The 2010 Vancouver Olympics saw Team USA match its best Olympic result since 1980, winning the silver medal. It's been the highlight of what has been a pretty poor decade for the Americans. Aside from that silver medal, the national men's team can point to World Championship bronze medals in 2004 and 2013 and not much else.
That's why matching that silver in Sochi—or better still winning gold, something this team has the talent to do—is so important.
Who will the American management group choose to represent the United States at the Sochi games? That's the question this list is intended to answer, ranking players from the locks at the top end down to the dark horses just hoping to make the team.
Read on to see who the candidates are and who we expect to make the cut.
The case for: The 2010 first-round pick enjoyed a solid abbreviated first NHL season, putting up 14 points in 26 games for Pittsburgh. It was enough to get him an invite to Team USA's orientation camp. Beau Bennett can play either wing and would bring size (6'2", 205 pounds) to the team too.
The case against: Whatever chance Bennett had likely evaporated when he suffered a wrist injury and had to undergo surgery late in November. Adam Gretz of SBNation reports that Bennett will be out eight-to-10 weeks and he was a long shot to begin with.
Olympic outlook: Maybe next time around.
The case for: Normally, a third-liner—even a third-liner who helped his NHL team to a Stanley Cup win—wouldn't get consideration for his country's Olympic team. But Trevor Lewis was invited to the American orientation camp, which means that as recently as this summer he was in the mix.
The case against: There is a long case to be made against bringing role players to a best-on-best tournament, but we don't need to get into that here. The shorter version goes this way: 26 games into the NHL season, Lewis doesn't have a single point.
Olympic outlook: Bleak.
The case for: Ron Hainsey is providing the Carolina Hurricanes with strong play while logging first-pair minutes at even-strength. In a previous stint with Team USA he picked up six points in nine World Championship games. The veteran defenceman brings a little bit of everything and can handle a shutdown role.
The case against: Hainsey used to be something of an offensive force, putting up 30-plus points every year. His scoring has dropped off sharply since that point, though, and he's now a journeyman rather than an up-and-comer.
Olympic outlook: Hainsey had some traction as a candidate for the 2010 team but fell just short, but he's not a real candidate this time around.
The case for: The Columbus Blue Jackets are a much better team with James Wisniewski on the ice than they are without him. In an average hour of five-on-five ice-time, the Blue Jackets outshoot their opponents 28.2-26.9 and outscore them 2.7-1.9; with him off the ice they are out-shot 29.8-25.2 and out-scored 2.2-1.6.
The case against: Wisniewski has flown under the Olympic radar all year; he wasn't even brought to the orientation camp. An unlikely choice all season, he's currently on the shelf with an upper body injury.
Olympic outlook: It would be a surprise if the team's still looking at him at this point.
The case for: Despite being only 22 years old, Kyle Palmieri has a wealth of international experience, having played in four different junior tournaments as well as the 2012 World Championships. His skating ability makes him particularly well-suited to the big ice.
The case against: For a player with a suspect defensive game, nine points in 31 NHL contests this season isn't much offensive upside. Speaking of defence, a well-earned minus-four rating with a strong Anaheim team doesn't help either.
Olympic outlook: Palmieri went to this summer's orientation camp, but that's as close as he's likely to get.
The case for: New Jersey's top defenceman has logged massive minutes this season, averaging a hair under 25:00 per night. A strong puck-mover, Andy Greene has 15 points in 34 games, putting him on pace for his best offensive season in years and offering Team USA ample incentive to take a second look at him after passing him over for orientation camp.
The case against: Greene isn't overly speedy, though he's agile, and he's undersized.
Olympic outlook: He deserves more consideration than he's been given, but for whatever reason he's not a serious candidate for Sochi.
The case for: Nick Leddy plays a game well-suited to the bigger ice, bringing both speed and an ability to move the puck, and his offensive game is coming along nicely. At age 22, he has a chance to be a mainstay on the U.S. blue line for years to come.
