On Saturday we took an early look at some of the key players likely to be battling for one of the 13 forward spots on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team. In 2010, the U.S. saw a bit of a passing of the guard as they went to a younger line up up front, meaning there will likely be plenty of returners entering the prime of their careers when the next games come around.
On the back end, the Americans have 6 players who played in Vancouver that will be interested in maintaining one of the 7 spots (Brian Rafalski had a tremendous run at the 2010 games but surprisingly announced his retirement after last season). In addition, two players who had been picked for the original roster during the last go around, Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin, were forced to sit out those games due to injury. Combine these 8 players with a host of young up and coming talent, and things will get interesting in a hurry as they look to make the final cuts and decide who will be boarding the plane for Russia.
Ryan Suter (NSH)- Plenty of guys have a great shot at cracking this line up for the U.S., but Suter is the closest thing there is to a lock as we look at the candidates two years out. In Vancouver, Suter led all Americans in ice time with over 22 minutes a game, including more then 30 minutes in the Gold Medal game loss to the Canadians. He has continued to improve and this year leads all American born defensemen in scoring with 33 points in 53 games. Expect Suter to once again be anchoring the top pairing as the Games kick off in February, 2014.
Jack Johnson (LAK)- There is no question the talent is there and the U.S. brass thought enough of Johnson to bring him to Vancouver as a 22 year old in 2010. Conventional wisdom would suggest he will continue to improve during the critical 4 year stretch between games and his offensive output should continue to increase as well as the Kings put together an improving and more talented club. However, Johnson’s numbers have dipped a bit this season and he is on pace to finish with a team worst plus/minus for the second straight season in L.A..
Erik Johnson (COL)- When the Blues took Johnson in 2006 with the 1st overall pick in the NHL Draft, they believed they had a 2 way defenseman they could build a franchise around for the next 15 years. Fast forward 5 years, and Johnson is now a member of the Colorado Avalanche. After an impressive 33 and 39 point seasons to start his career, Johnson has cooled a bit over the past year and a half as he continues to adjust to life with the Avs. Still, his size and skill make him a tremendous asset and after bringing the then 21 year to Vancouver as the youngest rear guard on the squad, it would be tough to imagine him not coming back this time around.
Brooks Orpik (PIT)- The Penguins defenseman won’t fill up the stat sheet for you, but he brings size and grit that have proved valuable at the NHL and International level. Orpik will look to be an elder statesman on this U.S. squad as he look to fill a role on one of the club’s bottom two pairs.
Tim Gleason (CAR)- When Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek was forced to pull out of the 2010 Games due to injury, the U.S. staff decided to replace toughness with toughness and they called Gleason. The Michigan native was the subject of trade talks this season, but the Canes recently rewarded him for his durability and consistent play with a handsome four year extension. Gleason will be 30 when camp commences next year and hungry for another shot at the Gold.
Ryan Whitney (EDM)- Whitney got the other call from management when then Devils defenseman Paul Martin went down. Whitney logged just 8 minutes a game in Vancouver, but will look to continue to improve and stay healthy as a veteran on the young Oilers squad with his eye on the 2014 games.
Looking For A Second Chance
Mike Komisarek (TOR), Paul Martin (PIT)-
As previously mentioned, Komisarek and Martin had their names sewn on their sweaters and their passports stamped when injuries derailed their dreams of representing the U.S. on the games biggest stage. Since then, Komisarek has continued to be solid but also continued to struggle a bit with injury. Meanwhile, Martin has enjoyed a change of scenery thanks to a move to Pittsburgh following his injury filled 2009-2010 season. Martin’s numbers have dipped a bit from the regular 30 point seasons he recorded in new Jersey, but he remains one of the American’s best puck moving options. Needless to say, both of these guys will be hungry for another shot at the Games in 2014.
Keith Yandle (PHX)- After a 2010-2011 season that included 59 points and plenty of Norris Trophy talks, Yandle has picked up where he left off and remains one of the top American born offensive defensemen in the game. Look for Yandle to not only make the U.S. roster in Sochi, but to log big minutes and see substantial time on the Power Play.
Dustin Byfuglien (WPG)- Byfuglien earned a long look at the last U.S Olympic Camp in large part due to his versatility. He has incredible size, a rocket for a shot, and can be all but impossible to move when parked at the top of the crease. His experience on forward and defense made him appealing to American coaches and scouts for the short tournament. In the end, Byfuglien was a late cut. Since then, he was a crucial part of the Blackhwaks Stanley Cup run, was sent to Atlanta where he put up 53 points while “adjusting” to his role as a full time dman, and was part of the franchise’s big move north to Winnipeg this summer. He will certainly make an interesting case once again when it comes time to pick the club next summer.
Matt Carle (PHI)- The Alaska native has enjoyed increased minutes on the blue line for some talented Flyers clubs, often paired with veteran Chris Pronger when Pronger is healthy. That experience has done wonders for his game. He enjoyed a career year last season with 40 points and was tied for a team high at +30.
The Young Guns
Ryan Mcdonagh (NYR), Nick Leddy (CHI), John Carlson (WSH)
Mcdonagh is in his first full year in the league, but so far has played like a seasoned vet on an excelling club. At just 22 years old he has posted 5 goals, 15 assists and is a team leading +23 for John Tortorella’s Eastern Conference leading Rangers.
At just 22 years old, Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy is another potential star in the making worth keeping an eye on as 2014 approaches. He is learning from some of the best in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and has already amassed 26 points in 56 games this season.
Carlson, a former round pick is in his second full season with the Caps. An injury to Mike Green and overall club struggles, which have led to the firing of Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and the hiring of Caps legend Dale Hunter, have led to increased opportunity for the Massachusesetes native. He will get as long a look as any of these young stars when camp invites are handed out next year.
Other Notable Players To Keep An Eye On
Justin Faulk (CAR), Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), Zach Bogosian (WPG), Cam Fowler (ANA)