Breaking down the 2014 U.S. team
Here's a look at the 25-man roster named by USA Hockey on Jan. 1.
Scott Burnside: His numbers are only average, and he's missed much of the first half with a groin injury. But he's still penciled in as the starter in Sochi based on his ability to deliver the goods when the money's on the table. Have to imagine he'll have a pretty short leash when the tournament starts.
Pierre LeBrun: His long-term injury absence has opened the door for Ryan Miller to challenge him for the No. 1 spot in Sochi. However, his body of work, including the 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy and his solid playoff performance last spring that took the Kings to the Western finals, suggest he's very much in line for starts in Sochi.
Burnside: Not only did he play his way from the shadows onto the U.S. roster, but Miller is essentially a 1A netminder. It won't surprise us at all that he becomes the goalie of record as the tournament progresses and the games become more meaningful.
LeBrun: For my money, Miller is playing his best since 2010, when he was named Olympic tournament MVP in leading Team USA to silver. His performance on a horrid Sabres team this season has been Vezina-worthy.
Burnside: One of the most controversial picks as Howard has been average at best, and often worse than that for long stretches, plus is coming off a knee injury. Howard was selected based on his playoff experience ahead of Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop, both of whom played far better this season.
LeBrun: Frankly, I'm surprised Howard made it after a mediocre first three months to the season, but this is about body of work in his case. He had a strong playoffs last spring that factored into his inclusion.
Burnside: Suter easily leads all NHL players in average ice time per game for the Wild, and he'll do the same at the Olympics. Look for him to play with Paul Martin and anchor a defense that has lots of youth.
LeBrun: Team USA's No. 1 blueliner will lead the Olympic team in ice time just like he does for the Minnesota. Suter will be an absolute workhorse in Sochi.
Burnside: Martin is coming off a broken tibia, but he is considered the perfect partner for Suter, even though as a left-handed shot he'll be playing his off-side.
LeBrun: The smooth-skating blueliner should be even more effective on the larger international ice. Obviously, his return from injury bears watching, however.
Burnside: The second defensive anchor behind Suter on the left side, McDonagh will play hard minutes against other team's top offensive units.
LeBrun: Could be the player who emerges at the Olympics to steal the show. McDonagh can do it all. Will be at home on the bigger ice. Future Norris Trophy winner.
Burnside: Faulk saw his stock rise dramatically to the second right-handed position and will likely start with McDonagh, although his place could be taken by Kevin Shattenkirk, pending level of play. The smart, skilled Faulk can be counted on to move the puck north/south and out of trouble.
LeBrun: Faulk's inclusion might surprise some people, but he's a terrific skater and puck-mover, and on the big ice, he's going to be at home. His youth obviously begs the question of whether he can handle this assignment -- but I think he will.
Burnside: Fowler's play in the past two months moved him from fringe consideration to a player the coaching staff lobbied strongly to have on the team. Fowler edged Jack Johnson for the final roster spot on the blue line but will likely start as a top-six defender on the left side.
LeBrun: Perhaps another surprise for those who don't stay up and watch West Coast hockey, but Fowler has been really strong this season at both ends. He made this team with his play this season.
Burnside: Shattenkirk likely will see some power-play time and could earn bigger minutes as this tournament goes along. He's positionally sound, although some questions remain about his ability to handle more physical opponents.
LeBrun: His stock rose from the summer when Team USA viewed him as a defensive risk. But Shattenkirk's play this season has helped the American brass ease those concerns.
Burnside: Also coming off injury after being attacked by Boston's Shawn Thornton in early December, Orpik is a veteran of the 2010 team in Vancouver and a rock-solid competitor. He plays with Martin in Pittsburgh, so the two of them could also be reunited in Sochi at some point, although he'll start as the fourth left-handed defenseman.
LeBrun: Is the big ice too much for him? Team USA wanted his physical edge; you can't have all puck-movers on the team. Orpik is a veteran player who has played in big Stanley Cup playoff games.
Burnside: Carlson's resurgence in Washington when Mike Green was injured keyed his inclusion on the U.S. roster. A solid defender with good speed and puck-handling skills, Carlson could see some power-play time and could move up and down the right side pending the play of Shattenkirk and Faulk.
LeBrun: Another bright, young puck-mover who impressed Team USA scouts, especially with his penalty-killing prowess this season. Great skating ability will also translate on big ice.
Burnside: The most dynamic of the U.S. forwards, leading all Americans in goals, points and power-play markers, Kane has had an MVP-type first half to the NHL season and will shoulder a significant offensive burden in Sochi.
LeBrun: Having a Hart Trophy-worthy season and bringing his dazzling, all-world offensive skills to a larger international ice surface? Oh my, hang on to your hats.
Burnside: Parise did it all for the New Jersey Devils, where he was captain. He does it all for the Minnesota Wild and will be counted on to do it all for the Americans in Sochi. He's the kind of player whose importance stretches far beyond the score sheet, although he'll start on the left side on one of the team's top two lines.
