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WCH 2016: A Look at Team USA

As the World Cup of Hockey fast approaches, the Pucknology crew is ready to give you in-depth coverage of the international event. Luckily for you, I am covering Team USA for the outlet.

Now, I am no different than any other American; I too was born with fireworks in my hand, raised by bald eagles, and saddened by the death of Harambe. But, I also know a fair bit about hockey, so let’s get this going.

The Roster

The United States’ roster includes a number of Team USA regulars as well as some new faces to the nation’s club. In order to be successful, the Americans will need to combine the experience of the veterans with the drive of the rookies. Every team in this tournament is competitive, so it will take skill, passion, and luck to come out on top.

Now, let’s take a look at the members of Team USA by position.

Forwards

Justin Abdelkader – Detroit Red Wings
David Backes – St. Louis Blues
Kyle Palmieri – New Jersey Devils*
Brandon Dubinsky – Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Kesler – Anaheim Ducks
T.J. Oshie – Washington Capitals
Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
Zach Parise – Minnesota Wild
(C) Joe Pavelski – San Jose Sharks
Derek Stepan – New York Rangers
James van Riemsdyk – Toronto Maple Leafs
Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets

*Kyle Palmieri replaced the injured Ryan Callahan (Tampa Bay Lightning) on the roster.

This Team USA forward group has a lot of skill on it, featuring names like Patrick Kane, T.J. Oshie, and team captain Joe Pavelski. It also has some built-in chemistry from the Olympics and numerous proven performers throughout the lineup.

But, there are many notable snubs left off of the American roster. The most glaring one is the absence of Phil Kessel, who earned 22 points in 24 playoff games before winning the Stanley Cup last June. However, Kessel suffered a hand injury during the season, and his omission may be a combination of his recovery process and the long year he had.

Even without Kessel, though, players like Tyler Johnson or Bobby Ryan would have been excellent picks over Justin Abdelkader or Brandon Dubinsky. Leaving the former two off the roster in favor of the latter two is surprising, so hopefully their playing styles compliment the team the way general manager Dean Lombardi hopes they will.

What else is concerning is how this forward group looks compared to the one assembled by Team Canada. On paper, Canada has a much stronger team than the Americans, so the United States might need a mini Miracle On Ice to beat out their northern neighbors.

Defensemen

Dustin Byfuglien – Winnipeg Jets
John Carlson – Washington Capitals
Erik Johnson – Colorado Avalanche
Jack Johnson – Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan McDonagh – New York Rangers
Matt Niskanen – Washington Capitals
Ryan Suter – Minnesota Wild

Like the club’s forward group, Team USA’s defense is good, but definitely could have been better. The inclusion of both Jack and Erik Johnson is puzzling, as Jack Johnson has never had a season on the positive side of the plus/minus rating, and Erik Johnson has put up just average possession numbers his entire career.

Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues, Alex Goligoski of the Arizona Coyotes, or even Justin Braun of the San Jose Sharks probably would benefit this blue line more than either Johnson. But, again, perhaps their style of play will be a huge factor in the tournament.

The other five defensemen, however, are quite good. Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, John Carlson, and Matt Niskanen all rank in the top 10 of the plus/minus category among active American blueliners. Additionally, Suter and Dustin Byfuglien are first and second in points among active defenders born in the United States.

Aside from the Johnsons, this is the best defense corp that could have been created.

Goaltenders

Jonathan Quick – Los Angeles Kings
Ben Bishop – Tampa Bay Lightning
Cory Schneider – New Jersey Devils

Goaltending is definitely the strong suit of the American squad as it has three quality netminders who can take over the starting position.

Jonathan Quick—the projected starter—has two Stanley Cups in the last four years and posted a .946 save percentage and .934 save percentage in the 2012 and 2013 playoffs, respectively. He is known for his ability to steal games and make incredible saves at vital times.

From the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ben Bishop has been a lights-out goaltender since the 2012-13 season. He’s averaged a .920 save percentage with the Lightning and had a 2.02 goals-against average last year. His playoff experience and his expertise in net will surely help the United States if he can stay healthy.

Cory Schneider is statistically the best goaltender out of the three, even though he plays on a New Jersey Devils team that has yet to make the playoffs since his arrival. He has a career .925 save percentage, including a .924 and a .925 save percentage since taking the starting role in New Jersey in 2014-15. He would likely be the starter for his country if his NHL team was good enough to give him more experience in critical situations, like the postseason.

Projected Lineup

While no tentative lineup has been released, this is my best guess for Team USA’s line combinations and defensive pairings. At the very least, it’s a peek at what the United States could look like.

Left Wing Center Right Wing
van Riemsdyk Pavelski Kane
Parise Stepan Wheeler
Pacioretty Kesler Oshie
Abdelkader Backes Palmieri
x Dubinsky x
Left Defense Right Defense
Suter Carlson
McDonagh Byfuglien
E. Johnson Niskanen
J. Johnson x
Goaltenders
Quick
Schneider
Bishop

Assessment

Team USA is not a favorite to win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey—that honor goes to Team Canada, with Team Sweden having a good chance at taking the gold as well. But, the roster created by Lombardi has some strong talent on it that can take control of a game. Their skill and performance is what will determine the fate of the United States.

Don’t count the Americans out just yet.

First Game

Saturday, September 17

Team USA vs. Team Europe (Preliminary)

3:30 p.m. EST

ESPN 2

Other Previews

Team Canada

Team North America

Team Sweden

About Drew Weber

Drew Weber is a lover of hockey and abuser of analytics. Prior to joining Pucknology, he covered the San Jose Sharks and Team USA for The Hockey Writers and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.

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