Projecting the 2014 US Olympic Hockey roster - The Defensemen
By Chris Ostrander
Just as center is the assumed weak spot for the Americans entering the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, their most impressive position (outside of goal) is along the blueline. The 2010 US team had to replace a pair of defensemen late in the year as Ryan Whitney and Tim Gleason were last minute replacements for Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin.
Buffalo - July 20, 2013 - Just as center is the assumed weak spot for the Americans entering the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, their most impressive position (outside of goal) is along the blueline.
The 2010 US team had to replace a pair of defensemen late in the year as Ryan Whitney and Tim Gleason were last minute replacements for Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin. Not only do I not see any of those four players (particularly Komisarek) getting any consideration for the US roster, there will also be holes left by Brian Rafalski (retirement) and basic roster turnover.
Both Erik and Jack Johnson will be left off my roster leaving only Ryan Suter and Brooks Orpik as the returning defensemen from the 2010 Olympics.
Ryan Suter (A)
Both Suter and Orpik were major contributors in 2010 and will fill an equally important role when they reach Sochi. For this exercise I have them anchoring each of the top two pairings on my roster while accompanied by two equally impressive new comers.
Ryan Suter is a primary holdover from 2010 and will eat major minutes in Sochi.
One thing I juggled was placing Suter with Keith Yandle and allowing Orpik and Ryan McDonagh to form a traditional shutdown pairing. However, given the bigger ice surface I figured giving each pairing a nice mix of defensive play and mobility was the best way to move forward.
While Suter is the incumbent veteran who will enter the tournament with high expectations, there is a good chance that his partner serves to be the Americans’ best defenseman. McDonagh is a do-everything talent who is going to be able to impose his will on the top lines of each opponent throughout the tournament. Pairing him with a world class two-way defender like Suter will not only provide the pairing with a little more offense, but a quality mobile threat on the breakout.
Much of the same can be said of Yandle’s effect on his partner. Yandle is crazy mobile and crazy versatile as he will be able to handle big minutes and should serve as a fine compliment to Orpik’s stay-at-home style. Yandle is one of three serious offensive threats that I kept around and he and Suter will likely end up as a power play pairing. At even strength Yandle’s ability to join the rush is going to be incredibly valuable.
The third pairing is where I ran into some tough decisions. Kevin Shattenkirk’s development has been nothing short of impressive and he was a shoe in for my pretend roster. Shattenkirk will certainly be packing his bags for Sochi next winter as his two-way play has made him a fixture in the top four of the St. Louis lineup. I wrestled with who served as the best fit for his partner as the battle between a gritty, stay-at-home type ended up being outweighed by mobility and two-way effectiveness.
John Carlson is a minute eating machine and is adept in the offensive end. His ability to chip in offensively was ultimately what pushed him into the top six over a more defensive option. What is most appealing about Carlson is that he is steady in his own end and can still be counted on to play significant minutes when needed. Pairing him with Shattenkirk gives the third pairing two players cast from a very similar mold.
Justin Faulk slots in as my seventh defenseman as something of a power play specialist. Much like the role I see Derek Stepan filling, Faulk should be able to eat up some quality minutes throughout the tournament while providing a majority of his contributions on the extra man unit. Faulk was a player I was on the fence about due to the presence of Carlson, Shattenkirk, Suter and Yandle on the roster. Effective powerplay point men certainly won’t be at a premium here but having a specialist such as Faulk is a terrific luxury.
While Carlson and Faulk were the final two players I penciled onto my blueline, I see one of the two having the opportunity to provide the same type of contribution that Drew Doughty and Dan Boyle brought for the Canadians in 2010. Both are offensively gifted and didn’t slot into a traditional pairing as some of the others did. While Carlson and Faulk may not fit into the puzzle perfectly, their offensive prowess could serve to be incredibly valuable throughout the course of the tournament.
A couple of the guys I ended up leaving off were Paul Martin, Mark Stuart, Matt Greene and Dustin Byfuglien. Each would fill a nice little niche but they just didn’t fit the exact mold that I was searching for. Byfuglien is a nice option as an extra forward or defenseman due to his history in the league while Martin would be another complimentary two-way defender. I’m a big fan of Stuart and Greene and they’d be a great addition if the team needs more grit along the blue line.
Ultimately I decided on a more mobile blue line that still had roots in steady in-zone play. On the big surface I think this will prove to be vitally important for the tournament.
Cam Fowler: He’s young and still developing but could easily slot in as the seventh defenseman if the start to his year is strong. Like Alex Galchenyuk he’s someone who will get a lot more attention if he has a strong start to the season.
Jake Gardiner: Crtl-C, Crtl-V the above paragraph. Gardiner is highly touted and could certainly raise some eyebrows if he has a good start to the 13-14 season. He’s worth keeping an eye on although I feel like he probably won’t be seriously considered.
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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