The case against: He's playing third-pair minutes for Chicago. Head coach Joel Quenneville has taken pains to shelter Leddy, primarily starting him in the offensive rather than defensive zone and playing him against NHL depth, and he's only been OK in the role.
Olympic outlook: Team USA doesn't really have the luxury of bringing depth defencemen to Sochi.
The case for: Nick Bjugstad combines a 6'6", 215-pound frame with solid skating and soft hands. That's why Florida was willing to risk a first-round draft pick in 2010 on a guy who was playing high school hockey, and it's why Team USA invited him to its summer orientation camp. With 13 points in 29 games and a plus-three rating, Bjugstad's one of the very few bright spots this year on a poor Panthers team.
The case against: Forty games into his NHL career, Bjugstad's inexperience makes him a risk for an American team that doesn't have to take them. He's playing depth minutes in Florida, his offence isn't especially compelling in comparison to some of the other forward options, and he was shutout in 10 games at the World Championships last summer.
Olympic outlook: Bjugstad should be in the thick of things in 2018, but he isn't this year.
The case for: The first item on Craig Smith's resume is his standout performance for Team USA at the World Championships last year, where he put up 14 points in 10 games to finish third in tournament scoring, directly ahead of Ilya Kovalchuk (13 points in eight games) and Steven Stamkos (12 points in eight games). It was Smith's third trip to the Worlds, and he's a better than point-per-game player over 21 career games for the red, white and blue.
The case against: Despite his impressive achievements in tournament play, Smith has a less-than-stellar NHL resume by Olympic standards. After picking up 36 points as a rookie he only has 28 in 74 contests since.
Olympic outlook: He's been a good solider for Team USA, but that isn't enough to secure an Olympic berth.
The case for: Primarily known as a defensive centre, David Legwand's offensive game has been pretty good this year. With 25 points, he's already matched last season's production in 14 fewer games and is set to top the 53 points he posted in 2011-12.
The case against: The Predators have been a better team in terms of both shots and scoring with Legwand on the bench this year, and while he's been playing tough minutes, that's just par for the course in games against some Olympic teams.
Olympic outlook: Legwand started the season hot but has cooled down of late, and that's likely to seal his fate.
The case for: Justin Abdelkader has a case as a role player for the Americans. He plays a well-developed two-way game, hits everything that moves, has the versatility to play either wing and despite a shooting percentage drought is producing assists and shooting as much as ever.
The case against: Offensively, Abdelkader simply doesn't produce in the range required for a best-on-best tournament. He can only go in a specific role, and there are more dangerous players—people like Ryan Callahan—that can add the physical and defensive elements without sacrificing scoring.
Olympic outlook: Team Canada once brought Rob Zamuner to the Olympics because they wanted his specific skill set, so one can't rule Abdelkader out entirely, but he is a long-shot.
The case for: The rangy defender has a lot of qualities that would likely translate well to the big ice, including exceptional mobility and a solid puck-moving game. He's run up points at the minor league level and has shown flashes of the same in the majors. No Maple Leafs defenceman plays more minutes at even-strength.
The case against: Jake Gardiner is still rough around the edges, and it's far from clear his offensive game is enough to make up the gap. Every defenceman on the team has to be able to match up against the star forwards that teams like Canada and Russia will have even on depth lines, and it's not clear that Gardiner is a reliable enough defender for those minutes.
Olympic outlook: Gardiner certainly merits consideration, but he's likely a ways down the American depth chart.
The case for: One of the season's most positive surprises, Tommy Wingels has 20 points in 33 games. The sudden burst of scoring adds another dynamic to Wingels' game, which is generally characterized by speed and a commitment to getting the little things right. He's also versatile, capable of playing centre or wing.
The case against: Despite the improved offence, Wingels still sits outside the top 20 for American forwards; his point production is enough to put him on the fringes of the conversation but not to push him higher. It's also predicated on a shooting percentage (14.3 percent) nearly twice as good as last season's 7.2 percent.
