The U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team took a gigantic step forward Monday afternoon when its orientation camp roster was unveiled. USA Hockey will be bringing 48 players to Arlington, Va., August 26-27.
Of the 48 invited, 16 are returnees from the 2010 silver medal squad including Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel, Dustin Brown, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan, Brooks Orpik, Paul Stastny, David Backes, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson and Joe Pavelski
There were several surprises with this roster, however. One was the size. USA Hockey is bringing 14 more players than it did for the 2009 orientation camp for the 2010 Olympics. The other is that a lot of the extra guys they brought were very young players, including several with little-to-no NHL experience.
One of the reasons they could bring so many more players is that they won’t be skating. It probably would have been a huge cost in insurance to have these players on the ice, so since that’s no longer an issue, they could expand the list. This camp will be to get everyone on the same page about what will be expected, how the evaluation process will work and get a taste of what Bylsma will be doing in terms of strategy.
Among the omissions that will see some debate, Jason Pominville is at the top of the list. The two-time 30-goal scorer, who is a dual citizen and has represented the U.S. at the World Championship, was not among the 48 invited. Additionally, Brandon Dubinsky, who could’ve been a fourth-line defensive specialist perhaps, was not among those listed.
Other than that, there wasn’t anything overwhelmingly stunning about who didn’t make it.
Coming up after the jump some detailed thoughts on the players invited and which battles will be worth watching most closely, not only in camp, but throughout the entire first half of next season.
Who made it: Craig Anderson, John Gibson, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider
USA Hockey brought just three goaltenders to its camp in 2009, and at that time, they really only had three to choose from. Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick ended up all making the team, unsurprisingly, though Quick never dressed at the Olympics.
Now, USA Hockey has an interesting situation with no less than six viable options, this time led by Quick.
Jimmy Howard had a terrific season for Detroit and his game has been heading in the right direction for the last few years. Craig Anderson is coming off of a season in which he put up some incredible numbers and played well for much of the playoffs, as well. He’s on the older side, but his most recent success is undeniable and makes him a worthy addition.
Cory Schneider will be splitting time most likely, once again this season, which could hurt his chances a bit of making the final roster. After being traded to New Jersey, don’t expect the Devils to make Martin Brodeur a backup in his farewell season. Schneider will have to shine in limited action.
Then there’s Miller, who has been a bit on a downswing, but still has the tools to make an impact on this team. The question becomes if he’s OK with taking a back seat to Quick and/or Howard. If he is, he deserves a long look and a shot to make the final roster.
Lastly, USA Hockey is making a really interesting and I think smart decision to include John Gibson. I think he’s the country’s goalie of the future if the NHL continues participating in the Olympics. He’s got a load of talent and potential, so I was really pleased to see him in camp. I don’t see him beating out the guys that will be playing NHL minutes next year, but it’s good to have him along.
Who made it: Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, John Carlson, Dan DeKeyser, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba, Keith Yandle
I don’t think there’s any doubt Ryan Suter will be the top defenseman. Among the other options as returnees, Jack Johnson is the only one I see as a lock. He’s very good internationally, can play a lot of minutes, or works well as a specialist if you need him to be. Johnson always steps up when he’s asked to, and he’s delivered for the U.S. many times in the past.
Brooks Orpik has an advantage in that Dan Bylsma is the head coach and obviously has a high level of comfort with him with how he’s utilized. Orpik’s game however may be better suited for an NHL ice sheet. His defensive capabilities are certainly attractive and I think his style translates on any ice surface, but his inclusion is no sure thing.
Erik Johnson also might have a bit of an uphill battle. He still can play well defensively and has the mobility to excel on the bigger ice sheet. He played in the most recent World Championship and held his own just fine, earning top-pairing minutes. I think his Olympic experience is helpful and since there are 25 roster spots this year, he should get a shot at one.
Among the newcomers, I think the clear top choice should be Ryan McDonagh. He is a defensive defenseman with speed and good enough puck moving skills. I think he could be even better on a bigger ice surface and should be a top-four guy for this team.
Paul Martin also has a very good chance to be on the final roster. He would have been on the 2010 team had he not gotten injured. That could be one of the problems. Martin has only played more than 80 games twice in his career. Health may always be a concern, but when he’s healthy, Martin is a strong two-way defenseman who would do well on a big sheet.
