Let's Speculate Again: Predictions For the 2010 USA Olympic Ice Hockey Team

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Let's Speculate Again: Predictions For the 2010 USA Olympic Ice Hockey Team

This is a follow-up to my initial list predicting who will suit up for the U.S. in Vancouver next February.

Brian Burke, Team U.S.A.’s GM, has recently made comments eluding to what types of players he has in mind to be the next to wear the red, white, and blue.

"I predict that we will be the smallest and youngest team in the tournament," said Burke.

As an American hockey fan, this is terrific news. 

Don’t get me wrong; I have a great deal of gratitude to the effort that the U.S. players of the past have put in.

That been said, there is an evolution in the NHL, due in large part to the rule changes made in the new CBA, of young, skilled, speedy players becoming more prominent.

As it should, it appears that international competition will follow suit.

Burke also followed up with, “If we're small in the top six, we're going to have to probably fill out the bottom six with some beef."

With this new information in mind, here is take-two in attempting to predict the 2010  U.S. Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team.

Forwards:

Line 1:  Paul Stastny, Zach Parise, Patrick Kane

Line 2:  Scott Gomez, Bobby Ryan, Phil Kessel

Line 3: Brandon Dubinsky, Dustin Brown, Blake Wheeler

Line 4: Joe Pavelski, David Booth, David Backes

Burke will have many to consider for what will end up being the top twelve. Below are the top 25 who I predict will be considered:

(Player / Position / Height / Weight / Age in 2010 / Current NHL Team /  Hometown)

David Backes  RW 6'2" 216, 25 (STL, Minneapolis, MN)
Good hands and even better size and grit. Will make the cut as a prototypical Brian Burke player, barely edging out veteran Mike Knuble.

David Booth  LW 6'1" 212, 25 (FLA, Detroit, MI)
Once again, size mixes with finesse. An emerging talent, he should be blossomed enough to make this squad, barely edging out Brian Gionta who is immensely talented.

Dustin Brown  RW 6'0" 205, 25 (LA, Itacha, NY)
Brown is one of those players who can play on the top scoring line, or the energy/checking line for almost NHL club, and the same is true for this international squad of the best U.S. born players. I expect Burke and the coach to try utilize his hitting talents more than anything. His scoring touch will be a bonus.

Dustin Byfuglien  RW 6'3" 246, 24 (Minneapolis, MN)
Byfuglien Could easily make the cut if Burke wants to really beef up the bottom six. He can skate with the speedy youth in Chicago and could definitely fit in somewhere on this team, but does not quite have the scoring touch that some of the other youngsters do.

Tim Connolly  C 6'0" 191, 28 (BUF, Syracuse, NY)
Has been plagued with injuries in his short NHL career, which is probably the only thing stopping him from making a bigger name for himself. This position is tough, I could definitely see him replacing Dubinsky but I think Brandon is a better energy player, and Connolly would not be able to crack the top six.

Brandon Dubinsky  C 6'1" 210, 23 (NYR, Anchorage, AK)
Started the season this year looking like he would easily get to 30 goals. Has a quick wrister, can skate like the wind and will drop the gloves, the type of guy Burke loves. His lack of production in the second half of the season is a potential red flag and could easily be replaced by Umberger.

Chris Drury  C 5'10" 200, 33 (NYR, Trumbull, CT)
One of the many veterans that may not be returning, Drury is not producing according to what he is being paid in New York, and that his hurting his reputation. However, he is known for being a clutch player, and this fact may get him a spot, but I don't think he can skate with the young guys or throw his weight around well enough.

Brian Gionta  RW 5'7" 175, 31 (NJD, Rochester, NY)
My favorite NHL player under 5'10", Gionta has amazing hands and no fear- he will body up anyone, and his foes are surprised how much of a punch he can pack. I honestly hope he makes the cut, but I don't see him skating on either of the top two lines, and Burke is not known for putting smaller guys on the checking line.

Scott Gomez  C 5'11" 200, 30 (NYR, Anchorage, AK)
According to the list I have, he could be the choice to captain this squad. He can still skate with the young guys or anyone, for that matter, and still has some of the best vision of anyone in the game. Could certainly be centering the top line, but I think Stastny will be representing the new blood there.

Patrick Kane  RW 5'10" 170, 21 (CHI, Buffalo, NY)
Even with the emergence of Parise as perhaps the 2008-09 Hart runner-up, Kane is the face of American hockey. He will see plenty of time on the top line and power-play, and should rack up some points along side Parise.

Ryan Kesler  C 6'2" 205, 25 (VAN, Livonia, MI)
One of the other centers that I am on the fence about, but I think Pavelski is producing slightly better. Burke could determine that that is a factor of Joe having more talent surrounding him in San Jose, and Kesler could do some damage with wingers that can skate with him and include him as a fourth line winger.

