The buzz around the NHL's participation in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea currently seems subdued or possibly even unlikely, according to the Toronto Star. However, the NHL would be missing out on another golden opportunity to increase the worldwide exposure for the league and sport if they do not participate again.
Obviously there are many challenges, such as rising insurance costs and logistical issues, to overcome to get the NHL in the 2018 Olympic Games. But judging by many of the players invited to the U.S. orientation camp, the NHL's participation in the 2018 Olympic Games seems a very real possibility.
Many of those invited, such as goalie John Gibson and defensemen Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones (a combined one career professional game), are enormous long shots for 2014. Instead, Team USA hopes these players will gain valuable experience and become anchors on future NHL and U.S. national teams.
With that in mind, the orientation invitations shed light on the many promising prospects that Team USA has coming up in the pipeline. While the USA will still likely have many holdovers from the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, look for a new group of players to assume prominent roles as Team USA continues asserting itself as a consistent medal threat.
Starting below, the selections for the 2018 Team USA roster will begin with the goalies:
Possible Contenders: Jimmy Howard, Jack Campbell
With goalies Craig Anderson and Ryan Miller likely well past their prime by 2018, a new wave of goalie candidates will challenge for the top goalie spots. Gibson, only 20 years old, has become one of the top prospects in all of hockey.
His showing at the World Championships (1.56 GAA, .951 SV%) was extraordinary, and his performance at the World Junior Championship was even better (1.36 GAA, .955 SV%). Considering his rising status and penchant for stepping up on the world stage, Gibson looks to be a leading candidate for the starting goalie role for Team USA in 2018.
Quick, who will be 32 in 2018, will likely continue being a top goalie in the NHL for the near future. However, he will likely be a backup in 2018 as his skills slowly begin to fade. Lastly, Jimmy Howard will be 33 and Cory Schneider will be 31 in Pyeongchang.
Because of that, Schneider seems more likely to continue playing at an elite level, even though Jack Campbell, another top goalie prospect who had a 2.65 GAA last season in the AHL, could push these players as he begins to enter his prime.
The USA has a group of young defensemen that would make anyone jealous. Led by teenagers Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba, the U.S. has young defensemen that are already so good that they received invites to the orientation camp before their first career professional game.
John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk will still be under 30 years old in 2018, and they all are promising puck-moving defensemen. All of them, except Justin Faulk, have already had 30-plus point seasons, and Faulk led his team in ATOI last season with 24:00 minutes a game as a 21-year-old. Jake Gardiner had a disapointing year last season, but he stepped up his game in the playoffs and had a 30-point rookie season in 2011-12 as well.
Lastly, Ryan Suter will likely be the old man of the group at 33 in 2018, but after a great first season (32 points and 27:16 ATOI) with the Minnesota Wild, he seems a safe bet to continue aging well and providing Team USA with veteran experience.
Possible Contenders: Adam Clendening, Zach Bogosian, Dan DeKeyser, Cam Fowler, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Nick Leddy, Jon Merrill, Keith Yandle
Adam Clendening, Danny DeKeyser, Cam Fowler, Nick Leddy and Jon Merrill all have a bright future, and they could all push for spots on Team USA if they continue building on their considerable promise.
Zach Bogosian and the Johnsons (Erik and Jack) will also likely be candidates for Team USA as veteran alternatives, but they do not seem to have the same level of speed, offensive skill and room for growth as the players ahead of them.
Lastly, Keith Yandle, who almost certainly will be on the 2014 team, will likely lose some of the speed and quickness that he is known for as he ages. As a result, he likely will not be able to crack such a deep group even as he continues being a valuable contributor in the NHL.
The first pairing of McDonagh and Jones will be an extremely talented group. Both are known as solid two-way defensemen that have top-notch speed. They both seem perfect for Olympic ice.
Suter is a rock on defense, and pairing him with Trouba, who is known for being a shutdown defenseman with emerging offensive skills (29 points as a freshman at the University of Michigan), would create an ideal shutdown pairing.
Faulk and Shattenkirk are both offensively gifted defensemen able to move the puck up ice and quarterback the power play for Team USA. Carlson and Gardiner also fit this same mold of being great-skating, puck-moving defensemen, and they would also contribute to a deep stable of talented defensemen.
