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Picking Team USA for Sochi

USA hockey announced their pre-Olympic orientation camp roster on Monday, looking ahead to the tournament in Sochi Russia.  As we are now less than 8 months away from the 2014 Olympics, I thought it would be a good time to go through the USA roster and make my picks for the team to go to the Olympics. Team USA will head to Sochi looking to capitalize on recent success at the Under 18 and World Junior Championship levels, and win their first Olympic Gold since the 1980 Olympic Miracle on Ice, improving on the Silver Medal heartbreak of Vancouver 2010.

Note that the announcement has been made that teams can carry 25 man squads instead of the old 23 (but only 22 can dress for any game).  With this format I have gone with 3 goalies, 8 defencemen, and 14 forwards.  1 goalie, 1 defenceman and 1 forward will find themselves in the press box in each game.

I looked at the team back in March, and I’ve made a few changes since that time.


Starter – Jonathan Quick
#2 – Craig Anderson
#3 – Ryan Miller

Winning teams are built from the net out, and team USA will have a great headstart in goal.  They will have the deepest goaltending in this tournament as we have cut players like Jimmy Howard, and Cory Schneider as there is just too many quality American goaltenders right now for them to make the team.  In the number 3 spot we have Ryan Miller, the starter from the Vancouver Olympic Games, and best player in that tournament.  He’s been up and down since that time, but you can’t knock his talent or the Olympic experience.  Miller has the potential to get hot this season, as he did in 2009-10 and steal the starting job by the time February rolls around.  When he’s on his game, he’s that good.  In the backup role, we have Craig Anderson, who arguably was the best goaltender in the NHL when he was healthy this past season. He also showed that he can play when it counts, and was a major reason why the Ottawa Senators upset the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs.  In the starter’s spot, I have selected Jonathan Quick who was marvelous in the 2012 season in leading LA to their first Stanley Cup and winning the Conn Smythe.  He was very good in the LA net in the 2013 playoffs as well, taking them to the final four, despite LA’s inability to average more than 2 goals scored per game in the playoffs.  Quick has been steadily improving every year in the NHL, and now its his time to shine.


Ryan Suter – Kevin Shattenkirk

Suter is undeniably the leader of this defence corps.  Boasting a solid game in both ends of the rink, Suter will be used in all situations.  Able to play close to 30 minutes a night come playoff time in the NHL, expect the same from Suter on the Olympic team even with the players surrounding him on defence.  He’s the workhorse, the PP quarterback, and the number 1 penalty killer.

Now some might say that Kevin Shatenkirk is not the ideal first pairing guy at an Olympic tournament.  Heck he’s a second pairing guy for the St. Louis Blues.  However the USA is really lacking in right handed defencemen, and Shattenkirk who moves the puck extremely well and is known for his offensive skill scoring 43 points in each of his first two NHL seasons, is improving all the time in St. Louis, especially in the defensive end of the ice.  I think that he’s ready to play with Suter who will carry this pair.  His excellent skating and puck moving is a huge asset on international ice.

Ryan McDonagh –  Erik Johnson

Ryan McDonagh has proven his worth playing on the New York Rangers’ shutdown pairing with Dan Girardi.  He is very much like Ryan Suter-lite in that he is good in all aspects of the game, capable of providing top notch defensive skill, and penalty kill work, and also bring some offense with solid passing and shooting skills.

Erik Johnson is may not be an ideal top 4 defenceman, but it again comes down to the lack of quality right handed shots, and he’s amongst the best US defenders with that attribut. If there is one weakness in the US team it is that it lacks defenders who play on the right side (which is the opposite of the Canadian defence corps).  Johnson’s a big man who skates well enough for his size and plays a two way game.  My concerns are that he sometimes has a tendency to make bad decisions with the puck on his stick, and will need to improve his decision making or be hurt on the big ice.  McDonagh will be the anchor on this pair to keep him grounded.

Paul Martin – Jack Johnson

Paul Martin got back to playing the solid two way game that made him a great NHL defender with Pittsburgh this year.  His strong skating will come in huge on the Olympic ice and he’s back to playing at the level defensively that earned him the big contract with the Penguins.  If he continues to play that way he should be on the Sochi team. Jack Johnson has really improved after being traded from Los Angeles to Columbus.  While his defensive game still needs some work, he has improved his defensive coverage, and his first pass ability.  His strength is still his very good skating ability, and offensive game.  The skating and mobility on the big ice is a big reason he makes this team.

7th D – Matt Carle

Carle has developped into a strong defender over the last few years, and even finished 15th in the NHL in blocked shots last season.  He’s always had a decent offensive game, and has now come into his own as a defender as well.  He showed last season that he could do well at even-strength despite not having Chris Pronger beside him.  He can play on both the powerplay and on the penalty kill units.

