With an NHL-free Olympics all but certain at this point, every country will need to take a different path toward filling out their rosters for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The field promises to be much more wide open than what the world has traditionally seen in the past 20-odd years. European squads have the benefit of entire leagues worth of talent to call upon, while Canada and the U.S. will be short-handed by not being able to use those in the NHL or even in the AHL on two-way contracts.
Thus far, many have assumed that the North American power houses will draw primarily from AHL contracts, while potentially scooping up those playing in Europe or even some NCAA players as well. For the United States, USA Today estimates that there are 200 Americans playing abroad this season, yet they mention only a few names, such as Mark Arcobello, Drew Shore, and Andy Miele, as foreign options before again turning their attention toward the minors and collegiate game.
However, one name that has seemingly slipped through the cracks in early Olympic consideration is KHL forward Dan Sexton. Far from a household name, the 30-year-old Sexton played college hockey at Bowling Green University before signing with the Anaheim Ducks in 2009. Sexton skated in 88 games with the Ducks between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, recording 32 points in a bottom-six role. Sexton routinely watched from the press box as well, and after four years with Anaheim spent largely in the AHL and as the team’s extra forward, he decided to move on with his hockey career. After a breakout campaign of nearly point-per-game scoring with TPS of the Finnish Liiga in 2013-14, the Minnesota-native signed on with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL and hasn’t looked back. In 2014-15, he kept his torrid pace up, scoring 47 points in 49 games in what many consider to be the best hockey league in the world behind the NHL. After an injury-riddled, albeit still productive, 2015-16 season, Sexton was back at it last year. With 50 points in 51 games, Sexton finished in the top 15 in KHL scoring and was tenth overall in points per game. He was the top-scoring right wing in the entire league. Sexton is far and away the best American in the league, especially with Brandon Bochenski now retired, and will look to hold on to that title through Olympic selection process. Thus far in the early KHL season, Sexton is tied for the league lead in scoring with none other than Pavel Datsyuk with five points in three contests.
With many Olympic candidates lacking the name recognition and pedigree that NHLers would normally bring, the most important qualifier for selection to Team USA will likely simply be “what have you done for me lately?”. The hottest players in the top non-NHL league will most likely get the call. Even though the United States boasts a talented group of young options in the AHL and NCAA, it will be hard to ignore the veteran Sexton if he continues to produce at high level in Europe’s top hockey league. A small, but speedy play-maker who has clearly adjusted well to the international game, Sexton could very well be one of the highlights of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games for American fans.