Olympic outlook: Wingels' progress has surely been noticed, but it's likely not enough to land him on the bubble for one of the team's final spots.
The case for: Danny DeKeyser has been leaned on by the Red Wings, playing over 20 minutes per game for Mike Babcock's squad. He brings a little bit of everything to the table, providing solid defensive zone play and recording nine points in 22 games this season.
The case against: The 23-year-old's underlying numbers are fairly mediocre, with Detroit's shot generating dropping steeply when he steps on the ice. He has also missed significant time with injury, and with just 33 NHL games under his belt, his resume is awfully thin.
Olympic outlook: DeKeyser has impressed, but not enough to put him ahead of other options.
The case for: Zach Bogosian is logging almost 23 minutes per night for a mediocre Winnipeg team, yet he still sports a plus-eight rating. Physically, he's big, strong and fast, and that's a fantastic combination on the big ice.
The case against: Bogosian's underlying numbers are soft. That shiny plus/minus is a combination of strong on-ice shooting and save percentages (neither of which are under the control of a single player), and the Jets are massively outshot with Bogosian out there despite the fact that he's only third on the Winnipeg depth chart. He's also presently injured.
Olympic outlook: Bogosian had a chance to force his way into the mix with an exceptional start to the season, but he hasn't really had that.
The case for: Justin Braun is enjoying a very solid season for San Jose, posting 11 points in 34 games (matching his career full-season high) and a plus-17 rating despite spending a significant amount of his time starting at the wrong end of the ice. He skates and moves the puck well.
The case against: Braun is still prone to losing physical battles, and his lone experience at the World Championships saw him go minus-four on an American team that ended up finishing seventh. Also, that fantastic plus/minus isn't a result of a massive shot differential advantage but rather high on-ice percentages (which are typically outside a player's control and thus unsustainable).
Olympic outlook: Braun is our first really plausible candidate for a spot at Sochi, but he brings up the rear of a large group of defencemen competing for a few precious spots.
The case for: Alex Galchenyuk is tied for the team lead in Montreal in points with 22 at the age of just 19. The 2012 third overall draft pick plays a mature game and can play both the role of finisher and setup man. He also has some international experience, playing in both the World Juniors and World Championships last year.
The case against: Galchenyuk has been carefully used by Habs head coach Michel Therrien, primarily being spotted in the offensive zone and handling him with, well, kid gloves. For his age, Galchenyuk's doing extremely well, but teams trying to win games today aren't interested in "for his age" qualifiers.
Olympic outlook: It's completely understandable why he's on the radar for Team USA, and he's going to be a very good player for his country. Just not yet.
The case for: A top pairing defenceman with Tampa Bay, Matt Carle is playing heavy minutes at even-strength and on the penalty kill, and he continues to produce reasonable levels of offence despite a lack of first-unit power play time. He sports a plus-64 rating over the last five seasons and was a key piece of Philadelphia's run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010.
The case against: While Carle is playing key minutes for Tampa Bay, a cynical assessment would be that he really isn't a guy most NHL teams would want in that role, owing to occasionally poor defensive coverage and decisions with the puck. Certainly his underlying numbers indicate a guy who is fighting a tough battle and losing it bit-by-bit every night.
Olympic outlook: Carle being excluded from Team USA's orientation camp roster was strange, but suggests that he isn't valued as highly by decision makers with that team as other candidates. His play is good enough to give him a legitimate shot at making the team, but he's probably ranked 10th of the 11 players jockeying for the last four spots on defence.
The case for: The 22-year-old has caught a lot of eyes with a flashy start to the NHL season. Chris Kreider has 18 points in 27 games along with a plus-nine rating for the New York Rangers. That offensive game comes packaged inside a 6'3", 226-pound winger who skates like the wind and plays a fierce power game. He's also driving the play for New York, posting ridiculous on-ice shot numbers.