James van Riemsdyk
Just as with the defensive group, the U.S. has an extremely talented group of young forwards coming up in the system. Beau Bennett (14 points), Charlie Coyle (14 points), Emerson Etem (10 points) and Alex Galchenyuk (27 points) already have had success in limited roles during their rookie seasons last year.
Nick Bjugstad (36 points for the University of Minnesota) and Johnny Gaudreau (96 points in two seasons for Boston College) have excelled in college and will soon be showcasing their considerable skills in an NHL rink. All these talented young players will be under 26 years old in 2018.
Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty and Bobby Ryan seem like they have been around forever, but they will all be 30 or younger in 2018. They will still be in their primes, and all of them will help bring offensive creativity that will be invaluable on Olympic ice.
James van Riemsdyk (28 years old in 2018) and Derek Stepan (27 in 2018) are also young players that will continue improving up to the 2018 Olympics. With van Riemsdyk (32 points in 48 games) and Stepan (44 points in 48 games) stepping up their games this past season, they will likely be key contributors for Team USA.
Lastly, Zach Parise and Ryan Callahan would bring outstanding veteran leadership to the U.S. Both likely will not be performing at their same offensive levels in 2018, but they are such tireless and speedy workers who will continue being effective grinders and shutdown forwards.
Possible Contenders: Cam Atkinson, Dustin Brown, David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Chris Kreider, Stefan Matteau, J.T. Miller, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski, Brandon Saad, Drew Shore, Paul Stastny, Blake Wheeler, Jason Zucker
The fact that young players Cam Atkinson, Chris Kreider, Stefan Matteau, J.T. Miller, Brandon Saad, Drew Shore and Jason Zucker are not predicted to the make the 2018 Olympic Team shows the depth of young forwards that Team USA will have to pick from in 2018. All of them have had great success at the junior, NCAA, minor league or NHL level.
Dustin Brown, David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Joe Pavelski, Paul Stastny and Blake Wheeler all provide veteran alternatives for Team USA. With many of these players being core players for Team USA in 2010 and 2014, they will be given every opportunity to make their case for 2018.
However, Brown, Kesler, and Pavelski will be 33 years old in 2018. Okposo, Oshie, Stastny and Wheeler will also be bubble players for 2014, and it is very difficult to imagine that any of them will improve as the USA continues being infused with younger and more talented options.
The first line of Kane, Galchenyuk and Kessel will likely be one of the top combinations in the world in 2018. Kane and Kessel (107 combined points last season) are already some of the most lethal players in the NHL. Galchenyuk showed unbelievable promise after beginning last season as an 18-year-old, and he very well might be the USA's best player in 2018.
The predicted second line combines Stepan, who is beginning to establish himself as a NHL star, and two largely unknown players in Gaudreau and Etem. Gaudreau has already established his dominance in college (96 points in two seasons) and at the international level (seven goals in seven games for the USA U20 Team last season). Etem also showed great scoring ability in the WHL (61 goals in 65 games in 2011-12). All three players are also great skaters, and they could easily be one of the fastest lines in the 2018 Olympics.
The third line is full of well-known players. Parise's ability to dominate one-on-one battles will be a huge boost to this line. Van Riemsdyk (6'3", 200 lbs.) possesses a great combination of size and speed that is perfect for a shutdown, third-line role. Lastly, Ryan is a natural goal scorer (four 30 goal seasons) who will also add size and secondary scoring.
The fourth line of Pacioretty, Bjugstad and Callahan would make life miserable for opponents. Pacioretty (6'2", 219 lbs.) can provide size and score (39 points last season). Bjugstad is huge (6'6"), but he has the hands and speed of someone much smaller. Callahan is a perfect fourth-liner for this team because he is willing to block shots and hit anyone in sight.
Coyle and Bennett are young players who seem poised to improve upon impressive 14-point rookie seasons. Coyle is big, and while he needs to continue improving his skating, he has great strength and versatility as a center or wing. Bennett is more of a scorer, and, if he plays with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal this season, he may be able to play his way onto a leading role in 2018.