With the official news that NHLers will be returning to compete in the Olympics once again for the first time since the 2014 Sochi games, the rapid speculation on who will represent each team has begun. With NHL talent spread all over the world more than ever before, we should be set for the closest and most exciting best on best tournament to date.
Each country will have some very tough decisions to make, some more than others, when it comes time to submit their final 25 man rosters in January 2022. We will take a look at what each of the main contenders teams should look like come game one of the tournament. We’ll be projecting thirteen forwards, seven defenceman and three goalies for each major team in the tournament. Today we’ll be taking a look at Canada’s biggest competition, Team USA.
Previous predictions: Team Canada
A reminder that these teams are not necessarily who we think will be named to the actual team, but who we would pick for the team. Sorry, Seth Jones.
The Americans look to be the biggest competition for Canada this time around, boasting their most talented best on best roster in their history.
Matthew Tkachuk – Auston Matthews – Patrick Kane (A)
Johnny Gaudreau – Jack Eichel – Jake Guentzel
Max Pacioretty (A) – Dylan Larkin – Alex DeBrincat
J.T. Miller – Joe Pavelski (C) – Brady Tkachuk
Auston Matthews is arguably the second best centre in the world and will play a huge role for the Americans. Although his defensive game is non-existent, Patrick Kane is still one of the best playmakers in the league and will form a deadly duo with the best sniper in the league in Matthews. Meanwhile Matthew Tkachuk and his play driving ability can do the dirty work for the line.
On the second line I’ve got the apparently now underrated Johnny Gaudreau alongside the clear number two centre on the team in Jack Eichel. Both Gaudreau and Eichel are excellent playmakers so on the right side they’ve got an elite finisher in Jake Guentzel who has shown he can keep up while playing with elite players.
For the third line Dylan Larkin is a solid two-way centre and would be a great fit in the bottom six. Alex DeBrincat meanwhile is an top-end sniper who like Larkin has speed to burn. Add in the bigger Max Pacioretty who is an elite finisher himself and you’ve got a well balanced third line.
The Americans don’t have the depth to play elite skill on all four lines, so perhaps they could go with more of a grinding fourth line. Joe Pavelski is still a very good two-way centre and brings a ton of experience to the bottom six. Brady Tkachuk meanwhile is a huge pain to play against and is suited perfectly for a depth role. Add in J.T. Miller’s speed and playmaking and the fourth line has a little bit of everything.
I don’t think he’s shown enough yet in his career to warrant a top-six spot over the other options, but seeing Brady opposite his brother Matthew on the same line would be extremely fun to watch and I certainly wouldn’t be against it.
Jaccob Slavin – Adam Fox
Zach Werenski – Charlie McAvoy
Jeff Petry – John Carlson
On defence the Americans have a ton of similar players available, defenceman who can produce offence but don’t exactly defend well.
On the top pair you’ve got the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox along with the steady two-way expert Jaccob Slavin. Expect this line to get a ton of minutes against other teams’ top lines and excel against the majority of their opponents.
On the second pair, I have Charlie McAvoy who plays a ton of minutes in Boston and is solid at both ends of the ice, along with Zach Werenski who is okay defensively but can focus mainly on his offence alongside McAvoy.
The third pairing was tough for me. At this point all of the best options are offensive defenceman. In the end I decided to go with John Carlson for his offensive game even if it did take a step back last year, along with the more dependable Jeff Petry on his off-side.
Before Canucks fans get mad I understand seeing Quinn Hughes as the extra will upset them, but he took a massive step back last season so until we see more of his rookie season form I don’t think he deserves a spot over the more proven options. That said, he still has a few months this season to show he deserves a big role on the US team and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him have a big bounce back year.
As well, I know Seth Jones will 100% be named to the real team, but I don’t think he should be. His numbers have been in decline for a couple years now and he had a disastrous 2020-21 season. Perhaps he rebounds in Chicago this season but for now I don’t think he warrants a spot on the team despite his perceived value around the league.
In net it’s pretty straight forward for the Americans. Connor Hellebuyck is arguably the best goalie in the world not named Andrei Vasilevskiy and will be the guy for the US. John Gibson will almost certainly be backing him up. If there’s one position in which the Americans have an advantage over Canada, it’s in net. They’ll need Hellebuyck to stand on his head if they have any hope of beating Canada, which he’s shown he’s very capable of doing in the past for the Winnipeg Jets.
For the third string I debated between two younger goalies in Thatcher Demko and Alex Nedeljkovic, but went with Demko given his slight experience advantage over Nedeljkovic.
On the bubble
Jack Hughes – I think there’s a chance that Hughes sneaks onto this roster. He may not have the career totals yet to warrant a spot, but the bottom of the lineup at centre for the Americans is very iffy which gives Hughes a real shot of cracking the roster. If he can finally breakout to start the 2021–22 season, he’ll probably make the team as the Americans don’t have any other centres other than their big two who possess his raw skill level. If Eichel is unable to play due to his lingering injury, keep an eye on Hughes to take his spot down the middle.
Torey Krug – Krug’s issue is the Americans have so many similar players to him. Both Carlson and Hughes offer the same type of skillset in terms of offence with little defence, and I can’t see him beating out either of those guys. I was tempted to put him in over Petry, but Petry is more solid defensively which this defence group desperately needs. Perhaps if Hughes has another brutal year Krug can steal his spot come January.
Kyle Connor – Some may be shocked that Kyle Connor isn’t on my team considering his point totals the past couple years, but the fact is he’s awful defensively, and he isn’t exactly a great play driver either. If the Americans were looking to get some more offence into their lineup and insert a power play specialist, then Connor could slide in, but given his deficiencies in his own zone I can’t see him making the team.
Blake Coleman – This may be a bit of a surprising pick, but I think Blake Coleman’s skillset could be perfectly suited for Team USA. They simply don’t possess the depth in terms of skill that Canada does, and Coleman could be a perfect bottom-six, penalty kill specialist for them. They’ve been known to take grittier less skilled players to these tournaments, and Coleman offers a perfect blend of defence and grit for them.
The best American roster ever
The Americans may not have the depth to match up with the Canadians on paper, however they still look like a juggernaut in this tournament and one of the favourites for gold behind only Canada. The biggest factor in determining if they can take home gold or not is the play of Hellebuyck. He’ll have to be exceptional for Team USA to get past Canada in the medal rounds.
Regardless, the Americans will no doubt take their strongest roster in history to the 2022 Olympics, and should be a ton of fun to watch with the amount of skill and offence they have on their roster.
Next up we’ll be taking a look at another favourite in the tournament, Team Sweden.
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