Projecting the Team USA hockey roster for Sochi Olympics
With the deadline approaching to select the rosters for the 2014 Sochi Olympic hockey teams, I figured I'd throw in my opinion of who should represent the Red, White, and Blue. No matter the final decisions that are made, the US should put forth a roster of competing for a medal, but it's how they overcome the question marks they have that will determine which color that medal will be. Coming off a silver medal in Vancouver in 2010 where they lost in OT in the gold medal game to Sidney Crosby and Team Canada, the US has every right to believe they can return to that game and even come out on top. It will not be easy as the host country will be playing with an enormous amount of pressure on them, Team Canada is laden with superstars, and Sweden is always a contender for gold. The following is my opinion and my opinion only on the team that would give the US the best chance of standing on top of the podium.
Up front, I like the all around skill and flexibility, but it's hard to say that the Americans have a truly elite centerman. While it's hard not to like what Joe Pavelski and Ryan Kesler can do, neither one of them are quite to the level you will see from teams like Canada, Sweden and Russia. The strength of the forward group will be their speed, ability to forecheck hard, and the all-around two way play up and down the lineup. With the bigger ice surface used in international hockey, the ability to cover space in a hurry as well as having guys that are proficient in killing penalties against the most gifted skilled players in the world are issues that have to be taken into account. Patrick Kane is by far the best forward on this team. The things he does with the puck are magical at times and he will be seeing a lot of ice time. I'd like to see him on a line with Joe Pavelski and another gifted player, Zach Parise. Another combination to look for would be the guys out of Toronto. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk have been fantastic this year and would look good playing with a solid center in David Backes. A combination I could see giving other team fits at both ends of the ice would be a line of Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan around Ryan Kesler. Kesler has bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012-2013 and is again one of the best two-way players in the NHL.
One guy who I think should make the team is Avalanche Center Paul Stastny. He is largely unheralded when it comes to his attributes as a center man, but he is good at the face off dot and responsible in his own end. If he doesn't make the team, he will be one of the last guys cut. The last of the roster spots will be a battle of Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Saad, Blake Wheeler, and TJ Oshie.
If there is a true question mark with this team it is going to be on the blue line. There are about 10 players that could be named to this roster, but Ryan Suter is the only player that is a truly great player. Suter leads the league in ice time per game for the Minnesota Wild and there is little doubt that will continue to be the case for Team USA. John Carlson has emerged as a legit #1 defenseman in Washington, and Ryan McDonagh has done the same with the Rangers even as they’ve endured a disappointing start to the season.
Depending on who you ask, the rest of the defense is a crap shoot. Erik Johnson has been enjoying the best year of his career, but he struggles down low in his own end, does not kill penalties for the Avalanche, and has never lived up to his hype as an offensive force. Cam Fowler is a guy who I don't think is getting the love he deserves. After a sluggish start to this year, he has been great for an impressive Anaheim Ducks team in the first half of the season. It will be interesting to see what decisions are made concerning a couple of offensively gifted defensemen who have concerns on their own half of the ice. Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle are valuable when it comes to pushing the offensive play and can produce on the power play, but it's the concerns that are attached to their actual defense that leave them on the bubble heading towards the final decision. An interesting player is Seth Jones. Taken in this year's draft, Jones has at times been playing big minutes in Nashville, but not as of late, is fantastic when it comes to moving the puck, but is still learning how to play against the world's best. I wouldn't be surprised one way or the other if he makes this team.
One player I figured on making this team whose status is in serious doubt would be Brooks Orpik from Pittsburgh. He's been unable to get back into the lineup after a recent concussion and from all indications he will not be able to go in Sochi.