What We Missed Out On: Youth Surge Propels American Roster
The NHL’s decision to not allow their players to partake in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea was a gut-punch to all hockey fans. Not only do the players, themselves, miss out on the honour to represent their country, we, the fans, miss out on watching the best players in the world go toe-to-toe on one of the grandest hockey stages.
And that stinks. Why Gary!? Why!?
But life goes on I suppose…
For the sake of “what if”, we at Thinees have decided to project the Olympic Roster for the USA if the NHL was going to South Korea. Usually at this time of year, there would be a lot of chatter about the powerhouse Canadian roster and seemingly always underachieving Russian squad. And rightfully so. Canada is always the favourite to win gold and the Russians always seem to look unstoppable on paper.
But this year, the American squad might have been the most intriguing to project. I’d even go as far to argue that the Americans could have been a dark horse to win gold. With an influx of American youth making noise in the NHL the last few years, the United States could have put together a roster worthy of competing with all the international heavyweights.
Now, could this roster defeat a Crosby / McDavid led Canadian squad?
Maybe not. But we think this roster would have made some noise in PyeongChang.
The roster we’ve assembled consists of 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, 2 goalies, and 3 taxi squad players, totalling 25 players. According to IIHF rules, a maximum of 20 players and 2 goalkeepers can be dressed and on the game sheet for an international game. Spoiler alert: The roster we've assembled has only 10 returning players out of 25 from the 2014 USA Olympic Team. That could support our theory that there is a surge of youthful American talent bursting onto the NHL scene, or it could make us totally nuts with our projections.
Either way, let’s dive in!
Despite us flapping our gums about all the new youthful talent the US would be getting, Patrick Kane is still the American staple and is automatic first liner. Auston Matthews will soon make his way into the Crosby / McDavid argument of the NHL’s best player. At just 20 years young, the Toronto Maple Leaf star would have been heavily relied on to lead the Americans on both ends of the ice. Paired up with Kane and Johnny Gaudreau (the leading American scorer at the time of writing), this line would have been able to match up with any line in the Winter Olympics.
Compared to the other powerhouse countries, the Americans are a bit shallow at centre. However, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel are a pretty darn good 1-2 at centre ice. Much like Matthews, Eichel (21 years) would be another young gun the USA would have had to rely on heavily. Having a guy like Phil Kessel on his line who brings a winning pedigree (back-to-back Stanley Cups) along with plethora of points (10th in NHL scoring at the time of writing) would bring some steadiness to the line. Additionally, Anders Lee, who’s 20 goals is currently third in the NHL, would give Eichel another triggerman to feed.
At 31 years old, Blake Wheeler would be one of the older Americans on the team but he seems to be getting better with age. His 38 points rank him 2nd amongst American skaters and his leadership would be much welcomed for the young American team. His linemates Vincent Trocheck (24 years) and Brock Boeser (20 years) are both currently on a point-per-game pace.
The inclusion of Matthew Tkachuk on the team might raise some eyebrows. But it can’t all be about scoring. Tkachuk brings some much needed sandpaper to the team and, with 19 points in 31 games, can still be relied on to contribute offensively. Joe Pavelski is having a down year but still provides experience and substantial offensive upside. Nicknamed T.J. "Sochi" for what his high production at the 2014 Winter Olympics, T.J. Oshie adds a bit more experience to the youthful Americans, despite not having his best offensive season this year.
Another youthful, up-and-coming offensive weapon the American team could turn to if their other options fail. At just 19 years old, Clayton Keller has already proven he can score at the NHL level. Perhaps that success could be replicated at the international level.
Youth and Experience. Seth Jones (23 years) is probably the best American defensemen and Ryan Suter (32 years) is the most steady. Together, these two would have logged heavy minutes against the oppositions top lines.
The 2015-2016 runner-up for the Calder trophy and the most coveted defensive free agent in 2017 make up the second unit for the Americans. Gostisbehere brings more of an offensive mindset while Shattenkirk provides a more well-rounded approach.
Another young buck, Noah Hanifin (20 years) pairs with NHL veteran John Carlson (27 years) to round out the final pairing for the USA.
Another 20 year old for the up-and-coming Americans. Already in his young career, Zach Werenski has proven to be an elite offensive defensman in the NHL. In addition to his offense, Werenski has proven to be tough to beat in one-on-one matchups.
Goaltending would have been the least of the American’s worries in South Korea. Jonathan Quick is probably their best option. He’s having another great season in the NHL and has a history of winning. Cory Schneider is a world-class option should Quick falter.
If Zach Parise was healthy, he'd most likely be somewhere in the top 2 lines for the Americans. But even though he's not, the US selection committee would most likely keep him on the taxi squad in the event he became healthy enough to suit up (at the time of writing, he's currently practicing with the Wild, indicating he's not far from a return). Another youthful option for the Americans is Jake Guentzel. Already with a Stanley Cup ring, Guentzel is yet another rising American star, and is probably a starter on some depth charts. John Gibson could be used interchangeably with Schneider, as the 24 year old is every bit as talented.
USA Olympic Roster 2018 Cheat Sheet
Gaudreau - Matthews - Kane
Lee - Eichel - Kessel
Wheeler - Trocheck - Boeser
Tkachuk - Pavelski - Oshie
Jones - Suter
Gostisbehere - Shattenkirk
Hanifin - Carlson
So what say you!? Did we absolutely nail this roster? Are you shaking an angry fist in the air yelling where's James van Riemsdyk!?
Let us know what you think in the comments.
Until next time...
All roster shots were taken from https://www.hockey-reference.com.