US Men's National Hockey Team: 10 Likely 1st-Time Olympians in 2014

Simon Cherin-Gordon@SimoncgoContributor IIIMay 18, 2012

US Men's National Hockey Team: 10 Likely 1st-Time Olympians in 2014

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    With the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships set to wrap up on Sunday and this summer's London Olympics just over two months away, we have passed the halfway point to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

    The U.S. Men's National Team—now out of the running for a medal at the World Championships—has shifted its focus to 2014. And despite coming within one goal of gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the next U.S. Olympic roster will look considerably different.

    Some players have retired. Others have aged past their Olympic-level years, and some have simply gotten worse. Meanwhile, other players have entered the IIHF scene, have made a mark in the NHL or look to make a mark in the near future.

    With the 2013 World Championships and one and a half NHL seasons still to come before the Sochi roster will be named, this list is completely speculative. There have been no official reports or even substantive rumors about what the 2014 U.S. roster will look like.

    That being said, the 10 players mentioned here all have played in the NHL, are relatively young, are extremely talented and were born in the United States.

Jimmy Howard, Goalie, Detroit Red Wings

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    Why him?

    Don't let Jimmy Howard's relatively short NHL career to this point fool you; he's already 28 and will be 29 by the 2014 Games.

    Howard first appeared in net for Detroit back in 2005. Over the next four seasons, he appeared in a total of nine games. Howard finally found himself a starting role with the Red Wings in 2009 and finished the season as runner-up for the Calder Trophy.

    He's become a bona-fide No. 1 goalie in the NHL over the last three seasons and started in seven of eight games for the Team USA in this year's World Championships.

    Howard's solid NHL numbers (35-17-4, 2.12 GAA, .920 Sv%) and IIHF play (5-2, 2.42 GAA, .911 Sv%) make him the leading candidate to be a Team USA goaltender in 2014, joining Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Tim Thomas

Cory Schneider, Goalie, Vancouver Canucks

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    Why him? 

    Unlike Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider has never been a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL. Also unlike Howard, Schneider has never played in an IIHF game above the Junior level (although he was on the 2007 Senior World Championship's roster as a third-string goalie).

    Why, then, does Schneider have a legitimate shot at beating out Howard for a spot on the 2014 Olympic roster?

    Because the 2014 Games are over 18 months away, and because Cory Schneider may be a better goaltender than Jimmy Howard by then.

    Schneider has only appeared in 68 regular season NHL games, but his 38-17-4 record, 2.24 GAA and .928 save percentage speak volumes about the type of player Schneider is. Moreover, his 1.91 GAA and .940 save percentage in eight Stanley Cup playoff appearances speak even louder about Schneider's ability to perform under pressure.

    No one knows where Schneider will be in two years, but it's hard to imagine him being anything less than a great NHL No. 1 goalie and a strong contender for Team USA.

    Who he would replace from 2010: Tim Thomas

Max Pacioretty, Left Wing, Montreal Canadiens

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    Why him?

    It took Max Pacioretty some time to figure out the NHL. In his first two seasons and 86 games played, Pacioretty scored only six goals. Montreal demoted their 2007 first-round pick to the AHL during the second half of the 2009-'10 season.

    Then, everything changed. After dominating the AHL for two half seasons, Pacioretty was re-promoted midway through last season. In his 116 games since, Pacioretty has lit the lamp 47 times.

    After an excellent 2011-12 season in which Pacioretty tallied 33 goals and 65 points, he was an easy pick for Team USA general manager Brian Burke and head coach Scott Gordon (especially considering that his Habs missed the playoffs).

    Pacioretty did not disappoint on the international stage, leading Team USA in points (12) and finishing second in ice-time among forwards (16:33 TOI/G).

    Pacioretty is a big, strong winger, checking in at 6'2", 212 lbs, and he can score from anywhere. Looking at his size, offensive skills, already impressive and rapidly improving NHL numbers and IIHF experience, Max Pacioretty looks like a lock to make the 2014 Olympic roster.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Ryan Malone

T.J. Oshie, Right Wing/Center, St. Louis Blues

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    Why him?

    While Pacioretty's game is exploding, T.J. Oshie's has remained very consistent. And while Pacioretty's offensive ability makes him a likely top-six winger for Team USA in 2014, Oshie's all-around game makes him an equally likely selection.

    In Oshie's four NHL seasons, he's scored 14 goals and 39 points in 57 games, 18 goals and 48 points in 76 games, 12 goals and 34 points in 49 games and 19 goals and 54 points in 80 games. In other words, he's been on an almost uncanny pace every year to score 20 goals and 55 points over a full 82-game season.

    That's consistency.

    Oshie also has IIHF experience. During the 2010 World Championships, he scored four goals in six games. He would have played last year had be been healthy, and this year had his Blues been eliminated earlier.

    Oshie's offensive consistency, defensive prowess and IIHF experience make him a near shoe-in for the 2014 Olympic roster. The only thing that may hold Oshie back are injuries—something else he's managed to achieve consistently.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Chris Drury

Cam Atkinson, Right Wing, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Why him?

    Currently, Cam Atkinson's Olympic resume looks very undersized at first glance. The 22-year-old winger has only appeared in 27 NHL games and has only scored seven goals.

    Atkinson himself looks pretty undersized as well. At 5'8", 165 lbs, he doesn't look like he belongs on an NHL team—even the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    But both his resume and physical stature will fool you if you don't look closely.

    Atkinson was the best college player in the country in 2009-'10, scoring 31 goals in 38 games. He scored twice in the national title game, leading Boston College to a championship.