The case against: This is the same guy who had all of three points in 23 NHL games last season, and who couldn't even crack a 0.5 points-per-game pace in the minors last year (48GP, 12G, 11A, 23PTS, minus-11).
Olympic outlook: Kreider has easily done enough to be on Team USA's radar, but ultimately his track record is so short that he likely misses the cut. He's ranked ninth of the 10 guys likely in contention for the final three forward spots on the team.
The case for: Brooks Orpik was part of the silver medal-winning team in 2010 and logs tough minutes in a shutdown role for a very good Pittsburgh Penguins team.
The case against: There was a little incident on the ice recently that got a bit of publicity. Orpik suffered a concussion on the play and one of the problems with concussions is that they can linger. Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press wrote just less than a week ago that while Orpik had figured to be part of the returning core, his injury casts that into doubt.
Olympic outlook: Orpik should probably be on the bubble anyway rather than being seen as a key part of Team USA; given a relatively thin margin for error, his concussion likely means he won't be going to Sochi.
The case for: Kyle Okposo has been a World Championships regular for the United States, playing in three of the last five tournaments. He's scoring at a near point-per-game pace for the Islanders this season. With 30 points in 35 games, he is on pace to shatter his previous career high, and he plays the game with a physical edge too.
The case against: Okposo doesn't get to bring John Tavares with him to Sochi, and it's not a surprise his career year coincides with being elevated to Tavares' line. His play at the international level leaves something to be desired too. In 23 games over those three tournaments, he has only 11 points.
Olympic outlook: Okposo is on the bubble and is a plausible candidate for Sochi, but he's near the back of a group of nine players vying for three spots.
The case for: Brandon Dubinsky is a big, fiery two-way centre (a position of weakness for the U.S.), and he's come into his own offensively with the Columbus Blue Jackets, positing 41 points in 57 games since coming over as part of the Rick Nash trade. He has exceptional possession numbers under some tough circumstances there. He also played at the World Championships in 2010 and put up 10 points in six games.
The case against: Dubinsky, scoring at a career-best pace, has 21 points, a figure that ties him for 18th among American forwards. In Olympic terms, his offensive breakthrough isn't that impressive, and it's not even 60 games old yet.
Olympic outlook: Dubinsky is another bubble player. He should be getting serious consideration, but he's likely to find himself on the outside looking in.
The case for: Seth Jones is logging incredible minutes as a rookie NHLer, averaging more than 22 minutes per game despite having turned 19 only a few months ago. He brings an impressive array of physical gifts—size, speed, hands—to the table and could become a franchise defenceman.
The case against: He might become a franchise defender, but he isn't one today. Jones was given a baptism of fire by Nashville's coaching staff, and he's been burned. His recent ice-time totals tell the story: After playing 24:40 against Carolina on Dec. 5, he hasn't topped 14 minutes in any game. That reduction has been thoroughly earned.
Olympic outlook: Jones shouldn't be a candidate this year, because his game just isn't at that level yet. There's no denying he's in the mix, though, and he might unseat a more qualified veteran.
The case for: Blake Wheeler has 25 points in 36 games this season, a number that ties him for 12th in scoring among American forwards. Unlike some others on this list, he has a history of scoring, too; he had 41 points in 48 games last season and 64 in 80 the year prior, numbers that ranked him fourth and sixth, respectively, among American forwards. At 6'5", 205 pounds, he would also add an element of size to the roster.
The case against: Wheeler's speed has improved, but he's still not exactly fleet of foot, and his scoring has dipped a little this season.
Olympic outlook: He's another one of the forwards on the bubble. Wheeler picked a bad year to dip slightly against his competition. He's a plausible choice for one of the final forward spots but other options seem more likely.
The case for: Jack Johnson is an impressive athlete, marrying strong skating and offensive instincts to an imposing 6'1", 238-pound frame. He logs massive minutes for the Columbus Blue Jackets, playing nearly 26 minutes per night and has tons of experience internationally, including a silver medal from 2010.
