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Olympics look-ahead: USA

Ed. Note: Over the last week we have been taking an early look at the major competitors for February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and how it affects members of the Predators organization. Today we continue with Team USA…

Potential Depth Chart:

Team USA
Forwards
Zach Parise Ryan Kesler Patrick Kane
Bobby Ryan Joe Pavelski Phil Kessel
Max Pacioretty David Backes Dustin Brown
James van Riemsdyk Paul Stastny Ryan Callahan
Blake Wheeler Craig Smith Brandon Saad
Alex Galchenyuk Derek Stepan T.J. Oshie
Defense Goalie
Ryan Suter Kevin Shattenkirk Jonathan Quick
Jack Johnson Justin Faulk Jimmy Howard
Seth Jones Brooks Orpik Ryan Miller
Keith Yandle Erik Johnson Cory Schneider
Ryan McDonagh Zach Bogosian Craig Anderson

Note: Depth chart above only includes players on Olympic Camp invite roster, which can be seen here.

Forwards

The forwards for Team USA are going to look a little bit different in 2014 than they did in 2010. It’s a totally different style of play in Sochi as opposed to how the games were played in Vancouver. There’s going to be more room in Sochi with the games being played on international sized ice, so Team USA will most likely look to focus more on speed and skill rather than toughness. Team USA has some very dynamic forwards in Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan and Phil Kessel, while the centers are really gifted on both sides of the ice.

The Americans shouldn’t have any problems scoring goals. Kane has turned into one of the most lethal offensive weapons in all of hockey, and his game should transition well to the larger ice surface. Whatever the final roster looks like, Team USA will be rolling out four lines that can do some damage at any given time of the game. They will have lots of Olympic experience in their group of forwards even though the roster will not look exactly the same.

Predators forward Craig Smith has a decent chance to make this roster. Number one, Nashville’s David Poile is the GM of Team USA. That certainly plays into Smith’s favor, especially if he has a good first half of the season in the NHL. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the fact that Smith seems to be a completely different player in international competition. If one were to simply take a look at Smith’s NHL career thus far, he would have absolutely no chance of making this roster. However, he has performed very well at the World Championships in each of the last two seasons. Nashville’s Colin Wilson was not on the camp roster (likely due to injury) but could play his way into consideration this fall.

Defensemen

Defense is perhaps the most interesting area for Team USA. Ryan Suter is the best defenseman on this roster by far and will probably get close to 30 minutes of ice time per game. But who is going to play with him? Brian Rafalski was his partner in crime in the 2010 Olympics, but he’s since retired. Team USA has a lot of talented defensemen, but none are quite on Suter’s level. It will be interesting to see who plays with him. Will it be Kevin Shattenkirk? Justin Faulk?

Overall, the Americans should have a pretty solid defense corps. They’ll have some experienced guys from the 201o Olympic team, but there will also be some new faces thrown in there as well. One of the most interesting players to watch will be Nashville’s No. 4 overall pick from June, Seth Jones. The first half of the NHL season will essentially be Jones’ tryout for the national team. If he performs well in the first half of the season and makes the decision close between him and another player, Poile will go with Jones.

Goaltenders

In 2010, Ryan Miller played extremely well in net for the Americans. But don’t expect him to be the starter again. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has become arguably the best in the world at his position over the last two seasons, and is the leader in the clubhouse for the starting job for Team USA. The United States has a good crop of goaltenders to choose from with Quick, Jimmy Howard and Miller being the top three. Don’t forget about Cory Schneider or Craig Anderson, either.

Team outlook:

Team USA looks poised to have a very strong showing in the 2014 Winter Olympics after capturing silver in 2010. They have good talent in all areas of their game, and have some good depth at the goaltending position that could carry them through should someone start to struggle.

The Americans will have a good team. The question is how do they stack up against the other three top dogs in Canada, Russia and Sweden? The international ice surface will benefit the Americans, but it is really going to benefit the Canadians and Russians in particular with all of their speed and creativity. Team USA should make another run at a medal in 2014.

 
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