In the second part of our Olympic series we will take a look at the roster of our neighbours to the South, the USA. I am a little late to write this for the 4th of July but I would still like to say to all of my American family and friends, Happy belated Independence Day! I have never actually been to any 4th of July celebrations but I would like to imagine that they are something like P-Day at St. Mike’s, but on a heavy dose of steroids.
Getting back to hockey, the infuriating part about US Sport Programs is that when they are not the best at something, they focus all their money and efforts on developing proper grassroots programs and then build their athletes through Universities and Colleges until they are the best. Hockey is no different, and the talent level coming out of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) over recent years has been a lot of fun to watch in the NHL.
So without further ado, I present to you the very early projection for the 2022 USA Olympic Roster
1st Line: Kane and Eichel should come as no surprise and I threw Connor on this line because he has a very real chance of being a 50 goal scorer come 2022. I have no past evidence of this, but I think that these players all have styles that will compliment each other’s game and they will be one of the most dominant lines in the Olympics.
2nd Line: This line can score in bunches, and just like the first line, I like the ensemble of skill sets and playing styles. Patches and Matthews, to a bit of an extent, are more North/South guys that go to the net and possess elite level shots. Pair that with Johnny Ham and Cheese who has some of the best hands in the league and he may lead the tournament in points on assists alone.
3rd Line: This is where the depth of talent on the US roster shines through. If Larkin played for anyone but the Red Wings he would be talked about a lot more. Boeser is a young developing talent who is already making his mark on the NHL and I don’t think he has hit his prime yet. Wheeler will be the engine that drives this line and possibly even this team as I would suspect that he is a likely candidate for captain. Leadership and team chemistry are at a premium in a format like the Olympics and you have to be able to turn it on quick which is something that Wheeler can and will take charge of.
4th Line: I hate that I would love to watch this line play, except for against Canada of course. Hayes between the Tkachuk brothers would be a nightmare to play against and they would put pucks in the back of the net. This line would get under every single player in the tournament’s skin and the US roster, or should I say entire US fan base for that matter, would absolutely feed off of that.
13th (&14th): Guentzel fits the role of a 13th forward perfectly, he has the ability to jump onto any of these lines and allow the other guys to keep playing their game without missing a beat. Miller is an interesting player who is coming off the best season of his career, if he can build on this and show consistency playing at an elite level he will give himself a chance to make this roster.
1st Pair: Carlson is a lock, he is coming off a soon to be Norris Trophy winning season and his point totals were mind boggling, he was in the top 10 in scoring for a significant portion of the season. Krug is the embodiment of US Hockey, his offensive skill would make this one of, if not the top scoring pair in the tournament.
2nd Pair: Two of the most well rounded and complete defensemen in the NHL, this pair will be incredibly difficult to play against and Yandle will probably make it worse by making you laugh in the middle of a shift. Both him and Seth Jones are franchise level players and are a testament to how far the US program has come in the last couple of decades.
3rd Pair: Trouba is a premier shut down defenseman and similar to Makar for Canada, Hughes has a ridiculous amount of offensive talent that can only get better. Hughes may have to accept a 7th D role for this team because he is ‘small’ for a 3rd pairing, but he has an immense level of talent and I am projecting for that in 2022.
7th (& 8th): Werenski can easily replace anyone on this list, it’s actually insane the depth of talent the US has at defense; how is this the same program that produced Ryan Whitney? I kid, I kid. Any way you want to assemble the top 7 to create your ideal pairings, Werenski is in it every single time so I fully expect to see him on this team. DeAngelo is more of a wild card, but if he can continue to build off this past (current?) season and continue to develop, he is going to make it very hard to cut him.
In case you didn’t see, I have them as 1A and 1B so the Hellebuyck fans, on se calme. I personally prefer Gibson which is why I put him as 1A, and I believe that he is the 2nd best goalie in the NHL behind Carey. Hellebuyck’s still in that argument and his numbers speak for themselves, he is the Jets best player giving them a chance to win every night. I fully expect the US to give both of these guys a go when they get to Beijing and the hotter hand will take the crease. Bishop rounds out this trio, he has been a bit up and down over the last 3-4 years, but he has shown that when he is on his game he can post Vezina-like numbers.
