By Ryan Williamson | Oct. 01, 2018, 1:25 p.m. (ET)

Ryan Donato celebrates after scoring a goal at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 21, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

On Wednesday, the 2018-19 NHL season begins with a set of four games. The docket includes the Boston Bruins playing the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Prior to the game, the Capitals and their fans will celebrate as they raise their first-ever Stanley Cup champion banner. Among those in attendance will be current Washington players and U.S. Olympians John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and T.J. Oshie. All three played for Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.

As the NHL season begins, the presence of American players in the sport continues to grow. The opening day rosters feature 29 U.S. players who have represented their country at the Olympic Winter Games. And with a strong crop of players on the cusp of the NHL, that number looks like it will only increase.


Starting Fresh
T.J. Oshie looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey on Sept. 16, 2016 in Toronto.


After splitting time between college, the Olympics and some professional action last season, 2018 Olympians Ryan Donato and Jordan Greenway will each start the season in the NHL.

Donato, a Scituate, Massachusetts, native, will play his first full season with the hometown Boston Bruins. Greenway will start the season with the Minnesota Wild. The Canton, New York, native played in six games with the Wild last season, including five postseason games where he tallied a goal and an assist.

Greenway comes into the 2018-19 season as one of three Olympians to play for the Wild. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are each two-time Olympians and helped Team USA to the silver medal in 2010. They also played on the 2014 team that took fourth in Sochi, with Parise serving as captain.

As this season begins, 22 of the 23 members of the 2014 Olympic team are still skating in the NHL. Some will start the season in new homes, including Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, who both joined the Vegas Golden Knights in the offseason. They’ll aim to replicate the success of the 2017-18 Golden Knights, who became the first NHL team to make it to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.

The Golden Knights and Wild are just two teams hoping for a playoff spot in the highly contested Western Conference. One of the most improved teams appears to be the San Jose Sharks. Two-time Olympian Joe Pavelski will lead a Sharks team that made a big splash in the offseason by acquiring big-time defensemen Erik Karlsson. Meanwhile, two-time Olympian Patrick Kane will look to boost his Chicago Blackhawks back into the playoffs after leading the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2018 world championship.

Elsewhere, other Olympians continue to thrive. 2010 Olympian Jack Johnson and two-time Olympian Phil Kessel will suit up for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kessel was a part of the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup champion teams.

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Pittsburgh is joined by Washington and a collection of other teams that will vie for the Eastern Conference crown. Ryan McDonagh, a 2014 Olympian, starts his first full season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native will aim to avenge last season’s loss to the Capitals in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.

Another Minnesota native, 2014 Olympian Blake Wheeler, will sport the “C” this season for the Winnipeg Jets. Wheeler led the Jets to the 2018 Western Conference finals, notching three goals and 18 assists in 17 playoff games.

Four Americans will captain their respective teams this season. Wheeler is joined by Pavelski, Andy Greene of the New Jersey Devils and Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets.


On The Cusp
Five 2018 Olympians will start the season on the American Hockey League in hopes of breaking through to their respective NHL team. 

Will Borgen and Troy Terry each represented Team USA in PyeongChang in 2018 while playing for their respective college teams. Borgen heads to the Rochester Americans hoping to break through with the Buffalo Sabres while Terry hopes to do the same with the San Diego Gulls.

Three other 2018 Olympians – John McCarthy, Bobby Butler and Chris Bourque – also enter the season in the AHL. Bourque enters this season with the most AHL goals (236) of any active player.


A Bright Future
Patrick Kane competes at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on May 5, 2018 in Herning, Denmark.

 

The college hockey season is also approaching quickly, with the season beginning on Oct. 5. As the season begins, members of the 2016 U.S. Youth Olympic team that took gold in Lillehammer, Norway, are making a big impact and will likely be headed toward the professional ranks sooner rather than later.

Eight members of that team were selected in the 2018 NHL Draft. Fourteen of the 17 members are playing college hockey this season. Boston College appears to be a team on the rise with three 2016 gold medalists – Jack DeBoer, Jake Wise and Oliver Wahlstrom – all suiting up for the Eagles this season. 

Wahlstrom was one of the eight selected in this year’s draft. The Yarmouth, Maine, native heads into his first collegiate season after being selected in the first round of the 2018 draft by the New York Islanders. After registering 94 points (48 goals, 46 points) with the U.S. National Team Development Program last season, Wahlstrom appears to be someone to watch beyond just this season.

Ryan Williamson is a sportswriter from Minneapolis-St. Paul. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.