Projecting the 2014 US Olympic hockey roster - Forwards
By Chris Ostrander
In nine months we’ll be four years removed from the impressive run that Team USA took to the sliver medal in Vancouver. While the US entered the 2010 Olympics as an underdog expected to finish behind the Swedes, Finns, Russians and Canadians, they will not enjoy the same treatment entering Sochi. In fact, the US might boast one of the most impressive rosters in the tournament when they arrive in nine months.
Buffalo - July 19, 2013 - In nine months we’ll be four years removed from the impressive run that Team USA took to the sliver medal in Vancouver. While the US entered the 2010 Olympics as an underdog expected to finish behind the Swedes, Finns, Russians and Canadians, they will not enjoy the same treatment entering Sochi. In fact, the US might boast one of the most impressive rosters in the tournament when they arrive in nine months.
I took the time to lay out the roster that I think the Americans will bring with them to Russia and what should be a gold medal contender. I’ll begin with the forwards and move to the defensemen and goaltenders over the next two days.
One thing that the 2010 roster had was an interesting mix of veteran and up-and-coming talent. Olympic and NHL vets like Chris Drury, Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Rafalski offered loads of international experience to an unhearalded roster. While all three of those players have since moved on, a majority of the players who made their US Olympic debut in Vancouver are all four years older as they prepare for Sochi.
With Drury and Langenbrunner both out of the picture, I also didn’t include Ryan Malone on my roster. Otherwise, the forward ranks are full of holdovers from the 2010 roster.
David Backes (A)
James Van Riemsdyk
Ryan Callahan (C)
If there is one Achilles Heel of the US roster it is down the middle. While there are a number of fine choices at center for the US, they cannot compete with the likes of Towes, Stamkos or Crosby. You’ll see that I have JVR listed as a center above based on his versatility and the promise of sparking chemistry with his teammate, Phil Kessel. There are a few interesting defensive options that I left off this list; namely Brandon Dubinsky, Paul Gaustad and Nate Thompson. Should the US be looking for a true gritty forward to win faceoffs (think Joel Otto), Gaustad or Thompson could fit the bill. For my team, however, two-way skill was the name of the game. On the big ice there won’t be a reason to roster too many battleships, particularly at pivot.
Joe Pavelski’s maturation since 2010 puts him at the top of the US roster entering Sochi.
Backes has the ability to center a line, I suppose, but I love him on the wing with Kesler and Ryan Callahan. While it’s technically a fourth line, this is a trio made up of three players with Selke qualities and they can contribute offense here and there as well. In a tournament with Crosby, Stamkos and Ovechkin, a dynamic checking line is a necessity. Just remember how important a role Mike Richards and Towes filled in Vancouver.
Joe Pavelski is the crown jewel of this center group and playing on the big surface in Russia will allow dynamic players like him to thrive. Throwing Kane on his left side gives him a pure sniper to feed while Dustin Brown offers a phenomenal mix of grit and offense to ride shotgun with the other two. Brown also brings a nice bit of defensive responsibility to this line.
The Pacioretty-Stastny-Ryan trio is easily the least heralded of these three lines but it is made up of a quality playmaking center between two big bodied scoring wingers. Don’t discount these three, especially when the Pavelski and JVR lines are getting most of the attention.
Meanwhile Backes, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny offer quality two-way talent through the rest of the lineup. Statsny’s quality play at this year’s World Championships has me considering him for another vital role on this squad. Kesler’s health will be a major focal point to track. If he isn’t at 100% entering the tournament I wouldn’t be surprised to see a player like Dubinsky take his place. Again, effective two-way players was paramount in my selection of centers.
Derek Stepan was my choice as the extra forward as his development continues to skyrocket and having another offensive threat to compliment Pavelski either on the wing or at center will be key. He’s a great offensive weapon and adds one more asset to the offensive arsenal both down the middle or at wing. Given that he’s a strong offensive center is even more important considering the center group is light in some areas.
The depth and talent on the wing is what puts the Americans on par with the other nations in this tournament. I expect the talent down the wing to make up for the relatively shallow depth at center.
Callahan and Backes are tremendous defensive talents with offensive upside while Brown brings the same type of skillset. Meanwhile Kane, Kessel and Parise are part of the NHL’s elite scorers - both in pay rate and on-ice results. Pacioretty and Ryan end up as the forgotten two in this entire group and when Max Pacioretty and Bobby Ryan are being overlooked on your roster that’s not a bad thing at all.
Exactly how these lines will be used will be interesting to consider. With the way I’ve structured things, the Kesler line would be a true checking line dedicated to matching whichever menagerie of all-stars the other countries trot out. I suppose the Stastny line would be capable of contributing in a two-way role as well. Neither of the three are complete liabilities in their own end and both forwards can crash and bang effectively.
If there’s one line that won’t be considered for any defensive matchups it’s the JVR line. VanRiemsdyk is a phenomenal talent but neither he or Kessel are necessarily the most reliable options in their own end. Putting them with Parise should provide some defensive support, but not much.The top line I laid out here doesn’t have any glaring holes when it comes to defensive play and Dustin Brown should offer solid support to help keep the trio on the right side of the plus/minus column.
There should be no question about which forwards get letters. Ryan Callahan is basically Chris Drury 2.0 and I fully expect him to be wearing the C in Sochi. I’d give Backes an A as St. Louis’ power forward sports the C for the Blues and went on a fighting spree against Canadian Olympians prior to the 2010 games. There are plenty of great leadership options on this roster but Backes and Callahan rank at the top of the list for me.
Both Pat Kane and Dustin Brown should feature prominently for the Americans in Sochi.
Naturally there were a number of very gifted forwards left off this list. T.J. Oshie, Jason Pominville and Blake Wheeler to name three in particular. Should a player like Ryan Kesler suffer through additional injury woes, he’d be an obvious player to replace. Otherwise, this is a very deep and talented roster. Aside from Kesler as a marginal question mark due to his health, only Paul Stastny and Derek Stepan are players who I could see swapped out.
If there is a noticeable decline in any one particular player’s performance, the players on the “Watch List are going to be worth taking a look at.
TJ Oshie: The last “cut” from my pretend roster. Oshie is a solid talent who plays a steady two-way game. He has gamebreaking potential and would mesh well in any number of roles on this team. He’s going to be under heavy consideration and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the final roster.
Alex Galchenyuk: Just as I penciled in Stepan as that x-factor extra forward (the role played by Jonathan Towes in 2010 for the Canucks), Galchenyuk could be this player for the Yanks. If he has a breakout campaign next season I could see him as a late addition filling that extra forward’s role.
Brandon Dubinsky and Blake Wheeler: Both of these guys are more of an injury replacement kind of consideration. Their both quality talents and Wheeler has enjoyed impressive success the past few years. If the US is looking for another power forward, he’s their man. Dubinsky is on my list in the even that a checking line center is needed. I’m not sure if he’s high on the list for USA Hockey but I like his game and I think he’d fit well.
Chris Ostrander is a 2008 graduate of John Carroll University where he played all four seasons with JCU's ACHA hockey team. After graduation Chris spent the 2008-09 season with the Buffalo Sabres organization working for the Sabres and Buffalo Bandits (indoor lacrosse) Public Relations department. After his time with the Sabres, Chris worked with NBC's hockey coverage for the 2010 Olympic games prior to his current role as the Public Relations Director for the American Collegiate Hockey Association. He runs the Sabres, Bills and Buffalo-centric blog Two in the Box. If you have questions or wish to contact Chris, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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