We're about three weeks away from the announcement of the first 16 members of each roster for the World Cup of Hockey. For Team USA, there are a lot of moving parts as the announcement approaches, especially up front. Here's a look at how things are unfolding.
With Tyler Johnson's return to form for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the continued elite play of Joe Pavelski for the San Jose Sharks, this is a team that is going to be very strong down the middle and on the right side with the NHL's top scorer, Patrick Kane, leading the way. The left side, though, is going to make for some interesting decisions for the Team USA brass. Yes, Zach Parise is slumping like everyone else with the Minnesota Wild. Big deal. He is a top-end talent and a key part of the leadership group for this squad.
I want to make room for Bobby Ryan, so I would consider moving him to the left side. I know Nick Foligno is having an off year for the Columbus Blue Jackets (who isn't?), but also know he was the top-scoring American skater a year ago and is a character guy who would fit in on the left side, plus Team USA head coach John Tortorella knows him well from their time together in Columbus. But what about Kyle Palmieri, another right-handed shot, who is having a whopper of season for the New Jersey Devils? Kyle Okposo, another right-handed shot, deserves a look, too, but at whose expense?
For me, the extra forward has to be a center, and given David Backes' toughness and experience, he's the man, although a case can be made for former Olympian Paul Stastny, too. Team USA general manager Dean Lombardi and his staff will also have to consider Nick Bjugstad of the surprising Florida Panthers as an extra center, especially if the management wants a nice blend of veterans and youth. Bottom line is that there are too many good players and not enough spots. A nice dilemma, for sure.
The top six of this defensive group have been pretty much locked in from the get-go. Yes, Cam Fowler is not having a statistically impressive season, but he is part of an Anaheim Ducks team that has learned to play lockdown defense. His Olympic experience is invaluable too, as is his work with the Ducks during their run to the Western Conference finals last spring. The real dilemma for me remains in choosing the seventh D-man.
I've had Keith Yandle as the extra defender, but with Dustin Byfuglien continuing to pound in points for the Winnipeg Jets, his versatility might come in handy on the smaller North American rink at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Torey Krug, Matt Niskanen and Erik Johnson would also factor into this discussion.
There are really no other viable options for Team USA in goal, and the issue is going to be which of these three elite goalies is going to emerge as the No. 1. All three are having statistically strong seasons and have the wherewithal to seize the moment in a tournament like the World Cup. Naming all three in this first wave of roster announcements would give a little more flexibility on some of the forward spots that are still very fluid.