    In 56 AHL games, Atkinson dominated once again, scoring 32 goals. He has already scored an NHL hat trick despite only 27 games of service. Most recently, Atkinson scored for Team USA at the World Championships, although it was his only goal of the tournament.

    It's become apparent that Cam Atkinson does one thing: score goals. Despite his small frame, Cam destroys opposing defenders with amazing speed and opposing goalies with amazing shots.

    He wouldn't be an Olympian if the rosters were named today, but he may be a obvious pick in 18 months.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Jamie Langenbrunner

Dustin Byfuglien, Defenseman (?), Winnipeg Jets

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    Why him?

    This is the first player to be discussed who has no IIHF experience and is unlikely to make the 2014 Olympic roster. However, bringing in Byfuglien would one of the smartest things Brian Burke could do. 

    For starters, Dustin Byfuglien can play both defense and forward. After Chicago drafted him as a defenseman, they converted him to forward. Byfuglien became a dangerous, multi-dimensional third-line winger.

    His physicality and speed made him a force, and he shined in big games—Byfuglien scored 11 goals (five game-winners) during Chicago's Stanley Cup run.

    Since being traded to Atlanta/Winnipeg two years ago and being moved back to defense, Byfuglien has proven to be an unstoppable puck-mover and a dangerous scorer from the low point. In 66 games this season, he scored a ridiculous 53 points.

    Byfuglien would give Team USA excellent versatility and roster flexibility, but he would also provide much-needed size.

    The two biggest players on the 2010 Vancouver Games' roster were defenseman Erik Johnson (6'4", 240 lb) and forward Ryan Malone (6'4", 220). Both players' games have declined since 2010, and adding big Buff (6'5", 265 lb) would make it easy to replace their size and simultaneously save a roster spot.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Erik Johnson, Ryan Malone

Alex Goligoski, Defenseman, Dallas Stars

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    Why him? 

    Alex Goligoski spent two-and-a-half years in Pittsburgh, learning from some great defenseman, winning a Stanley Cup and steadily improving his offensive game. By the time he was traded to the Stars last season, Goligoski was ready to become Dallas' No. 1 defenseman.

    After declining an invitation to play for the U.S. National Team at the 2011 World Championships, Goligoski accepted this year. It became clear why Burke and Gordon wanted him, as he finished second on the team in plus-minus (plus-seven) and second in points among defenseman (five).

    Goligoski learned the NHL game quickly and hasn't seemed to improve too much since 2010. However, he has gained IIHF experience since then, and Team USA has lost a number of defenseman.

    With the retirement of Brian Rafalski and the decline of several others, Alex Goligoski is likely to grab one of the final Olympic roster spots in 2014. His leadership, two-way ability, consistency and Stanley Cup experience would be hard to pass up.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Tim Gleason

Justin Faulk, Defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes

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    Why him?

    Much like Cam Atkinson, Justin Faulk's Olympic resume looks rather thin at first glance. The 20-year-old defenseman was drafted less than two years ago and has only played in 66 NHL games.

    Also like with Atkinson, a slightly deeper look at Faulk reveals a young man miles ahead of his peers. He won a national title at University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2011 and a gold medal in the 2010 Under-18 World Championships.

    After scoring eight goals, 22 points and averaging up an incredible 22:51 minutes per game during his rookie season in Carolina, Faulk was selected to play for Team USA at the World Championships. He finished first on the team in plus-minus (plus-9), first in goals (four) and points (eight) among defenseman, and third in ice time (20:13 TOI/G).

    Considering Faulk is making such a strong impact on the international level at age 20, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he'll be a key part of Team U.S.A. in Sochi at age 22.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Ryan Whitney

Keith Yandle, Defenseman, Phoenix Coyotes

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    Why him? 

    Keith Yandle was likely not considered for the 2010 Olympic roster. That team was selected less than halfway into Yandle's first season as a top-four defenseman, and his leadership abilities were either undeveloped or unknown.

    Now, two-plus years removed from the 2010 Vancouver Games, Yandle looks like he belongs on Team USA's top pairing.

    After finishing the 2009-10 season with 12 goals, 41 points and a plus-16 rating, Yandle was named to the 2010 World Championships team. He had his second consecutive breakout year in 2010-11, leading all NHL defenseman in points (59), leading his team in ice time (24:23 TOI/G) and leading Phoenix to the postseason again. 

    This season, Yandle's 43 points and improved defensive play have led the Coyotes to a division title and deep into the playoffs.

    With Brian Rafalski retired, Team USA will be looking for a new leader on the back end, both offensively and mentally. Keith Yandle seems to be the perfect candidate.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Brian Rafalski

Kevin Shattenkirk, Defenseman, St. Louis Blues

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    Why him? 

    Much like his teammate T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk's offensive numbers in the NHL have been eerily consistent.

    Unlike Oshie, Shattenkirk has only been in the league for two years. Also unlike Oshie, Shattenkirk's numbers have not only been similar, they've been exactly the same. In each of his two NHL seasons, he's scored nine goals and 43 points.

    That isn't to say Shattenkirk hasn't grown—the 23-year-old has become a much stronger defensive defenseman. While his stay-at-home game hasn't gotten to where it could be, the commitment to defense he's learned under Ken Hitchcock will do him wonders moving forward.

    After playing for Team USA at the 2011 World Championships, Shattenkirk's Blues played too deep into the playoffs for him to play for Team USA this year.

    But as a young defenseman who already has IIHF and Stanley Cup Playoff experience, who has rare offensive talent and awesome two-way potential, Kevin Shattenkirk should be getting a call from Brian Burke 18 months down the line.

    Who he would replace from 2010
    : Erik Johnson