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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.

Scott Burnside
Forwards

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.

Chris Clark
Captain of the Washington Capitals had 30 goals two seasons ago and will go through a wall for you.

Patrick Kane
Defending rookie of the year looks as though he'll have dibs on a place on the Americans' top line in Vancouver.

Dustin Brown
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.

Paul Stastny
Highly skilled and sneaky tough like his dad.

Jason Pominville
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.

Scott Gomez
With his puck-handling skills, Gomez is a given.

Chris Drury
Will get strong consideration to wear the captain's "C" and represents the changing of the guard from the World Cup of Hockey gang.

Zach Parise
Good, smart two-way player.

Brian Rolston
Big shot and can fill in just about anywhere you'd like.

Peter Mueller
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.

Brian Gionta
Had four goals in Torino and is on the bubble now after his goal totals have dropped precipitously. Still gets the early nod.

Christopher Higgins
On a team that will be pressed to match up offensively, Higgins, who had 27 goals last season in Montreal, is in.

Ryan Malone
Toughness, scoring touch and a maturing dressing-room presence, Malone gets the nod.

Defensemen
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.

Brian Rafalski
Top point-earner among U.S.-born defensemen and the anchor of a young American blue line.

Paul Martin
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.

Mike Komisarek
Quietly emerging as an elite two-way force in Montreal. Big hitter, smart and only just hitting his stride.

John-Michael Liles
Has had his ups and downs since playing in Torino in 2006, but he's a smart, puck-moving defenseman.

Ryan Whitney
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.

Tom Gilbert
Big (6-foot-3) and smart, a member of the all-rookie team a season ago and deserves a shot.

Keith Ballard
Heart-and-soul guy who may be the most important piece of this defensive unit.

Goaltenders
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.

Tim Thomas
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.

Rick DiPietro
We're still not sure if DiPietro is a good goalie on a bad team or a mediocre goalie on a mediocre team.

Ryan Miller
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.

Coaches
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.

Head coach
John Tortorella.
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.

Assistant coach
Peter Laviolette.
Intense, like Tortorella, and he's won a Cup and been to the Olympics.

Assistant coach
Mike Sullivan.
Nice buffer for the players, given the intensity of the Tortorella/Laviolette duo.


E.J. Hradek
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.

Forwards
Dustin Brown
The stocky winger put up 33 goals last season. He'd be a first-time Olympian.

Chris Drury
In big games, you need a big-game player. It would be his third Olympics.

Scott Gomez
He had five points in six games during the 2006 Games.

Patrick Kane
The baby-faced sniper leads the next wave of American skaters.

Ryan Kesler
Another young American, Kesler won't be intimidated by the elite competition.

Jamie Langenbrunner
An Olympian in '98, he didn't participate in '02 or '06. I like his winning experience.

David Legwand
A terrific skater, Legwand has developed a strong two-way game.

Ryan Malone
The ex-Penguin brings size and a finishing touch around the net.

Zach Parise
He does a lot of things to help you win. It would be his first Olympics.

Erik Cole
Team USA again will need his size and speed.

Jason Pominville
Born in Canada, his dual citizenship allows him to play for the Americans.

Paul Stastny
A playmaking pivot, Stastny would be a big part of Team USA's attack.

Brian Rolston
He has size, speed, skill and versatility. You make room for him.

Defensemen
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.

Mike Komisarek
The big defender will set a physical tone for the Americans.

Erik Johnson
Hopefully, there won't be any lasting issues relating to his recent knee injury.

Paul Martin
The quietly effective puck mover was a taxi-squad member in 2006.

John-Michael Liles
An offensive defenseman, he'd be making his second Olympic appearance.

Brooks Orpik
Doesn't someone named after Herb Brooks have to get a spot on Team USA?

Brian Rafalski
Still a great skater, he'll be the graybeard of the group.

Ryan Whitney
A former first-round pick, he can be helpful at both ends of the rink.

Goaltenders
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.

Rick DiPietro
The Americans hope the chatty stopper isn't bothered by lingering injury problems.

Ryan Miller
Miller's omission in '06 was a major mistake. Team USA won't make that mistake again.

Tim Thomas
The hardworking veteran would be a good addition in a supporting role.

Coaches
Head coach
Ron Wilson. The best American coach available.

Assistant coach
Peter Laviolette. The head coach in 2006, his experience will help the staff in 2010.

Assistant coach
Mike Eaves. The Wisconsin bench boss is the best American coach not working in the NHL.


Pierre LeBrun

Forwards
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.

Scott Gomez
Silky smooth skater should be the No. 1 center.

Patrick Kane
Led all U.S.-born skaters in points in his rookie NHL season.

Chris Drury
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.

Ryan Kesler
Perhaps a surprise, but I foresee him as the checking-line center.

Zach Parise
Solid two-way winger could play on any of the top three lines.

Dustin Brown
Could very well lead U.S. team in goals.

Brian Rolston
Veteran forward can play wing or center and brings international experience to young team.

Brian Gionta
Speedster would look great reunited with Gomez.

Chris Higgins
Young Habs leader could fill a checker role.

Erik Cole
I like him skating alongside Kane on a potent and fast line.

Ryan Malone
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.

Jason Pominville
Hey, how many French-Canadian Americans do you know? Whatever he is, he's a heck of a player.

Jamie Langenbrunner
Picture a checking line with Kesler centering Langenbrunner and Higgins. Awesome.

Defensemen
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.

Brian Rafalski
Remains one of the most underrated blueliners in the NHL. His first pass is always the right one.

Mike Komisarek
Canadiens bruiser is developing into elite NHL blueliner. By February 2010, he will be one.

Ryan Whitney
In what is a recurring theme in this group, solid puck mover and good vision and power-play quarterbacking skills.

John-Michael Liles
Smart with the puck and useful on special teams.

Jordan Leopold
Injuries have limited his gifted skill set. Can he stay healthy for 2010?

Ryan Suter
Coming off breakthrough season that showed he warranted first-round selection.

Keith Ballard
Emerging talent reliable at both ends of the ice.

Goaltenders
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.

Rick DiPietro
Imagine what he could do with a great lineup in front of him. We'll find out in Vancouver.

Ryan Miller
He probably should have been in Torino, but says he holds no bitterness. Now, he gets his chance.

Tim Thomas
The Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL goaltending fraternity deserves to make this team. But he needs another solid season to give himself a chance.

Coaches

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!

Head coach
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.

Assistant coach
Peter Laviolette. He may or may not still be in Carolina by February 2010, but he's one of the league's top coaches.

Assistant coach
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.