8th D (press box) – Keith Yandle

The Coyotes defender is another great skater.  As you can see, I’m putting a huge premium on this ability, especially on defense, given the bigger ice surface. Yandle also has a booming slap shot and one timer.  His defensive game is all about his great mobility, and a quick , active stick.  Don’t expect Yandle to throw a lot of big hits, but on this squad, and in this tournament he won’t have to.  Instead it will be that mobility, and quick puck moving ability that will be utilized if he’s pressed into service.  If Yandle was a Right Handed defenceman, or capable of playing the same level of game on the right side (something we’ve never seen from him), he’d be in the lineup already.  But being solely a guy used on the left, he unfortunately starts in the press box since he can’t replace one of the Johnsons.


Zach Parise – Paul Stastny – Patrick Kane

Kane won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Chicago Blackhawks this season. The most purely talented offensive player on this squad, he’ll be expected to lead the offence, and will be an easy choice should any games go to a shootout. Zach Parise is a pure goal scorer who plays a strong two way game, and got a big contract in Minnesota because of that, along with his leadership ability. Expect Parise to be USA’s captain. Paul Stastny is a slick set up man, who can skate with the speedsters on either side, he’ll be looking to set up his linemates in the offensive zone. The speed of this line will be a key on the bigger ice.

Bobby Ryan – Joe Pavelski – Phil Kessel

Early in the year we saw Kessel (somewhat surprisingly) turning into more of an assist man. However with Kessels great shot and release he started doing the goal scoring again down the stretch and into the playoffs for the Leafs.  He is just behind Kane as the premier offensive weapon for Team USA and should be a main man counted on to score on this second line. Pavelski has always been a versatile offensive player for the Sharks, and on Team USA, I’ve moved him back to his natural centre position to lead this line from the middle.  Little Joe can be both a playmaker or a goal scorer, and I expect him to revert to a more playmaking role on this line.  Bobby Ryan joins them, and he’s got a ton of pure skill and the size to help the line in the corners and in front of the net.


Max Pacioretty – David Backes – T.J. Oshie

Pacioretty has really blossomed as a goal scorer and as a power forward. He was USA’s best player in the 2012 Men’s IIHF World Championships after scoring 33 goals for the Montreal Canadiens that season.  He added 15 this year and again led the Habs in points, and will be given a big role on this squad. He teams with St. Louis teammates and linemates Backes and Oshie on a line that combines both skill and grit. Backes is a rugged powerful centre, and Oshie might not be as big as his linemates, but he plays a gritty game and is a very good playmaker for these two goal scorers. They can all skate, and have good defensive ability as well. Team USA will not be scared to use this line in any situation.

Ryan Callahan – Ryan Kesler- Dustin Brown

This may be my “4th line” in terms of the listing, but they will play heavy, heavy minutes, as they will be Team USA’s shutdown line. Callahan, Kesler and Brown are alll excellent checkers, and have great two way ability. I know Kesler has had injury issues, but this tournament is far enough away that he will have plenty of time to solve those problems and find his game. He’s an elite checker in the NHL and a Selke winner. Brown showed off his ability to play a two way game in captaining the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 2012. He’s a powerful hitter who loves to play the body.  In Callahan, the New York Rangers captain is a gritty heart and soul warrior who will do whatever it takes to help his team win. He can fill in killing penalties or getting to the front of the net on the Powerplay. He has the great versatility to fill in on a scoring or checking line, and while he’s playing out of position on this unit, I don’t think it will hurt him too much as he’s intelligent enough to adapt.  Its funny to think of these three guys as a checking line, because they will also be a threat to put the puck in the net if the guys they are checking make a defensive mistake.

Extra: Derek Stepan

In looking at my first 12 forwards, I realize that this team will face more issues if there is an injury to a Centre, than they will if there is an injury to a winger. Team USA just does not have enough centres in the pipeline and it will be easier for them to replace an injured winger. As such, I took the next best American pivot and put him in as the 13th man. At this point that is Derek Stepan of the New York Rangers, a young player who continues to improve. However this spot is no sure thing, as continued improvements of a player like Alex Galchenyuk, who scored a big goal in a shootout at the world championships could see him pushing for a spot in Sochi.

Press Box:  Alex Galchenyuk

There are a few ways Team USA could go with this final spot.  USA has shown a real want to get the younger generation involved as we see John Gibson, Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba, and others invited to camp. I think management will continue this by bringing a player like Galchenyuk along for the Olympic experience figuring that he likely won’t be needed and want to get him ready for future World Cups, and the 2016 Olympics.  If he is needed, he has the versatility to fill in at both centre or on the wing, and that versatility makes him a great pressbox option as well.


This team has plenty of NHL Captains, former NHL captains, and alternates. Certainly they won’t be short on leaders, but we need to choose a captain and two alternates.  Give the important roles they will play I’ve choosen to give the Captain’s “C” to Zach Parise, with David Backes getting an alternate’s “A”, and Ryan Suter getting the other “A”.

So there it is, my picks for Team USA’s 2014 Olympic Team. Who would you have picked? How will they fare in Sochi? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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