Another guy to watch will be Kevin Shattenkirk. He is a fantastic puck-mover and has a lot of international experience. He may have to battle with some other guys, but I think his two-way capabilities are perfect for the Olympic game.
Then it gets really interesting in terms of the decisions they have to make.
Keith Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien have been among the most productive offensive defensemen in the NHL over the last three years. In fact, Byfuglien’s 134 points and Yandle’s 132 points rank second and third respectively among all defensemen since 2011. Is there room for both of them? Well there at least is in Camp, but can both be in Sochi? That’s a tougher call. If they decide to only bring one, Yandle has the edge on mobility, but Byfuglien brings size and versatility. I wonder if he could be a power-play specialist on this club.
Then it comes down to some of the younger guys. Among the most intriguing options for Team USA is Carolina’s 21-year-old defenseman Justin Faulk. The Hurricanes are a better team when he is on the ice and in the last two World Championships, Faulk has been Team USA’s best defenseman. He has a solid two-way game and his international experience is a big bonus. He’s a guy that should get a very long look throughout the evaluation process and I would not be shocked to see him make it.
Among the other young veterans invited, John Carlson could make a strong case to be on the final roster. He’s played very well over the last few years and has good size. Another similar player who should get some strong consideration at least for camp is Zach Bogosian. I think it might be tough for both of these guys to beat out someone like Faulk, but they deserve a chance to prove themselves in camp and throughout the first half.
Then there’s a lot of youth. Nick Leddy is coming off a Stanley Cup with Chicago, but still hasn’t reached his developmental ceiling. If he takes a big step forward this year, he might be able to stay in the mix. Cam Fowler is another guy who is still reaching for his potential, but has a good USA Hockey background and plays a game that works well on big ice. Jake Gardiner’s speed will certainly give him a chance, but he doesn’t match the NHL experience of a lot of his competition.
The real surprise among the young invitees was Danny DeKeyser. Every team wanted to sign him last year, but he ultimately chose the Red Wings and saw immediate and significant playing time. Putting him shoulder to shoulder with the camp field over the course of the first half will make for some interesting evaluation.
Then Team USA is bringing in two of its brightest stars on the rise. Jacob Trouba was the ninth overall pick for Winnipeg in 2012 and has shone bright at every level of international hockey he’s played. Trouba has three gold medals (2 U18, 1 WJC) and a World Championship bronze from this past year. I think he’s a longer shot, despite his success, but Trouba is forever exceeding expectations.
Then there’s Seth Jones, who has the same medal haul (minus the WC bronze) and was the No. 4 overall pick. The Olympic GM also is his GM in Nashville, so he’ll be watched a lot. He very well could end up making the final roster if he shows well in the first half.
Who made it: Justin Abdelkader, David Backes, Beau Bennett, Nick Bjugstad, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Alex Galchenyuk, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Kyle Palmieri, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, Brandon Saad, Craig Smith, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler
To me, there are a lot of easy decisions at center and on right wing. Where it gets tougher to predict is when you look down the left side.
Among the returnees, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski, Phil Kessel, David Backes, Dustin Brown, Paul Stastny, Ryan Callahan and Bobby Ryan are fairly easy bets to make the team.
I think Callahan and Stastny may have the toughest task among the returning forwards of fending off competition, but both have such high defensive value I can’t see them getting played out of a spot.
With all of those players included, the center and right wing depth is essentially set, unless you move a few guys to unnatural positions, which is possible.
I’d expect Derek Stepan to also be included on the roster. Though he’s a natural center, Stepan has the flexibility and offensive skill to maybe move to the left side as well. Or that would also allow Joe Pavelski to move to a wing. Either way, the U.S. better with both of those guys on the team. Stepan took another step forward last year and is really coming into his own as a skilled center.
There will be a lot more of a battle for the three left wing spots. I think Max Pacioretty would be the favorite to be a top-six winger with his great size, speed and scoring ability. James van Riemsdyk could push for that spot, but he’d also work very well in a third-line role. I think these two guys have an inside track on the final roster, but will also have plenty to prove in camp.
Blake Wheeler, a natural right wing, is an intriguing option as his size and skill combination would be welcome on this club. However, he plays at a stacked position. If the U.S. can find a spot for him, someone will end up playing on the off wing.
The rest of the forwards that fill out the camp will be interesting, as they all bring many different skills to the table. The team will need one or two role-player types, which could come in the form of players already mentioned, but there are a few options among the remaining forwards as well.
