Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Samuel Knazko has been named to the Slovak Olympic team.
Knazko, a 19-year old defenseman, is currently playing in North America with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League (WHL). Despite his young age, he's long been a fixture for Team Slovakia, having twice been named captain of their World Junior Championship U20 team (which was started and canceled mid-way through just a few weeks ago). He's also represented Slovakia on the men's side, skating in the World Championships last summer.
For the 8th consecutive time since gaining independence, Slovakia will play at the #Olympics in #Beijing2022. Here are the chosen players from six different leagues: https://t.co/ay3YhMZPPQ#RoadToBeijing #hockey #icehockey #hokej #Slovakia @HockeySlovakia @olympijskytim pic.twitter.com/oXPyt4pQdk— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 18, 2022
Taken with the 78th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Knazko appears to be on the path towards professional hockey. The Blue Jackets have already signed the player, who was acquired in the Josh Anderson-Max Domi trade, to his entry-level contract. Through eight games this year with Seattle, the 2020 CHL Import Draft first-rounder has tallied a goal and two assists.
The Blue Jackets will have a keen eye on Slovakia's play, but not only because of Knazko.
#2022NHLDraft top prospects imon Nemec (D) and Juraj Slafkovsk (F) have been named to Team Slovakia for the 2022 Olympics. #CBJ prospect Samuel Kako (D) will represent Slovakia as well.— Matej Deraj (@MatoDeraj) January 18, 2022
: Hockey Slovakia pic.twitter.com/d8AoVlZ6Ti
Two of the top prospects in the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft, Šimon Nemec and Juraj Slafkovský, are also playing for Team Slovakia. The Athletic's Corey Pronman rated them #5 and #6 in his recent midseason ranking of the top 32 draft-eligible prospects. And with the Blue Jackets set to have two possible lottery picks in the draft, there's a fair chance that Blue Jackets fans will become familiar with one (or both!?) of those names in the not-so-distant future.
Team Slovakia will play in Group C of the Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey tournament alongside Finland, Latvia, and Sweden, with their first game set for Feb 10.