Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Experts' early selections for 2010: Team USA
With the NHL opening another season on the international stage, we thought we'd have some fun and start putting together our Olympic teams for the United States and Canada. We'll update our experts' picks throughout the NHL season as we count down to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Team USA is below. Click here for Team Canada.
The skinny: GM Brian Burke is going to want to play an in-your-face, high-pressure forecheck game, so personality will be almost as important as the stats. Erik Cole will be looking to play himself back into the mix in Edmonton, and if Phil Kessel matures, he too could be in the mix. Mike Knuble and Matt Cole are both character guys who could also get a look.
Captain of the Washington Capitals had 30 goals two seasons ago and will go through a wall for you.
Defending rookie of the year looks as though he'll have dibs on a place on the Americans' top line in Vancouver.
Plays on the top line with Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles and will fit in nicely with the high-pressure, vigorous forecheck style the U.S. figures to employ in Vancouver. Led all U.S.-born players with 33 goals last season.
Highly skilled and sneaky tough like his dad.
Took some heat for playing for the U.S. at the World Championships, but the Canadian-born forward with the American grandmother will add much-needed scoring power to the forward unit.
With his puck-handling skills, Gomez is a given.
Will get strong consideration to wear the captain's "C" and represents the changing of the guard from the World Cup of Hockey gang.
Good, smart two-way player.
Big shot and can fill in just about anywhere you'd like.
The U.S. isn't particularly deep down the middle, especially compared to Canada, so Mueller (22 goals as a rookie) will get a shot.
Had four goals in Torino and is on the bubble now after his goal totals have dropped precipitously. Still gets the early nod.
On a team that will be pressed to match up offensively, Higgins, who had 27 goals last season in Montreal, is in.
Toughness, scoring touch and a maturing dressing-room presence, Malone gets the nod.
The skinny: Only Brian Rafalski and John-Michael Liles are likely to return to the ice from the U.S. Torino team and that's a positive thing. Ryan Suter in Nashville, Matt Niskanen in Dallas and Jack Johnson in Los Angeles will all be making noise about being included in this talented, young unit before all is said and done.
Top point-earner among U.S.-born defensemen and the anchor of a young American blue line.
Rafalski's former teammate in New Jersey was on the taxi squad in 2006, but should have been on the main team. He will be this time around.
Quietly emerging as an elite two-way force in Montreal. Big hitter, smart and only just hitting his stride.
Has had his ups and downs since playing in Torino in 2006, but he's a smart, puck-moving defenseman.
The big Penguins blueliner will be out until close to Christmas this season, but he got better as the games mattered more in the playoffs last spring. Assuming he gets back to form, he's in.
Big (6-foot-3) and smart, a member of the all-rookie team a season ago and deserves a shot.
Heart-and-soul guy who may be the most important piece of this defensive unit.
The skinny: The pecking order among these three goalies who have a lot to prove will be a moving target for the next year and a half.
If the tournament started today, Thomas should be the U.S. starter. Fourth overall in the NHL with a .921 save percentage last season and solid as a rock. And a great tale to boot.
We're still not sure if DiPietro is a good goalie on a bad team or a mediocre goalie on a mediocre team.
Just signed a long-term deal in Buffalo and has to prove he's worth it. He'll be there in Vancouver, just not sure in what role.
The skinny: If there's a fourth position open, you'd have to think Ron Wilson could get an invite, although that's an awful lot of powerful personalities in one room.
It's a shame he's not coaching in the NHL right now. Guess that means he'll have plenty of time to get a game plan together.
Intense, like Tortorella, and he's won a Cup and been to the Olympics.
Nice buffer for the players, given the intensity of the Tortorella/Laviolette duo.
The skinny: The transition continues for the Americans. The Modano-Tkachuk-Guerin era is coming to a final close. GM Brian Burke will have a lot of choices. I think he'd like to a more physical group than I've assembled. A wild card could be Florida's David Booth.
The stocky winger put up 33 goals last season. He'd be a first-time Olympian.
In big games, you need a big-game player. It would be his third Olympics.
He had five points in six games during the 2006 Games.
The baby-faced sniper leads the next wave of American skaters.
Another young American, Kesler won't be intimidated by the elite competition.
An Olympian in '98, he didn't participate in '02 or '06. I like his winning experience.
A terrific skater, Legwand has developed a strong two-way game.
The ex-Penguin brings size and a finishing touch around the net.
He does a lot of things to help you win. It would be his first Olympics.
Team USA again will need his size and speed.
Born in Canada, his dual citizenship allows him to play for the Americans.
A playmaking pivot, Stastny would be a big part of Team USA's attack.
