) 5 pts in 10 GP in KHL
Teemu Hartikainen (Finland) 22 pts in 39 GP in KHL
Petri Kontiola (Finland) 18 pts in 29 gp in Liiga
Lehtonen and Aaltonen are pretty recent attempts at found wallets by the Leafs, and in reality they were the traditional safety nets of seeing if European free agents could step up into bottom six roles over cheap NHL free agents. Neither grabbed a job on the Leafs, but they could grab spots on the Olympic roster.
Kontiola and Kossila are blasts from the Marlies past, and Hartikainen was never a Leaf, but his rights were, thanks to the Mark Fraser trade with Edmonton.
As for Rask, the less said about him is usually for the best, but he could be an option.
Nikita Gusev (Russia) 31 pts in 26 GP in KHL
Nikita Korostelev (Russia) 15 G in 38 GP in KHL
Nikita Soshnikov (Russia) 15 pts in 21 GP in KHL
Alexei Marchenko (Russia) 23 pts in 41 GP in KHL
Nikolai Kulemin (Russia) 25 pts in 42 GP in KHL
So Gusev’s tryout didn’t go as he planned. He’ll probably have the consolation of being an Olympic gold medalist.
As for Korostelev, he’s another failed Leafs prospect on this list, who never even found his way onto an entry level deal with Toronto.
Soshnikov will likely ride the wave into a depth role, and Marchenko will be an important part of Russia’s defense.
As for Kulemin, well, I love Kulemin, and arguably he’s the only player in this post who had a career worth a damn with Toronto. Watching him play important hockey again might actually be fun.
Nick Shore (USA) 23 pts in 42 GP in KHL
Kenny Agostino (USA) 37 pts in 42 GP in KHL
Jordan Schmaltz (USA) 20 pts in 34 gp in Liiga
Ryan Lasch (USA) 36 pts in 28 gp in SHL (league leader)
Jeremy Bracco (USA) 34 pts in 33gp in DEL
David Warsofsky (USA) 15 pts in 30 gp in DEL
Marc Arcobello (USA) 29 pts in 34 gp in NLA
JJ Piccinich (USA) 38 pts in 26 gp in EIHL
The fact that the United States could legitimately have eight former Leafs on it is kind of incredible. It’s the same number as Canada, but honestly I feel like I was reaching with some of the Canadian suggestions compared to the Americans who all look like locks aside from Piccinich, a former Leafs pick who has been thriving in the British Elite Ice Hockey League.
Taylor Beck (Canada) 34 pts in 38 GP in KHL
Jesse Blacker (Canada) 24 pts in 40 GP in KHL
Frank Corrado (Canada) 3 pts in 7 GP in KHL
Greg Scott (Canada) 17 pts in 29 gp in SHL
Justin Pogge (Canada) .915 sv% in DEL
Chris DiDomenico (Canada) 38 pts in 33 gp in NLA
Daniel Winnik (Canada) 31 pts in 27 gp in NLA
Josh Jooris (Canada) 16 pts in 30 gp in NLA
There are some serious 2014 vibes going on with a lot of these players, a wonderful throwback to a simpler time when the trade deadline was our playoffs.
Taylor Beck was part of one of the more hilarious Leafs trades despite only being with the Leafs for two months over the summer of 2015. Toronto needed to unload a ton of player contracts before the season, and picked up Michael Grabner in the process. It seemed like a lot of nothing at the time, but certainly bit the Leafs on the ass last year when they realized that walking away from Carter Verhaeghe was a massive mistake. Ah memories.
Speaking of memories, how about that Justin Pogge? The Canadian goaltending options aren’t particularly deep and Justin could be one of the depth options based off a solid year in Germany. The novelty of a Rask vs. Pogge game at the Olympics probably has some appeal for the Team Chaos corner of the Leafs fanbase.
Are there current Leafs’ prospects that could play?
Topi Niemela as the top scoring defenseman in the Finnish Liiga has the best opportunity to be selected, but as a 19 year old he’s still a longshot. The same goes for the other high performing Finns, Axel Rindell, and Roni Hirvonen.
Pontus Holmberg could have a shot at the Swedish lineup, but like Finland they can choose to go with veterans instead.
Finally, there’s the forgotten Leaf “prospect” Fabrice Herzog. Toronto still holds his NHL rights, and while he hasn’t had as strong a year as he did in 2020-21, he too could be an Olympian.
The ship may have sailed on the Olympics being a best on best tournament, but they could still be a fun trip down memory lane as we struggle to recall when we had hope that these players were the missing pieces for the Leafs.