Now, in kindness to our neighbours, especially on their birthday (I know this is slightly dated), I will discuss the snubs as well
THE OBVIOUS SNUBS
Forward: Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, Chris Kreider, Kevin Labanc, TJ Oshie, Kyle Palmieri, Joe Pavelski, James van Riemsdyk, Brock Nelson, Zach Parise
Defense: Ryan Suter, Jeff Petry, Charlie McAvoy, Jaccob Slavin, Ryan McDonagh
Goaltender: Jonathan Quick
This may be a cop out but it’s a numbers game, being Canadian I don’t have the same sentimental attachment but I imagine that it will be strange for US hockey fans to watch their Olympic team without Ryan Suter, TJ Oshie or Phil the Thrill on it. As a Habs fan I would love to see Petry get the nod, I think he is criminally undervalued in the NHL but I don’t see that happening short of a couple injuries and no one wants that. As much as it pains me to leave Quick off the roster, I am not going to miss him. That Canada vs USA Quarter Final game still goes down as one of the greatest games of hockey I have ever watched (Stars vs Sharks Game 6) and the battle between Carey and Quick was the greatest goalie showdown I have ever seen.
THE UP AND COMING TALENT
Forwards: Alex DeBrincat, Alex Iafallo, Christian Dvorak, Kailer Yamamoto, Jordan Greenway, Jack Hughes, COLE MOTHERFUCKING CAUFIELD
Defense: Adam Fox, Neal Pionk, John Marino, Cam York
Goaltender: Spencer Knight, Cayden Primeau
Similar to the up and coming talent in our Team Canada projections, for any of these players to make the team they will need to accept a bottom line/pairing role. On Forward, DeBrincat, Iafallo, Dvorak and Yamamoto are very talented early 20s players that all have yet to reach their full potential, I just don’t think it will be their time in 2022. Jordan Greenway is a dark horse pick, mainly because he is arguably the most underrated player in the NHL, at least in my opinion. I love his game and he is a very big (6’6 225lbs) player that can move so I can see a world where he makes this team as a 4th line, Penalty Kill specialist with offensive upside.
On the back end, like I said I think that the top 7 are almost all locked into place, but I do think that guys like Fox, Pionk and Marino can make a push if they continue to develop and improve off this season. Short of an injury they would all need Norris caliber seasons to push anyone we mentioned off the roster.
Finally, full disclosure, a lot of the 2019 USNDTP players could/should be on this list, that was a once in a lifetime type of team, but we will narrow it down to a few names. Jack Hughes, last year’s first overall pick, absolutely has a strong case to make this team, the problem is he is not having the season many expected from him, and New Jersey is currently in a rebuild which hurts his potential develop in the short time span between now and the Olympics. Cam York was the first defensemen selected from the aforementioned team, and looks to be in a good situation in Philadelphia. I’m not sure he will see enough time in the NHL to be able to make a case for himself, but if he can find his way onto the Flyers main club ahead of schedule he can potentially force his way into the conversation for a spot. Finally in net, Spencer Knight is definitely skilled enough to make the jump into the NHL earlier rather than later, especially for a goalie. The only problem is Florida also signed Sergei Bobrovsky to a 7 year/$70M contract. I’m not going to say that it is impossible for Knight to get into the Panther’s crease before 2022, but it’s pretty close.
To wrap things up, my homer picks are two absolute steals by the Habs: Cole Caufield and Cayden Primeau. Both are without question long shots, especially Primeau because he just won’t have much of an opportunity to get playing time by 2022 and he still has a long way to go developmentally. Now, let’s get to my favourite Habs prospect in a long time, Goal…excuse me, Cole Caufield. He is quite simply an elite goal scoring sniper, the likes of which the Habs have not really seen in the new millennium outside of Patches. How he dropped to 15th is beyond me and as you can see by the screen shot above, I was very high on him believing then (and still do) that he was a top 5 talent in that draft. It’s not the most far fetched idea to think he could make this roster, but he has already committed to going back to Wisconsin (great decision) next year so he would essentially need to have a Selanne type of rookie season in 2022.
Teemu is a Hall of Famer, no pressure.
With Canada and USA being in the same division (along with Germany and China) I am very excited that we are guaranteed at least one game against each other. Nothing like one of the best rivalries in hockey at the Olympics with the winner of this game likely take the division while the loser will find themselves in a battle for second. Let’s hope it’s another one for the ages because the US doesn’t like being second best at anything and they would love nothing more than to knock Canada off their pedestal.