The case against: There may not be a more overrated player in the NHL than Johnson. His underlying numbers have always been terrible, but the simplest illustration might be plus/minus. Since 2006-07—when Johnson played five games (and went minus-five)—he is the only player in the NHL to post a plus/minus worse than minus-100 (he's presently at minus-102 on his career). Some of that's team related, but he also went minus-48 in his last two- and three-quarter seasons with a Los Angeles team that made the playoffs each year.
Olympic outlook: Johnson may very well return to the Olympics, but it says here that saner heads will prevail, and he will instead be one of the team's final blue-line cuts.
The case for: Cam Fowler is enjoying the finest NHL season of his career. In 36 games with the Ducks, he is averaging more than 24 minutes per game and has contributed 19 points. He's also playing the best possible opposition and not getting a ton of offensive zone starts, but despite that, for the first time in his career, Anaheim is winning the shots battle with him on the ice. It's been a breakthrough campaign for a player with skills (mobility, puck-moving) that will be essential on an Olympic ice surface.
The case against: The flip side of a breakthrough campaign is that what came before it often isn't particularly impressive, and that's the case with Fowler. Fowler spent years learning the game at the NHL level, and while he always contributed points, he was often a mess in his own end (as a cumulative minus-53 rating over his first two seasons attests).
Olympic outlook: He should be in the mix for one of the final spots on defence, but his name isn't bandied around to the extent that it probably should be given the campaign he's having. It seems likely he misses the final cut.
The case for: One of Jason Pominville's advantages is that he's already spent time on Zach Parise's wing, and Parise is certain to be a member of this year's team (barring injury). Another is that he's a pretty good player in his own right. With 488 points since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Pominville leads all eligible American players in scoring in that span.
The case against: Pominville brings longevity, but his single-season achievements aren't as impressive. He's topped 70 points just once in the last five seasons and is only scoring at a 50-point pace for the Minnesota Wild, despite playing frequently with Parise.
Olympic outlook: Pominville is in the middle of a group of nine or so forwards vying for three spots, and that puts him just outside the roster right now.
The case for: Derek Stepan is logging heavy minutes in all situations for the New York Rangers, playing just less than 19 minutes per game. He has 66 points in his last 82 games, plays a 200-foot game and as a centre, inhabits Team USA's weakest position.
The case against: Most of those 66 points came last season, when a hot shooting percentage propelled Stepan to a near point-per-game pace. Since then, his 22 points in 34 games puts him behind of much of his competition for one of the team's final roster spots.
Olympic outlook: Right now, he looks a lot like Team USA's final forward cut, but if the American management team wants another centre, he could be bumped by one of the other bubble options.
The case for: Keith Yandle ranks fourth in scoring among NHL defencemen over the last five seasons and first among American rearguards (seven points ahead of Minnesota's Ryan Suter). He posts solid numbers every single year despite playing for a defence-first team in Phoenix and often lacking offence-oriented forwards to cash in his passes.
The case against: Yandle's offence isn't the issue; it's the rest of his game. He's generally been used against depth lines and in the offensive zone by Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett, and against better players, he's somewhat prone to poor coverage and giveaways.
Olympic outlook: It's difficult to leave a weapon like Yandle off the team, but right now he looks like the final cut on defence.
The case for: Brandon Saad burst on to the NHL scene last season and instantly established himself as a useful forward on a championship team. He has 53 points in 83 games since the start of last season, and his point pace this year has improved from 2012-13. He plays all situations for the Blackhawks, including spending significant time on the penalty kill.
The case against: The problem is that Saad is subject to the "Chicago effect." He's always going to be playing either with Jonathan Toews or with Patrick Kane or in the shadow of that pair. He only had a single goal in 23 playoff games last season after being bumped down the depth chart.
