Let’s be honest, the new USA Hockey uniform unveiling was underwhelming.
Aesthetics aside, you know what won’t be underwhelming? The star-studded roster Team USA is capable of sending to Beijing 2022.
As mentioned in our Team Canada roster build earlier this week, the NHL and players are set to compete in the Games for the first time since 2014. The league has until a Jan. 10 deadline to potentially withdraw from competition without facing a penalty; COVID cases could end up being a contributing factor in the final decision.
If NHLers do end up going to China, then Team USA should be a force to reckon with.
Team USA’s junior rosters have excelled on the international stage in the past decade or so, highlighted by four world junior gold medals, one silver and three bronzes since 2010. However, when it comes to best-on-best tournaments with no age restrictions, the Americans have routinely fallen short.
Olympic silvers in 2002 and 2010 are the men’s team’s best results since winning the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. They didn’t medal at Sochi 2014 and having a 2016 World Cup of Hockey roster greatly impacted by the inclusion the exciting one-off Team North America resulted in a seventh-place finish.
The United States had the second-best odds to win gold behind Canada when the 2022 tournament’s betting lines opened, however the U.S. has since fallen behind both the Russian Olympic Committee and Sweden on the odds – some of that could certainly be attributed to the unlikely availability of star centre Jack Eichel.
We’ve excluded Eichel from the exercise below since the former Buffalo Sabres centre recently said his top priorities are recovering from his artificial disk replacement surgery and getting ready to debut for the Vegas Golden Knights, not focusing on Beijing. Eichel would unquestionably find a top-six role on this team if he were at full health.
With that in mind, here’s a 2022 Team USA roster build with four lines, three defensive pairings and a pair of goalies (with an extra player for each positional group), plus an American B-squad that could reasonably be more dangerous than many European teams.
Alex DeBrincat – Auston Matthews – Patrick Kane
Johnny Gaudreau – J.T. Miller – Matthew Tkachuk
Kyle Connor – Dylan Larkin – Troy Terry
Brady Tkachuk – Joe Pavelski – Chris Kreider
Who knows if the actual lines will resemble anything like the ones above – and, obviously, they’d be shaped differently with Eichel involved – but there’s no doubt many of these players should be Olympic-bound barring a change by Jan. 10.
It’s a balanced forward group with plenty of firepower spread throughout the lineup, each player capable of exceeding the 20-goal mark at the NHL level.
Slotting Matthews between the two Blackhawks and Miller between the pair of Flames should result in instant chemistry, while Larkin and Connor are also no-doubt selections. Once you get beyond those top eight forwards, you could go in several different directions.
Pavelski is a contender to be named team captain, so he’s also a relatively safe selection. His leadership, faceoff skills and other intangibles could be perfect to anchor a depth forward line. But do you surround him with fellow veterans such as T.J. Oshie and Max Pacioretty to create a well-rounded trio, or is this where you inject some grit and – to borrow a phrase from former Team USA exec Brian Burke – truculence?
We ultimately went with Brady Tkachuk and Kreider, adding significant bite (whoops, hope your hand is doing better, Brady) to the forward group. Having both Tkachuk bros is a huge plus for the locker room atmosphere and that family feeling was also a reason to include the younger Hughes sibling as the bonus forward. Meanwhile, Kreider is the NHL’s leading American goal scorer. The Rangers winger could be used on the second power-play unit or, you know, whenever an opposing goalie needs to be run over.
As you can see from some names on the B-squad, there were plenty of promising options for the final handful of forward spots.
Terry is nowhere close to being a lock, but at this point he has played his way onto the team. Perhaps it’s a case of recency bias, but he’s in the midst of a breakout season and has a proven history of success with Team USA, including an Oshie-like shootout performance in the 2017 world junior semis. He’s a forward, like Jack Hughes, so you can move him around the lineup and whose ice-time would be relatively limited.
Terry is also one of the only right-shot forwards. That lack of balance up front may cause issues, although they could be rendered moot since so many American wingers thrive on their off-wing.
Quinn Hughes – Adam Fox
Jaccob Slavin – Charlie McAvoy
Zach Werenski – Seth Jones
The back end was little more straightforward and, unlike the forward unit, each player can play on their strong side.
Hughes and Fox, the first American Norris Trophy winner since Brian Leetch, would be puck-moving machines, and reuniting Werenski and Jones from their days in Columbus is an easy decision.
Slavin has to be there, so does McAvoy, and it wouldn’t feel right omitting Carlson instead of other right-shot blueliners Brett Pesce, Jeff Petry and Jacob Trouba.
Hellebuyck and Gibson are the expected top two netminders, and if Campbell continues to find himself at or near the top of many goalie categories, he’ll warrant serious consideration ahead of Thatcher Demko and longtime Team USA staple Jonathan Quick.
New uniform aesthetics aside, Team USA could, even without Eichel, look great on the ice in Beijing if they managed to gel as a cohesive unit.