The United States rejuvenated interest in Olympic hockey three years ago when it came so close to winning the gold medal against the rival Canadians.
As the team prepares for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the expectations of this team have been taken to new heights. Anything less than a silver medal should be considered a failure, and when you look at the amount of talent and depth that Team USA will bring to Russia, these kinds of expectations are not unrealistic.
Many familiar faces from the 2010 will be make another Olympic appearance, including Patrick Kane and Zach Parise, but there will also be an infusion of young talent that will provide valuable speed, skill and energy.
Let's take a look how the United States should construct a roster that will give it the best chance to end the nation's 33-year gold-medal drought.
Last month, the United States announced a preliminary roster for its Olympic training camp that will take place in Virginia. It features an impressive mix of Olympic veterans and young players with little or no NHL experience.
Here's the complete list broken down by position.
- Goaltenders: Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, John Gibson, Jonathan Quick
- Defensemen: Ryan McDonagh, Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, John Carlson, Dan DeKeyser, Cam Fowler, Justin Faulk, Jake Gardiner, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones , Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba, Keith Yandle
- Forwards: Max Pacioretty, Justin Abdelkader, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan, Brandon Saad, James Van Riemsdyk, Beau Bennett , Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Kyle Palmieri, Blake Wheeler, David Backes, Nick Bjugstad, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Kesler, Trevor Lewis, Joe Pavelski, Craig Smith, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan
Similar to Canada, the United States will have to keep several talented NHL players off the final Olympic roster. With the Sochi Games taking place overseas, it's important for the management staff at USA Hockey to make sure there is a good amount of Olympic experience on the final roster.
Let's take a look at some notable players who didn't make my final 25-man roster.
John Carlson, Defenseman
Leaving Carlson off the final roster was difficult because his smooth skating, exceptional speed and playmaking skill makes him a good fit on the Olympic-sized sheet of ice that will be used in Sochi. But for all his offensive talents, the 23-year-old lacks Olympic experience and isn't as strong defensively as some of the other young defensemen worthy of a roster spot, including Shattenkirk and Bogosian.
Paul Stastny, Center
Stastny was an important part of the 2010 team's success, but since that time, his NHL performance has declined significantly. His points and assists totals have decreased in each of the last three seasons, and the 27-year-old also lacks the defensive ability that a veteran like David Backes would provide the team.
A strong start to the 2013-14 NHL season would significantly help Stastny's case for a roster spot, but at the moment, there's no reason to pick him over Kesler, Stepan, Pavelski and Backes.
Craig Anderson, Goaltender
Anderson is one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL and rarely receives the proper amount of credit for his performances as the Ottawa Senators' starter over the last two years. With that said, he doesn't have the same international experience as Ryan Miller, and his postseason resume isn't as strong as Jimmy Howard's.
Luckily for Anderson, there's still a good chance for him to earn a spot with a great first few months of the 2013-14 season in which he can prove his durability by avoiding injuries. At the moment, the battle for the third-string role is likely between him and Miller.
The United States team will be built by Nashville Predators general manager David Polle. He has an impressive history of building hard-working, fundamentally strong defensive teams during his tenure in Nashville, and there's no reason for him to take a different approach with this Olympic squad.
Here's my projected 25-man roster.
- Goaltenders: Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard
- Defensemen: Keith Yandle, Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh, Jack Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brooks Orpik, Zach Bogosian
- Forwards: Ryan Kesler, Derek Stepan, Joe Pavelski, David Backes, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Dustin Brown, Kyle Okposo, Zach Parise, Max Pacioretty, Bobby Ryan, James Van Riemsdyk, Brandon Saad
Projected Starter: Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)
Making Quick the starting goaltender in Sochi is a no-brainer decision for the United States.
As the world's best goalie, Quick has become a big-game player over the last few years with exceptional playoff performances (.940 save percentage and 1.63 goals-against average since the 2011-12 season) for the Los Angeles Kings. His playoff resume includes a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Stanley Cup championship in 2011-12.
Quick doesn't have any Olympic experience, but the 27-year-old has played in a combined 16 conference finals and Stanley Cup Final games over the last two years, so he clearly knows how to handle high-pressure moments in important matchups.
Projected Backups: Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings), Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres)
Howard emerged as a star last season with his efforts in leading the Red Wings to Game 7 of the second round against the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks. He's won 35 or more games in each of the last three non-lockout seasons and his composure in net is quite impressive for a young player. Unless he has a terrible start to the 2013-14 season, expect Howard to be Quick's backup in Sochi.
The third-string netminder will likely be Miller, who was the most valuable player at the 2010 Olympics and the main reason why Team USA reached the gold-medal game. But since the Vancouver Games, the Sabres star's NHL performance has been less than stellar. Miller's win percentage has declined in each of the last four years and his GAA hasn't been below 2.50 since 2010.
He's still a quality goaltender, but it would be foolish to make him the starter or backup in Sochi.
Projected Defense Pairings
|1||Ryan Suter (MIN)||Ryan McDonagh (NYR)|
|2||Keith Yandle (PHX)||Brooks Orpik (PIT)|
|3||Jack Johnson (CBJ)||Kevin Shattenkirk (STL)|
The United States will bring a group of defensemen well suited for the larger Olympic-sized sheet of ice in Sochi. These players, with the exception of Orpik, are tremendous skaters, move the puck well and create scoring chances with impressive playmaking skills.
In addition to their offensive talents, there are a few defensemen with shutdown capabilities, including Suter, McDonagh and Orpik. These players will block shots, kill penalties, play physical and do all the little things needed to avoid mistakes in their own zone.
The United States will be a tough team to play against in Sochi because its defensemen are all three-zone players who make quick decisions and stay well positioned.