Alex Galchneyuk is a player I think could surprise some people as I do believe he has the skill level to push for a spot. There aren’t a lot of players in the pool that can match his skill level, but his inexperience is certainly going to be accounted for. If he’s given an opportunity to produce in the first half next year, he could sneak onto the team.
T.J. Oshie is a guy who will have an opportunity to make the club as a two-way winger with some grit and physicality. He’s not going to be a top-six guy for this team. The way he plays could work on the big ice, but again, he’s another natural right wing that needs to show a lot of versatility to make it.
I think the depth starts to trail off a fair amount here, but with spots in camp to fill, getting a big sample of players together helps. Management will be looking to the remainder of the forwards to make a surprise case for themselves.
Team USA can’t simply fill out a roster of all skill players at forward. There needs to be more of a mix of skill
I was wondering if Craig Smith would get an invite to camp and he did. He’s been an absolute star for Team USA in the World Championships and he could be a fourth-line player. His NHL success has only been moderate, but David Poile obviously has a familiarity with him. Bringing him to camp and putting him up against the USA’s best will be a good indicator if he’s ready for something like this.
Justin Abdelkader and Trevor Lewis may have an outside chance of being fourth-line energy players that will be responsible defensively. Lewis has a tad more defensive value, while Abdelkader holds the edge in the size and physicality departments. They have to show why that defensive ability can make a difference at the Olympic level. That’s tough to do, but that’s the only way for them.
Kyle Okposo was a guy they certainly had to bring. He has some potential left in him, but I have a feeling his competition may be a tad too stiff. Okposo scored just four goals last season and I don’t know if he has the defensive value to make up for that. Still, he’s only a year removed from 24 goals and is a strong, quick player.
Kyle Palmieri is getting rewarded for a great season in Anaheim and I wasn’t surprised a bit to see him make this roster given its size. He was on the 2010 World Junior roster and plays the game at a very high speed. He’s not afraid to hit and he has offensive ability. The hill he has to climb is gigantic, but it’s good to have a young guy like him push other guys.
Brandon Saad was a Calder finalist last year. He excelled offensively playing with star players like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, but showed more versatility in the playoffs in a bottom-six role. Like Palmieri, Saad’s competition is very steep, but he can play either wing and plays with speed and power. He’s a long, long shot, but an important guy to keep an eye on for the future.
I absolutely love the idea of bringing in younger, less experienced guys to give them a taste of this camp. I don’t think Beau Bennett or Nick Bjugstad have any chance of making the club, but they’re young guys that have a chance to be special players. Giving them a taste here is smart for the future. Both have limited NHL experience, but are big-time prospects in their respective systems. They’ll be stepping up more this year.
As I mentioned above, the two surprise omissions are Jason Pominville and Brandon Dubinsky. Those guys are established NHLers that have skills that would translate at the Olympic level.
Dubinsky might have had to settle for being a defensive specialist, but he’s a guy who plays with grit and has enough speed that could disrupt other teams quite a bit. That he’s not in this camp is a real surprise to me.
I actually had Pominville on my preliminary roster for CBSSports.com and so naturally, I was stunned not to see him among the players here. He has two 30-goal seasons and he’ll probably be playing a lot with Zach Parise in Minnesota next year.
I think for both Dubinsky and Pominville, they were victims of a numbers game at their natural positions. Pominville wasn’t going to supplant any of the top-six wingers, which is where he would be most effective, while Dubinsky was at least fifth or sixth on any center depth chart I could come up with.
That said, I thought both were deserving of camp nods, but if their omission is a result of getting younger players a taste of Olympic-level competition, I think that’s a price worth paying as much as I’d like to see both of these guys in Arlington.
The 2010 guys who will not be back with the team this year include Tim Thomas, who may still come back this season and play, as well as Ryan Malone, Ryan Whitney, Tim Gleason, Mike Komisarek (who was injured and was replaced on the roster) and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Each is still playing decent hockey, but I think it’s pretty safe to say none are at an Olympic level at this point, with the bevvy of youthful talent coming through the ranks. The good news is that USA Hockey went relatively young the last time around to have so many viable players returning for another go at gold.
The U.S. has some great options for its 2014 team and should push for a medal. They are strong in net, solid on defense and very speedy up front, no matter the configuration they decide.
There are going to be a lot of tough decisions, but David Poile has the pieces starting to fall into place. It should be a very exciting Olympic tournament.