He has size, speed, skill and versatility. You make room for him.
The skinny: There are some choices to be made here, too. Predators D Ryan Suter and Kings D Jack Johnson could easily be on the team. I think Burke and Co. will be watching both of them closely during the season. And, of course, we can never discount Chris Chelios, who'll be 49 when they drop the puck in Vancouver.
The big defender will set a physical tone for the Americans.
Hopefully, there won't be any lasting issues relating to his recent knee injury.
The quietly effective puck mover was a taxi-squad member in 2006.
An offensive defenseman, he'd be making his second Olympic appearance.
Doesn't someone named after Herb Brooks have to get a spot on Team USA?
Still a great skater, he'll be the graybeard of the group.
A former first-round pick, he can be helpful at both ends of the rink.
The skinny: I think these are the guys. There isn't too much depth here. They'll have to ride DiPietro or Miller if they're going to win a medal.
The Americans hope the chatty stopper isn't bothered by lingering injury problems.
Miller's omission in '06 was a major mistake. Team USA won't make that mistake again.
The hardworking veteran would be a good addition in a supporting role.
Ron Wilson. The best American coach available.
Peter Laviolette. The head coach in 2006, his experience will help the staff in 2010.
Mike Eaves. The Wisconsin bench boss is the best American coach not working in the NHL.
The skinny: I found it hard to leave off young snipers Peter Mueller and Phil Kessel, but they were victims of a numbers game when it came to young, offensive skill. Perhaps what they do this season will change my mind. I also struggled with not having longtime Team USA star Mike Modano. If he rebounds with a big year this season, I likely put him back on. Experience is key in these short, pressure-packed tournaments.
Silky smooth skater should be the No. 1 center.
Led all U.S.-born skaters in points in his rookie NHL season.
Candidate for Olympic captaincy, Drury is a versatile player who can be counted on for both the power play and penalty kill, and in late stages of the game.
Perhaps a surprise, but I foresee him as the checking-line center.
Solid two-way winger could play on any of the top three lines.
Could very well lead U.S. team in goals.
Veteran forward can play wing or center and brings international experience to young team.
Speedster would look great reunited with Gomez.
Young Habs leader could fill a checker role.
I like him skating alongside Kane on a potent and fast line.
Keep in mind that the regular NHL ice surface will be used for Vancouver 2010, so I like having Malone's size and physicality on this team.
Hey, how many French-Canadian Americans do you know? Whatever he is, he's a heck of a player.
Picture a checking line with Kesler centering Langenbrunner and Higgins. Awesome.
The skinny: I left off other good puck movers such as Tom Gilbert and Ron Hainsey, but there's already a bunch of them in this group. Perhaps too many. But, for now, I view this group of seven as the best available. Maybe a more reliable two-way defender like Paul Martin will make his way onto this list as I toy with it over the next year.
Remains one of the most underrated blueliners in the NHL. His first pass is always the right one.
Canadiens bruiser is developing into elite NHL blueliner. By February 2010, he will be one.
In what is a recurring theme in this group, solid puck mover and good vision and power-play quarterbacking skills.
Smart with the puck and useful on special teams.
Injuries have limited his gifted skill set. Can he stay healthy for 2010?
Coming off breakthrough season that showed he warranted first-round selection.
Emerging talent reliable at both ends of the ice.
The skinny: There's really not much else to choose from here. The Americans aren't that deep in goal in the NHL right now. Keep an eye on Ty Conklin. He's got international experience from the World Championships, and if he gets a chance to play in Detroit this season, he could sneak back into this mix.
Imagine what he could do with a great lineup in front of him. We'll find out in Vancouver.
He probably should have been in Torino, but says he holds no bitterness. Now, he gets his chance.
The Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL goaltending fraternity deserves to make this team. But he needs another solid season to give himself a chance.
The skinny: Having Wilson and Torts on a such a huge stage would be a bonanza for media members. First line from Tortorella after opening practice in Vancouver, "Well, I know Canada has already won this thing, we're just happy to be here ... " Classic mind games!
Ron Wilson. Why not go back to the well again? He manufactured the greatest hockey moment for USA Hockey (1996 World Cup of Hockey) since the "Miracle on Ice." Besides, the Olympics will seem like a nice holiday after 1½ seasons in the pressure cooker in Toronto.
Peter Laviolette. He may or may not still be in Carolina by February 2010, but he's one of the league's top coaches.
John Tortorella. Well I guess he may be at the Olympics one way or another since TSN, his new employer, has the Canadian rights to the Vancouver Games. Pretty sure by then he'll have a coaching gig in the NHL.