Projected Forward Lines
|1||Zach Parise||Ryan Kesler||Patrick Kane|
|2||James Van Riemsdyk||Joe Pavelski||Phil Kessel|
|3||Bobby Ryan||Derek Stepan||Max Pacioretty|
|4||Ryan Callahan||David Backes||Dustin Brown|
The United States lacks elite talent at center, but that's not the case on the wings. Kane, Kessel, Parise and Ryan are three of the best goal-scoring wingers in the world, and all four of them have prior Olympic experience after playing an important role on the 2010 team. These players will shoulder a lot of the scoring burden in Sochi, both at even strength and on the power play.
What Team USA lacks in top-level talent down the middle, they make up for it with an immense amount of depth. Pavelski is a solid player with an impressive NHL playoff resume and the best goal-scoring skills of any center expected to make this team.
Stepan is one of the rising stars in the NHL, and he led the Rangers in scoring as a 23-year-old last year. Even though he lacks Olympic experience, his ability to thrive under the expectations and pressure of playing in the New York market should help him handle the Olympic stage.
There's also plenty of defensive skill in this forward group. Backes and Kesler are two elite defensive forwards and will take important faceoffs late in games.
Jonathan Quick, Goaltender
The United States rode the spectacular goaltending of Miller to the gold-medal game in 2010, and no one should be surprised if we see a repeat scenario in Sochi with Quick starting between the pipes.
No player is going to impact Team USA's success more than Quick. He has the ability to win a playoff series or an important elimination game even when his team's offense fails to give him much support. He rarely makes mistakes, he handles the puck well, he's mentally strong and there are few weaknesses in his game.
A quality goaltender is able to calm his team down in high-pressure situations and instill confidence in his teammates, which is exactly what Quick will do in Sochi.
Patrick Kane, Right Wing
The reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner was one of Team USA's best players in Vancouver. After struggling a bit in the two seasons after the 2010 Olympics, the Blackhawks winger rejoined the NHL's elite last year with a stellar regular-season campaign (55 points in 47 games) and a great postseason performance (19 points in 23 games).
As one of the most creative and skilled players in the world, Kane is going to be a nightmare for opposing defensemen to shut down. His speed, goal-scoring ability and playmaking skills will be tremendous assets to an American offense that doesn't have much elite talent at forward.
Team USA is going to need consistent production from its top line to defeat the other gold-medal contender.
Ryan Kesler, Center
Kesler could be the most important forward on the team because he's the only legitimate No. 1 center that the United States will take to Sochi. His ability to score goals consistently, win important faceoffs, play physical, excel on special teams and provide leadership helps prove why he will have an immense impact on the team's success.
Unfortunately for the Americans, there are no guarantees that Kesler will be healthy enough to play at the Olympics based on the injuries he's suffered over the last three years.
His health will be a story to follow when it comes time for Poile to announce the final roster because the United States is a deeper, more experienced and better defensive team when the Canucks star is on the ice.
Abundance of Physical, Gritty Forwards: The United States will have plenty of speed in Sochi, but the real strength of the forward group will be the physicality, shot-blocking, defensive ability and penalty-killing skill that it will provide the team. Gritty players such as Callahan, Brown, Backes, Kesler and Parise will outwork their opponents and win physical battles in all three zones.
Playing a heavy game was a perfect system for the Americans in Vancouver, and even though the ice surface will be larger in Sochi, there's no reason for head coach Dan Bylsma to not emphasize a game plan with the proper amount of grit and truculence.
Deep and Talented Group of Goalies: The United States has more talent and depth between the pipes than every other medal contender except Finland. Quick gives the Americans a goaltender who can completely shutdown a high-powered offense from Canada or Russia while also making clutch shootout saves if that option is needed to find a winner.
If Quick gets hurt, Team USA will have two quality backups capable of leading the squad to a medal. Very few nations have that level of depth. The primary reason why the Americans are one of the top gold-medal contenders is because of their superior goaltending.
Lack of Elite Talent at Center: The United States' depth and amount of elite talent at center is far less than that of other top medal contenders such as Canada and Russia.
Kesler is the team's only No. 1 center expected to make the roster, but his durability (he's missed 36 games over the last two years) is a concern heading into Sochi. If he's unable to play at the Olympics, Bylsma may have to play an inexperienced forward such as Alex Galchenyuk on the fourth line.
Team USA will be counting on someone like Stastny to impress the coaching staff during the early part of the 2013-14 NHL season and earn a spot on the final roster to bolster the team's depth down the middle.
Youth and Inexperience on the Blue Line: The United States will have plenty of offensive skill on the blue line, but its lack of Olympic experience and the youth of a few players are concerns.
Several players expected to make the 25-man roster—including Yandle, Shattenkirk, Bogosian and McDonagh—all have zero experience on the Olympic stage. In fact, the only defesemen on my projected final roster that were also on the 2010 team are Suter, Orpik and Johnson.
This shortage of experience on the blue will make the leadership roles of veterans such as Orpik and Suter very important.
The United States has a good chance to win its first gold medal since the Miracle On Ice team because of strong depth and the experience gained by the veterans in 2010. The Americans don't have the most powerful offense, but if Quick plays well in net, they won't have to score a ton of goals to be successful.
Bovada currently gives Team USA 6/1 odds to win the gold medal, which is the fourth highest among the field of 12 teams. But the United States won't mind the lack of respect because it thrived in the underdog role in Vancouver.
The Americans have a team strong enough to reach back-to-back gold-medal games for the first time since 1960, but it won't take home the top prize without an all-time performance from Quick.
Olympic Prediction: 5-1 record, silver-medal winner
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.