Olympic outlook: Saad isn't a sure thing for Team USA, but it seems likely he secures one of the team's spare forward slots.
The case for: Erik Johnson is the top defenceman on one of the league's most surprising teams. Through 33 games, he has 12 points, a plus-18 rating and is averaging almost 20 minutes every night at even-strength alone. He also has quite a bit of international experience, playing at the most recent World Championships and winning a silver medal in 2010.
The case against: Johnson has had some tough seasons since 2010, and he has yet to get back to the 39 points he posted in 2009-10 (or anywhere close to it, really). He had all of four assists in 31 games last season, and despite his fluctuating offence has an occasional habit of making bad decisions with the puck.
Olympic outlook: Johnson isn't absolutely safe but it says here he secures the final spot on the blue line.
The case for: The New York Rangers captain brings leadership and past Olympic experience to the table, two things that Team USA's management group surely value highly. Ryan Callahan plays an aggressive physical game and is committed to defensive hockey. Despite that, he scored at a better-than-50-point pace for the third year in a row last season.
The case against: Callahan is (along with the rest of the Rangers) having a difficult 2013-14 season. He has just 13 points and has gone minus-six in 24 games and has missed significant time with injury.
Olympic outlook: He might yet be left behind, but it seems probable that Callahan's long-term record wins him a spot, and his suitability to the stereotypical bottom-six role improves his chances.
The case for: Dustin Byfuglien logs extremely tough minutes for a poor Winnipeg team, and he generally does a good job with them. He's a potent offensive force, with 24 points in 36 games this season and a long track record of producing points from the blue line since being converted following a move to Atlanta.
The case against: Byfuglien has never played internationally for Team USA and is on pace for his fifth consecutive minus season, a run that includes time spent on the 2009-10 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The converted forward is known for defensive lapses.
Olympic outlook: Byfuglien isn't certain to make the team, but he should take one of the lower defensive slots.
The case for: Paul Martin has a lot of things going for him. He leads one of the NHL's best teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in ice time, averaging 25:16 per game so far this season. A solid two-way presence, he's also made big strides offensively with 45 points in 72 games (including playoffs) since the start of 2013.
The case against: The Penguins announced at the end of November that Martin was going to miss four-to-six weeks with a broken tibia. As Sporting News' Sean Gentille points out, not only might it cost him a spot, but if it does this would be the second Olympics that Martin has missed to injury.
Olympic outlook: A healthy Martin should be going to Sochi. At this point it all depends on how quickly he can get back to playing and Team USA's comfort level with taking a chance on a player coming off injury.
The case for: Before he became Carolina's top defenceman, Justin Faulk was a World Championships standout for Team USA. He's played in each of the last two tournaments, recording 14 points and a plus-10 rating in 18 games for the national team. He plays the toughest available minutes every night for Carolina and has performed exceptionally well. He's also a very strong skater.
The case against: It's pretty hard to make a case against Faulk; however, he's a little undersized and can lose physical battles.
Olympic outlook: Faulk isn't a lock to make the team, but he should secure one of the final spots on defence.
The case for: The 25-year-old left wing is an extremely efficient goal scorer, notching 33 markers the last time the NHL played an 82-game season and finishing just behind that pace (and just under the point-per-game mark) last year. He also put up 12 points in eight games at the 2012 World Championships.
The case against: Max Pacioretty is a streaky scorer who has had some long slumps, including a stretch of just four points in 12 games to start the year. He was pointless in four playoff games for Montreal last season.
Olympic outlook: An early slump put Pacioretty's Olympic berth in jeopardy, but with a return to form from him, he's back to being a likely member of the team.
The case for: John Carlson is one half of what has been an extremely effective shutdown defence pairing for the Washington Capitals. Generally playing alongside Karl Alzner, Carlson has seen the opposition's best for some time now and done so while starting many shifts in his own end of the rink. Along the way he has evolved into a top-flight two-way defenceman who both defends and moves the puck.
