U.S.A. Hockey has begun its journey toward the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi by welcoming over three dozen NHL players to orientation camp in the nation's capital.
"It's all set up to bring the players closer together," said 2014 U.S. Men's Olympic Team General Manager David Poile, per USA Hockey. "It's a unique situation in that you pick the team but never play together."
"We're going to spend a lot of time together over the next few days and then when we get over to Sochi, we're going to be a team," he added.
Let's look at the top storylines surrounding Team USA as its Olympic training camp commences.
The players are not allowed to practice on the ice at camp because of insurance issues, but as Michael Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune tweets, there will be plenty of off-ice activities to familiarize them with the coaching staff and the strategies that the squad will use in Sochi.
US/Canada players won't take ice due to insurance costs (Finland canceled camp), but mtgs, systems,off-ice,register for Oly, anti-doping,etc
There's only so much practicing that teams can do without skating, but these meetings on systems and strategies will be important because there's going to be a new coaching staff with Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma taking over for 2010 coach Ron Wilson. Not many of the American players at this camp have played for Bylsma during his head coaching career at the NHL level (2008-09 to present).
The United States will likely play a more open, uptempo style of hockey under Bylsma compared to 2010 because the Sochi ice surface is larger than Vancouver's and there's an abundance of speed and skill among the pool of players invited to the camp.
Even though a formal practice cannot be run, valuable information will be delivered in meetings during the Olympic camp.
Los Angeles Kings star Jonathan Quick is the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender for the United States in Sochi.
One player who doesn't share that opinion is 2010 Olympics MVP Ryan Miller. On Monday, he told Chris Johnston of Sportsnet that the goalie competition for the No. 1 role he played in Vancouver is "wide open."
It's encouraging to see that Miller is motivated to win the job again, but unless Quick performs well below his expected level to start the 2013-14 NHL season, it's incredibly difficult to predict that the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner will be a backup at the next Olympics.
Over the last two postseasons, he's posted a .940 save percentage and a 1.64 in 38 games, which includes a Stanley Cup title in 2011-12. Quick has proven himself to be an elite goaltender capable of playing at a high level consistently against the best competition.
Miller may think that the position battle is open, but it's really not. Quick and Detroit Red Wings starter Jimmy Howard are the clear favorites for the No. 1 role and backup job, respectively.
Team USA has entrusted Nashville Predators general manager David Poile with building the 2014 Olympic roster, and the longtime executive invited a lot of prospects and young NHLers to this month's training camp.
Here's a look at some notable youngsters who were invited to the camp:
|Goalie||John Gibson||2013 WJC MVP with superstar potential.|
|Defense||Jacob Trouba||Former No. 9 overall pick with exceptional two-way skills and WJC experience.|
|Defense||Seth Jones||No. 4 overall pick has the speed and offensive skill needed to excel as a rookie.|
|Defense||Dan DeKeyser||Red Wings defenseman is a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman and future NHL star.|
|Forward||Brandon Saad||Blackhawks winger was a Calder Trophy finalist in 2013.|
|Forward||Nick Bjugstad||This physical center with a two-way skill set has a chance to make the Sochi roster due to the United States' lack of depth down the middle.|
Even though nearly all of these players have a slim chance of making the final roster for Sochi, familiarizing them with an Olympic environment was a smart move by Poile. It would be surprising if more nations didn't take this approach in the future.
The United States is fortunate to have so many talented young players making their way into the NHL, which will ensure that the country has plenty of depth at each position for future Olympics.
According to Tom Gulitti of The Record, former American Olympian "[Bill] Guerin told players they have a chance to be the greatest generation of U.S. hockey players."
The United States team in Sochi will have plenty of leadership on the roster. Eleven of the players invited to the Olympic camp currently serve as captains or alternate captains for their NHL teams.
According to Tom Gulitti of The Record, "US Olympic team GM David Poile said formed leadership group for coaches/management to use as sounding board." Gulitti has also reported that Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, David Backes, Ryan Suter and Ryan Callahan are the members of this leadership team.
The five veterans in Poile's leadership group, each of whom currently serve in a captain or alternate captain's role, were all part of the 2010 team. The hard work and dedication that they will display in meetings and on the ice will set a great example for the younger and inexperienced players.
The 2014 squad will have a lot more veteran experience than the team that finished with the silver medal in Vancouver. This is encouraging for the United States because playing in a major international competition overseas is going to be a new challenge for many of its players.
Poile will use the first few months of the 2013-14 NHL season to look over his camp roster and determine which players are most deserving of a spot on the final 25-man team that will travel to the Sochi Olympics.
Chris Johnston of Sportsnet tweeted on Monday that "The U.S. Olympic team will be announced at 'approximately' Jan. 1, per GM David Poile."
Which factors will go into the roster making decisions? Polie explained that "Body of work is important. ... Equally if not more important is what you do in October, November and December."
The United States doesn't have as many "locks" to make the team as some of the other top gold medal contenders, which should serve as motivation for the players likely to be on the final roster bubble.
There will be a ton of competition for spots on the blue line, where there are only a few veterans likely to return from the Vancouver roster. Apart from Ryan Suter, Jack Johnson, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, the United States should have a young and inexperienced group of defensemen in Sochi.
Whichever players stand out the most during the first few months of the 2013-14 season will likely have an advantage when Poile has to submit a final Olympic roster.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.