- Craig Custance
It was mid-August three years ago that Team USA gathered in Chicago for the Olympic evaluation camp, a young and almost anonymous group going through its first stages of preparation for its surprising silver-medal run in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Assuming this summer's CBA negotiations result in the participation of NHL players in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, we're just one year out from Team USA gathering again in the summer to evaluate players.
A lot has changed between 2010 and now. Tomorrow we'll focus on the reigning Olympic champ, Team Canada. But today, let's take a look at how much turnover can be expected on the American Olympic hockey roster.
2010 Holdover Locks
Forwards: David Backes, Blues; Dustin Brown, Kings; Ryan Callahan, Rangers; Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Ryan Kesler, Canucks; Phil Kessel, Maple Leafs; Zach Parise, Wild; Joe Pavelski, Sharks; Bobby Ryan, Ducks; Paul Stastny, Avalanche
Comment: The decision of Team USA GM Brian Burke to go young for the 2010 Olympics means that many of those players are primed to return in 2014. The forward group is a strong mix of grit, leadership and scoring ability, although it lacks size. Picking a captain from a pool that includes Backes, Brown, Callahan and Parise will be a challenge for the next coach. Burke kept 13 forwards in 2010, and if this list stays true, that leaves only three openings up front for the Americans.
Comment: Suter anchors a defense that could look significantly different during the next Olympics, one that will miss the retired Brian Rafalski, who had eight points in 2010. Team USA regular Jack Johnson typically raises his game during international play and will have a spot. Erik Johnson may be a borderline lock, but he provides needed size and a wealth of international experience.
Comment: Miller was the clear-cut starter in Vancouver, but Quick's breakout this past season -- one that included a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup -- dramatically closed the gap. Goaltending is the one clear edge the Americans hold over Team Canada, even with Tim Thomas on hiatus. Team USA's starting goalie job has the potential to be one of the more compelling storylines of the Sochi games.
2010 Players on the Bubble
Forward: Ryan Malone, Lightning
Comment: Malone was a valuable member of the 2010 team, producing five points in six games, including three goals, during the last Winter Olympics. His case also gets a boost because the American forwards need size. Whitney and Gleason were injury replacements in 2010 when Martin and Komisarek couldn't play. If Martin can have a bounce-back season this season in Pittsburgh, he can help solidify his spot on the team.
2010 Long Shots
Forward: Jamie Langenbrunner, Blues
Defenseman: Mike Komisarek, Maple Leafs
Goalie: Tim Thomas, Bruins
Comment: Thomas is the wild card of this group. He may never play again, or could wake up one day and decide these Olympics are motivation to get him back on the ice. Langenbrunner was the captain of the 2010 squad and was perfect playing the role of one of the few veterans on a young squad. He'll be pushing 40 when the next Olympics arrive, and the maturation of the American forwards means there's already an overflow of leadership on this roster.
Forward: Chris Drury
Defenseman: Brian Rafalski
It's safe to write these guys out of the equation.
Potential 2014 additions
Forwards: Jason Pominville, Sabres; T.J. Oshie, Blues; Brian Gionta, Canadiens; Derek Stepan, Rangers; Chris Kreider, Rangers; Max Pacioretty, Canadiens; Kyle Okposo, Islanders; James van Riemsdyk, Maple Leafs
Comment: It's fun to imagine Oshie's mix of skill and grit being magnified on the international stage. He'll get a long look. If Kreider can build off his impressive debut during the playoffs, his speed on the big ice could be a nice weapon for Team USA in Russia.
Defensemen: Matt Carle, Lightning; Cam Fowler, Ducks; Ryan McDonagh, Rangers; Keith Yandle, Coyotes; John Carlson, Capitals; Dustin Byfuglien, Jets; Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues; Nick Leddy, Blackhawks; Alex Goligoski, Stars; Jake Gardiner, Maple Leafs; Zach Bogosian, Jets; James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets; Justin Faulk, Hurricanes; Seth Jones, 2013 draft eligible
Comment: A fairly large group from this pool of candidates will get serious consideration. Yandle and McDonagh should be locks to make the 2014 team and Byfuglien, Shattenkirk and Goligoski are close to locks as well. There's some impressive young talent coming for the American defense, including Jones, Faulk, Gardiner and Carlson. It'll make for an interesting orientation camp and tough decisions for a coach who will have to weigh skill versus experience.
Comment: These three goalies will likely be battling for the spot vacated by Thomas. Of the three, Schneider has the most potential to challenge for the starting job now that he's the starter in Vancouver. A rare first-round playoff exit for the Red Wings this spring gave Howard international experience and exposure during the World Championships.
With the 2012 Summer Games serving as a back drop, Craig Custance starts looking ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi Russia, projecting what a possible American roster might look like given an influx of young talent.