Phil Kessel  RW 6'0" 192, 22 (BOS, Madison, WI)
When I go to Vancouver next February, I'm going to purchase a Team USA jersey. I'm debating between Parise and Phil Kessel. You can be sure there will be a story on Kessel's battle with cancer that airs during the Olympics coverage. Regardless, he is one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the NHL and should be lining up as a second line winger.

Mike Knuble  RW 6'3" 230, 37 (PHI, Toronto, ON [Dual Citizen])
I wouldn't be shocked to see him make the cut or be cut. Still brings the finishing touch in Philly, has the size and hands that, as I've said, Burke likes. It's either him or Backes, and David simply wins the age competition.

Ryan Malone  LW 6'4" 224, 30 (TB, Pittsburgh, PA)
Another guy who fits into the Burke system. I just don't know who he fits with, but he's another one that Burke could pick out to bring a physical presence on the third or fourth line, and still have scoring ability.

           

Mike Modano  C 6'3" 205, 39 (DAL, Livonia, MI)

Could make it on leadership qualities alone, and if so, will don the 'C'. He has also been one of Dallas's best players this year in their suprising rise from the basement of the competitive Western Conference, and now holding onto a playoff spot. Even though I'm an advocate of going with the youth in 2010, I wouldn't mind seeing Modano representing the country again.

Peter Mueller  RW 6'2" 205, 21 (PHO, Bloomington, MN)
Had to really turn it on this year to get more of a consideration, but let's not forget about this young talent. Probably won't see Olympic action until 2014.

Patrick O'Sullivan  LW 5'11" 190, 24 (LA, Winston-Salem, NC)
He is slowly becoming what the Kings have hoped for. He has been juggled around all four lines in Los Angeles this year, and really fits in anywhere. I don't think he is quite big enough for Burke to play in the bottom six, and not where he needs to be yet to make the top six.

Kyle Okposo  RW 6'1" 203, 21 (NYI, St. Paul, MN)
See Peter Mueller. Either of them could really impress at the camp and maybe make the cut over Wheeler.

Zach Parise  LW 5'11" 190, 25 (NJD, Minneapolis, MN).
The only thing that will stop him from skating on the top line in Vancouver would be an injury. He is shocking the hockey world by actually sparking talk of Hart consideration amidst the tear Ovechkin is on.

Joe Pavelski  C 5'11" 195, 25 (SJ, Plover, WI)
Pavelski is leading the secondary scoring threat that San Jose is using to punish teams with relentless assaults. This do-it-all player should be able to fit in wherever Burke and to-be-named head coach want to put him, and for that he should make the cut, but could be edged by Connolly or Kesler.

Brian Rolston  LW 6'2" 214, 36 (NJD, Flint, MI)
Even though he has size supplementing scoring ability, I just don't see where he fits in on this team. At thirty-six, I think he will miss the unofficial age cut off.

Bobby Ryan  RW 6'2" 218, 22 (ANA, Cherry Hill, NJ)
Becoming a legitimate scoring threat in the NHL at the ripe old age of 21, he has the type of speed, creativity, and shooting ability that will not go overlooked, and should earn him a spot on the second scoring line for Team U.S.A.

Paul Stastny  C 6'0" 205, 24 (COL, Quebec, PQ [Dual Citizen])
Stastny is comfortably taking over for Joe Sakic in Colorado, who was voted as the 2006 games' most valuable player for Team Canada. He will have to battle Gomez for first line center honors, but should emerge victorious.

R.J. Umberger  C 6'2" 215, 27 (CLB, Pittsburgh, PA)
His 2008 playoff performance puts him on the map as one of the few NHL players who can be counted on in pressure situations, and for that gets strongly considered for this squad. Could replace Dubinsky on the third line; whoever wants it more camp between these two will take the spot.

Blake Wheeler  RW 6'5" 214, 23 (BOS, Robbinsdale, MN)
Rarely does his kind of size come with such skating or scoring ability, and that will be hard for Burke to overlook. I see him fitting in somewhere in the bottom six and contributing more than his fair share of goals.


Defense:

Line 1: Brian Rafalski, Erik Johnson

Line 2: Ryan Whitney, Jack Johnson

Line 3: John-Michael Liles, Mike Komisarek


This will again be full of tough decisions. I predict these 14 players to be among the considerations for the final 6:

Matt Carle  6'0" 205, 25 (PHI, Anchorage, AK)
Carle is a solid puck mover with great instincts. He is not known for being a tough guy, and could lose points because of it. He could definitely crack the reserve list, but probably won't make the starting squad.

Joe Corvo  6'0" 204, 32 (CAR, Oak Park, IL)
Corvo has a boomer of a shot and could provide a veteran presence, but I predict Burke will want the D-men to skate right along with the forwards, and Corvo could be left behind. Wouldn't be surprised to see him replace Erik if his knee is not yet 100%.

