Here are my thoughts on the way Team USA stacks up if they had to choose today and not January 1st. Keep in mind the team will have 25 on the roster and be able to have 23 active in Sochi.
-Right now I have the front runner as Jimmy Howard. He has played exceptionally well for the Red Wings. He has a 2.62 GAA and a save percentage of .915. He has played in plenty of big games for Detroit so the big stage won’t be a problem. He is my number 1. My number 2 goalie would be Cory Schneider. He has taken the number one job from Brodeur, which says a lot in itself. He has played well for a below average defensive team in New Jersey. He has an outstanding GAA of 2.14 and a save % of .915. The biggest question will be if Schneider gets enough starts to have the US brass feel comfortable with him. My number 3 is Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, which tells you how deep US goaltending is right now. He has bounced back after a shaky start and is posting a 2.52 GAA and save % of .907. This maybe where a lot of you disagree, but I have the best player on the 2010 US team staying home in Ryan Miller. He has a respectable .914 save % but a 3.13 GAA. He plays on one of the worst teams in the NHL, and I have to question whether he is even there by the time David Poile and company make their choices. Will he be sharp enough playing behind such an inferior team? I think his chances may go up if he is dealt to a contender. With Vanek being traded I would think Miller may not be far behind. Right now the number 5 man is Craig Anderson. Unfortunately for Anderson this is the best group of American goalies to ever be in the NHL. He would be a lock for team Canada; right now I just can’t see him cracking the top 3. If he plays well down the stretch he will make things even tougher. This is obviously the biggest strength of Team USA. You can’t go wrong with any of the 5, and whoever they choose will probably be better than whomever Team Canada has in goal.
-Ryan Suter is far and away the best defenseman for the US. He will average 25 minutes and will play in all situations. After Suter it is a long jam. There is a shortage of quality right handed shots for the US. I see youngster Justin Faulk playing on the right side with Suter. He is playing big minutes in Carolina and should be a lock for the team. My second pairing is Jack Johnson and Kevin Shattenkirk. Again staying with a lefty and a righty and Johnson may wear the C for the Americans. Shattenkirk should be even better on the bigger ice and Johnson has been great in international play. My last pairing would be Martin and Orpik. Bylsma sees these two every night and you wouldn’t have to worry about chemistry. McDonagh, Seth Jones and Yandle are battling it out for the last defenseman. Two months ago I would have said Jones would be a long shot to make the team but he has played 20 plus minutes every night and has turned plenty of heads in the team USA offices. This is going to be a tough call and there is plenty of time for guys to play their way into, or out of spots. Honorable mention; Jake Gardiner…He has played well in Toronto and is definitely still up for a spot. Byfuglien, I know a lot of people have him as a lock but I think he is just too slow for the international ice. Bogosian is a +4 in Winnipeg but not sure he can do enough to make the team. Being a right handed shot sure doesn’t hurt his chances. John Carlson is another righty, but has gotten off to a rough start. He needs to have a couple of strong months to earn his way back into the top 7. Erik Johnson and Nick Leddy have both gotten off to strong starts and haven’t been eliminated yet. Leddy doesn’t play enough minutes in Chicago to have a realistic shot but his speed on the bigger ice would be beneficial. I thought Johnson was on the decline but has played well under Patrick Roy in Colorado.
-This is the part that is always the most fun to do. Come up with line combinations for some of the best players in the world. It is a little more fun north of the border but the US lines are nothing to laugh at. My first line is Parise-Stastny-Kane. This line has a nice mix. Parise’s grit and goal scoring ability with Stastny and Kane being excellent play makers. Kane has only gotten better since Vancouver, and was the third American in a row to win the Conn Smythe, take that Canada. Ok, so Crawford probably should have won it, but impressive for USA hockey none the less. My second line features one of the hottest players in the NHL right now, Phil Kessel. I have Kessel-Kesler-Bobby Ryan. Kesler was a borderline player to start the year but has been really good in Vancouver (8 goals in 14 games), more importantly he has stayed healthy. Bobby Ryan has been just as good in Ottawa as he was in Anaheim. You can say that this is the #1 line as of right now, I wouldn’t argue with you. The big question here is can Kessel keep up his torrid pace and can Kesler stay healthy. My third line is Van Riemsdyk-Backes-Pavelski. All three players are over a point a game pace to start the season. That is a nice extra when you are talking about your checking line. My fourth line is Callahan-Galchenyuk-Dustin Brown. Callahan will have to prove he is healthy when he comes back from injury. TJ Oshie would take Callahan’s spot if I had to choose today. Pacioretty was on my preseason team as well but injury concerns have him off the roster for now. Honorable Mention; Derek Stepan-I would have had him on my fourth line instead of Galchenyuk but he has been less than impressive after holding out of camp. He still has time but he needs to pick it up if he wants to make the flight to Russia. Brandon Saad has been good to start the season but there are only so many spots and I’m not sure he can make it without a big November/December. Justin Abdelkader will be in the Big House when the team is announced. Will he join Kessel and JVR on the ice when Team USA is announced? His speed would be more beneficial on the bigger ice but I’m not sure he has enough offense to make the team.
My 23 man roster
Goalies-Howard, Schneider, and Quick
7th –S. Jones
Extra Forward- TJ Oshie
Some of you may not agree but the fun is in the debate. We are less than 100 days from Sochi and the US brass has a lot of tough decisions to make.