LeBrun: There's concern, obviously, with the star winger being on injured reserve with an injured foot. Such an important cog at both ends of the ice for Team USA, both on PP and PK. He needs to be healthy and ready to go. He was dynamic in Vancouver in 2010, and at a young age.
Burnside: In our estimation, Kesler is the single-most important forward for the American squad. He will occupy one of the top two center positions. At his best, he's one of the world's best two-way players, and Kane has been very good for the past couple of months. Look for him to get a look playing with Kane.
LeBrun: He's playing his best hockey in two years after recovering fully from wrist, hip and shoulder injuries over the stretch. He's playing the kind of two-way hockey that made him such a force in 2010 and 2011 for the Canucks, and he could see the most ice time of any U.S. forward at the Olympics.
Burnside: It's been an up-and-down first part of the season for the Toronto sniper, but he'll be the trigger man on one of the top two lines and will undoubtedly start with his regular Leaf winger James van Riemsdyk on the left side.
LeBrun: The streaky Leafs winger should only benefit from the extra room on the ice in Sochi. Team USA hopes to have Kessel when he's hot and not when he's on one of his cold streaks.
Burnside: He had an injury scare before the Christmas break, but Backes has been the center on the NHL's top line through the first half of the season in St. Louis. He could see some time with his Blues mate, T.J. Oshie, but Backes will be counted on to bring his nice combination of skill and ruggedness to the big ice in Sochi.
LeBrun: A real important leader on Team USA, Backes will be charged with trying to shut down top offensive players from other countries. He's a beast on the foreheck and smart player in his own zone.
Burnside: Moved up and down the depth chart during an injury-plagued first half. At his best, Callahan could be a second-line right-winger, although he could move down to a more defensive role if need be.
LeBrun: Just being healthy would be a great gift to the Rangers captain, who already has been injured twice this season. He will be relied on as a key penalty-killer and important player in protecting leads late in games. One of the game's hardest-working players.
Burnside: The most versatile of the Americans' skilled forwards, Pavelski could end up centering a second or third line. But he may end up on the right side and will likely play on the point on one of the power-play units.
LeBrun: Pavelski's a solid two-way center with a knack of elevating his play the bigger the game. Pavelski was terrific in Vancouver. He could also play the point on the Team USA power play in Sochi.
Burnside: Brown's offensive numbers for the Kings have been disappointing through the first half, but his presence on the U.S. team has always been a given. Good chance he'll be named captain before the tournament and will provide a rugged presence around opposing goaltenders. He has the ability to move up and down the lineup.
LeBrun: The hard-playing Kings captain isn't producing offensively like he used to, but on this team, he'll be counted on more for his physical play in pounding opposing defense.
Burnside: His chemistry with Kessel is a big part of his allure to the selection committee, along with his speed and net presence.
LeBrun: He played his way onto the team with a strong opening three months while demonstrating chemistry with Leafs teammate Kessel. JVR has become a real effective player in front of the net.
Burnside: Stepan very nearly played his way off the U.S. roster, but the coaching staff was determined that they take five centers to Sochi, and so Stepan is on. He might not play, but when he does, he'll be asked to bring some offense and perhaps kill penalties.
LeBrun: Looks like the fifth center on Team USA, and he probably surprised people by making the team after a disappointing opening three months to the NHL season.
Burnside: A great world championships last spring helped revive Stastny's stock. His play with a surprising Avalanche team has made him a lock pretty much from the get-go this season.
LeBrun: Terrific start to the NHL season, as well as a strong world championships last spring, helped vault Stasty's way on to the team. Stastny's a smart, two-way player who will be comfortable on big ice.
Burnside: An early injury kept Pacioretty off the Olympic radar for the first part of the season, but his steady play has earned him a spot on the left side for the U.S. squad and likely cost Bobby Ryan a job.
LeBrun: He was on the outside looking in a month into this season, but once Pacioretty got healthy and red hot offensively, he vaulted ahead of several players to make the team. Team USA is looking for some big goals from him in Sochi.
Burnside: Wheeler played his way onto this roster with a strong couple of months' play. His speed and skill around the net earned him a ticket to the Olympics. He'll play the right side, likely in a third-line role, although the belief is Wheeler could move up to a top-six role if injury or other circumstances dictate.
LeBrun: Perhaps a surprise to some, but Team USA liked his size and skating ability for the international game. He has played well on a struggling Jets team this season.
Burnside: Oshie was popular with the U.S. coaching staff and selection committee for his versatility. He can kill penalties, plays on a top NHL line and has a terrific record in the shootout. Oshie and Wheeler edged out Chicago's Brandon Saad for the final spot on the forward unit.
LeBrun: Real effective checking player with good wheels who also has a knack for shootouts.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.
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