Predicting the United States roster for Sochi Olympics
There were no line combinations or defense pairings for the assembled media to analyze at U.S. Men's National Team Camp in Arlington, Va., earlier this week, but USA Hockey did gather a group of 48 players to begin the process of selecting a team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
General manager David Poile made a startling point at the introductory press conference inside Kettler Capitals Iceplex: None of the 48 players at the camp had been born before Feb. 22, 1980, when a group of American college kids upset the best team in the world.
The United States' entry at the 2014 Games will be older than the "Miracle on Ice" crew, but the Americans are likely to be one of the youngest teams at the tournament in February. However, they won't be inexperienced at this level; there were 16 players in Northern Virginia who wore the USA sweater in Vancouver four years prior.
Those players were part of a transition from the old guard of players who won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and finished second at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Now they not only will be the core of the team but also be expected to lead the group.
The narrative four months prior to the official selection of the roster is clear: The Americans are heavy on elite goaltenders and skilled two-way forwards, but lack elite depth at center. The most under-reported aspect of the roster might be the makeup of the defense, where Poile and his management team could have some tough decisions to make.
Here is one take on what the 25-man roster could look like for the United States in Sochi, Russia:
COREY MASISAK'S UNITED STATES OLYMPIC TEAM
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Quick's recent resume is irrefutable. Unless there is a dip in form or injury, pencil him in for the start on Feb. 13, 2014, against Slovakia.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres
Miller might be the safest pick of the top remaining candidates to make the team, but the least likely to start. It's also possible he has a great few weeks leading up to the tournament and there's a push to see if he can rekindle his 2010 magic.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
Nearly a dead heat between Howard and Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators) with Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils) a bit behind because of NHL playing-time concerns. The defense in front of Howard should be better with Detroit this season, and he looked like a legitimate star during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
Trying to figure out what the forward lines might look like is not easy at this point, but Parise likely will be on the left side of the top line.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
If Parise ends up on the top line, Brown could be deployed at left wing on the second or third forward group.
David Backes, St. Louis Blues
Backes, if healthy, is a lock, but his actual spot in the lineup (and position, for that matter) could remain a mystery. He can play center or wing for this team and end up on any of the top three lines.
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Kesler needs to prove he is healthy. If he does, he'll be on this team and likely centering one of the top three lines.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
The Conn Smythe Trophy winner will be on the right side of one of the top lines, and the other top-six right wing likely will be …
Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
… this guy. Kessel and Kane figure to be the two game-breaker types on the roster, though there could be a surprising third (that's called a tease).
Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
If Kane and Kessel are the top two right wings, then Callahan slots in on one of the bottom lines. A line with Brown and Callahan on it (and with Backes or the next player on this list at center) would not be a lot of fun to play against.
Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Like Backes, he could end up at center or wing. Pavelski, like Kesler, consistently has been one of the top American-born faceoff guys in the NHL, though his percentage slipped in 2012-13.
Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators
His offensive production was down a bit in 2012-13, but he's a near-lock for this team and could end up as the left wing on the second or third line (with Brown in the other spot).
Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
Stepan might be the least heralded of the five players who are best bets to play center for the Americans, but he might end up on the top line. It could be a pretty fluid situation, to say the least.
Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche
Stastny did not have a great NHL season in 2012-13, but he did have a huge performance at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. That, plus the rest of his work in a USA sweater and his status as one of the top five American centers, should get him on the roster.
James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs
He's big but fleet afoot, which will be something the management group likely emphasizes when making the final decision on the last few roster spots.
Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
This spot could belong to T.J. Oshie. They are different players, and it could come down to fit. They also each could make it in place of the surprise player who is next on the list.
Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens
This is a leap of faith. He's not one of the 14 forwards who should be on the team in early September, but if he has a Tyler Seguin- or Steven Stamkos-like second-season surge, the United States could use another speedy, slick-skilled scorer with plenty of recent experience on the big ice surface.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild
He's the No. 1 defenseman on this team.
Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
Already a burgeoning star, his offensive numbers could take off with Alain Vigneault in charge instead of John Tortorella. It's also less likely McDonagh will miss the tournament after breaking a bone blocking a shot.
Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues
Canada is short on left-handed shooting defensemen, and the United States is a little light on righties. Shattenkirk probably is the safest bet among the right-shot players to make it.
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
His offensive numbers take a hit because Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin hold a monopoly on the point positions during NHL power plays, but Carlson has been great for Washington at even strength, even when stuck with a lesser partner, which won't be the case on this team.
Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets
None of the three NHL.com writers (this one included) who projected the United States roster a little more than a month ago put Johnson on their list. His lengthy resume in a USA sweater is a good indication he will be on this team.
Keith Yandle, Phoenix Coyotes
Yandle has 44 goals since the start of the 2009-10 season; that's more than any U.S.-born defenseman who has played the position that entire time. None of the other players on this list (save for the last one) are shoot-first defenders.
Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins
This spot could go to his teammate, Brooks Orpik, who was on the 2010 team, or another right-handed shot: Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes), Zach Bogosian (Winnipeg Jets) or Seth Jones (Nashville Predators). Martin gets the nod in place of Orpik because the U.S. management team has not been shy about placing an emphasis on speed and skating ability on the big ice.
Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
Byfuglien might almost be too obvious a choice as the 25th man on the roster. He's probably not going to get 20 minutes a game for the United States on the international ice surface, but he certainly could be the seventh defenseman who either sets up next to Suter on the power play or in front of the goaltender.