Much has happened in the world of hockey since 2018's Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, but perhaps the most important story since then is the NHL's decision to allow its players to compete in Beijing.

After a brief hiatus during PyeongChang, the top hockey players in the world are set to be returning to Olympic competition. Stars like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin are all expected to make the trip overseas and represent their countries, which is sure to bring an added element of intensity to this year's hockey tournament.

Who's Back

It should come as no surprise that Patrick Kane, arguably the greatest American hockey player of all time, is likely to return to Team USA for the Beijing Olympics. Kane is 32 years old (he turns 33 in November), but remains one of the top hockey players on the planet. The Buffalo native may not be known for his defensive prowess, but he is as dangerous with the puck on his stick as anyone who's played in the NHL over the last two decades. Barring something completely unforeseen, Kane is pretty much a lock to represent the U.S. in Beijing.

On the women's side, three-time Olympic medalist Hilary Knight is expected to compete for the U.S. this February as well. Knight, 32, played a key role for the Americans in PyeongChang when they took down the Canadians to win their first gold medal since 1998. A native of Palo Alto, California, Knight has guided Team USA to eight (!) gold medals at the IIHF World Women's Championship while also serving as one of women's hockey's top ambassadors in North America.

Other Olympic veterans expected to join Knight in Beijing include Brianna Decker, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Amanda Kessel.

Who's Gone

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, two of the heroes for USA's gold medal-winning women's team in PyeongChang, announced their retirement from the U.S. Women’s National Team Program last February. The 32-year-old twin sisters spent 14 years with USA Hockey and helped lead the Americans to six gold medals at the IIHF World Women's Championship, as well as three Olympic medals (gold in 2018, silver in 2010 and 2014).

Legendary New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist will also not be competing in Beijing. After signing a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals in October of 2020, Lundqvist missed the entire 2020-21 season due to a heart condition that required open-heart surgery. Lundqvist eventually announced his retirement from hockey in August. Lundqvist led Sweden to a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, followed by a silver medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.

New Faces to Watch

Toronto Maple Leafs superstar and Arizona native Auston Matthews has established himself as one of the top goal scorers in the world, and for good reason. At just 24 years old, the former No. 1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft has already potted a ridiculous 199 goals in his NHL career. Had NHL players been allowed to compete in PyeongChang, Matthews probably would have been the centerpiece of Team USA's roster. That will likely end up being the case in Beijing as Matthews will finally get to showcase his scoring ability on one of sports' largest stages.

Speaking of elite goal scorers, Boston Bruins sharpshooter David Pastrnak is also a likely candidate to compete in Beijing. If he does, he will immediately make the Czech Republic one of the more dangerous teams in the tournament. At 25 years old, Pastrnak has already hit the 200-goal mark in just 438 career NHL games. The two-time NHL All-Star is one of the most offensively gifted players in hockey, and that will continue in Beijing — especially if his former Bruins teammate David Krejci opts to compete as well.