Alex Goligoski  6'0" 187, 24 (PIT, Grand Rapids, MN)
A nice young talent, was looking good early on in the season but has since been re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL. Might be someone to watch for 2014.

Matt Greene  6'3" 233, 26 (LA, Grand Ledge, MI)
A solid stay at home guy, Greene is right there with Komisarek for hard-hitting, defensive minded game play. Might get barely edged out by Komisarek but should be considered right along side him.

Erik Johnson  6'4" 219, 21 (STL, Bloomington, MN)
Really? A golf cart? Unfortunately for Erik, his torn ACL while stepping out of a golf cart injury will stay with him forever. He was starting to mature at a young age for a defensemen, and the 08-09 campaign was supposed to be promising. I would be very surprised if he did not make the final cut for Team U.S.A. in 2010.

Jack Johnson  6'1" 212, 23 (LA, Indianapolis, IN)
Jack is solid in every area defensively, and since his return from a shoulder injury has actually been the Kings' best shootout specialist as well. Another young guy whom I'd be shocked not to see donning the red, white, and blue.

Mike Komisarek  6'5" 240, 28 (MON, West Islip, NY)
Komisarek will be the main physical presence for the U.S. if he makes the cut. He is responsible with the puck, but will not be creating too much offensively. Could be replaced by Corvo if Burke and crew want all D-men to be able to skate with the puck fluently.

Paul Mara  6'4" 219, 30 (NYR, Ridgewood, NJ)
Another defensively responsible guy, probably gets edged by Komisarek in this regard for his sheer strength and intimidation factor.

John-Michael Liles 5'10" 185, 29 (COL, Indianapolis, IN)
A mainstay on the Colorado blue-line, Liles is also one of the best skaters in the NHL on the back end. His numbers have dipped of late, but his skating and puck moving ability should earn him a roster spot for next February.

Brooks Orpik  6'2" 219, 29 (PIT, San Francisco, CA)
Orpik is another guy with Matt Greene that should be considered with Komisarek for that physical presence in the U.S.'s own end zone. He showed up every night in the playoffs last year ready and willing to punish any and all opponents.

Brian Rafalski  5'10" 200, 36 (DET, Dearborn, MI)
Rafalski will headline the U.S.'s blue line in Vancouver. He has surpassed Lidstrom for the title of Detroit's point leading D-man and trails only Paul Coffey re-incarnate Mike Green for the lead among Defensemen in the NHL at this point. He can still skate with anyone and is always sound defensively.

Matthieu Schneider  5'10" 185, 40 (ATL, New York, NY)
Schneider has recently re-emerged as an offensive force after being traded to Montreal. He will be looked at seriously to bring a veteran presence to Vancouver, but I think Rafalski will bring all that is needed so that a young pair of legs can replace Schneider.

Ryan Suter  6'1" 196, 25 (NAS, Madison, WI)
Suter is the guy who I am most on the fence about making the cut. He puts up decent numbers, has OK size, and is responsible defensively. I just don't see him replacing any of the guys I have making it ahead of him.

Ryan Whitney  6-4 219, 26 (PIT, Boston, MA)
Whitney has taken a lot of flak lately, but he is still one of the best young puck moving defensemen in the NHL, and provides a sizable frame that can blast it from the outside. These are qualities that cannot and will not be overlooked by Burke.


Goaltenders:

Rick DiPietro 6'1" 210, 28 (NYI, Winthrop, MA)

Ryan Miller  6'2" 175, 29 (BUF, East Lansing, MI)

Tim Thomas  5'11" 201, 35 (BOS, Flint, MI)


No change here, but there are potential problems:

DiPietro smartly got shut down for the year, so let's hope this most fragile of netminders can get back into playing shape and stay healthy.

Miller just went down with a high ankle sprain. Those are brutal and can linger.

Thomas is no spring chicken, and despite having a sensational year, let in a brutal half-ice OT goal by Alexander Semin the other day, though it did take a funny hop.

If anything happens to the big three, these guys could be ready to step in:

Craig Anderson  6'2" 180, 28 (FLA, Park Ridge, IL)

Brian Boucher  6'2" 200, 33 (SJS, Woonsocket, RI)

Scott Clemmensen  6'3" 205, 32 (NJ, Des Moines, IA)

Ty Conklin  6'0" 184, 33 (DET, Anchorage, AK)

Brent Johnson  6'3" 186, 32 (WAS, Farmington, MI)

Jon Quick  6'1" 206, 24 (LA, Milford, CT)

They have all made a strong impression at the NHL level, but it would require one of the top three to be unavailable for them to make the cut. First off the list would probably be the Winter Classic lucky charm, Ty Conklin.

In closing, I hate to have to make amendments to my initial predictions, but I was under the naive impression that Team USA would again try to hold on to the previous generation of players in the next olympics. I am glad to report that this is not the case, and I am even more excited by this list.

As always, please weigh in with your opinions.

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