The case against: Carlson hasn't represented the United States since playing in the World Juniors in 2009-10. Like most puck-movers, he's prone to the occasional giveaway, and he's not overly physical.
Olympic outlook: It would be a significant surprise if Carlson didn't go to Sochi.
The case for: T.J. Oshie is on pace for the best offensive campaign of his career with 27 points through the season's first 33 games. He also plays the kind of defensive game that they insist on over in St. Louis, with a commitment to taking care of things at home first and foremost.
The case against: Oshie was underwhelming at the 2013 Worlds, putting up a single point and going minus-one for the team. He has just five points and a minus-six rating in 19 career Worlds games. His underlying numbers are pretty good but only average by St. Louis standards. He isn't in the same range as a guy like Alex Steen, for example.
Olympic outlook: Oshie was already a pretty good bet for a roster spot prior to his hot start.
The case for: The second overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft seems to finally be coming into his own in Toronto, where he's scored 58 points in his last 82 regular season games and chipped in seven more in the Leafs' first-round series against Boston.
The case against: James van Riemsdyk has pretty mediocre possession numbers on a flailing Maple Leafs team in the early season, and his scoring isn't so irresistible that it should guarantee him a spot on the team if he isn't playing a reasonably strong two-way game.
Olympic outlook: There is every reason to expect van Riemsdyk to be part of Team USA's efforts this year.
The case for: Dustin Brown is a physical, two-way winger with experience at the Olympics and as captain of a Stanley Cup-winning team. He excels at agitating and drawing penalties, has familiarity with playing against the best players other teams can offer and led the NHL in goals and points in the 2012 playoffs.
The case against: Brown has posted awfully soft numbers as of late. After only putting up four points in 18 post-season games last year, he has just 12 in 35 contests this year.
Olympic outlook: Brown is a virtual certainty to return to Team USA, though he'll likely be cast in a bottom-six role.
The case for: Paul Stastny has a wealth of international experience, including three World Championships and the 2010 Olympics. He captained last year's team to its best finish since 2004 (a bronze medal) and put up 15 points himself in 10 tournament games. Career-wise, he has 35 points in 31 senior-level games for his country. After briefly flirting with high-end offence, he's settled into the role of two-way centre at the NHL level.
The case against: With 21 points this year and 24 in 40 games last year, he isn't as dynamic as a scorer as some of the players the Americans are going to have to leave behind.
Olympic outlook: Stastny could fit in anywhere from the second to the fourth line, depending on how Team USA's coaching staff wants to run things.
The case for: Kevin Shattenkirk is enjoying a solid NHL season with 23 points in 32 games, and while he only sits third on the St. Louis depth chart, there's a good reason for that: Alex Pietrangelo is ahead of him on the right side. His strengths are definitely offensive, but he has a reasonably well-rounded game.
The case against: Because Shattenkirk has never been consistently exposed to top-level opponents, there's a risk he'll be exposed in games against teams like Canada and Russia. His playoff performances the last couple of seasons leave a little bit to be desired too. He has just three points and a minus-four rating in 15 career contests.
Olympic outlook: Shattenkirk has a pretty good chance at slotting onto the top four on the American blue line.
The case for: Among American forwards, only Patrick Kane has more points than Bobby Ryan's 32. He has topped 30 goals in four consecutive full-length NHL seasons and is on pace to do it once again this year. He represented the United States at both the 2010 Olympics and the 2012 World Championships.
The case against: The one concern with Ryan is his skating, which is good but not great and might get him into trouble on the big ice, particularly in transitional and defensive situations.
Olympic outlook: Ryan should slide somewhere into the United States' top-six forward group. The team can't afford to leave his offensive ability behind.
The case for: Joe Pavelski is a versatile, all-situations player who can play on the wing and in the pivot position (where Team USA is comparatively weak). He kills penalties, plays regular minutes for one of the league's best power plays and contributes both scoring and a two-way conscience at even-strength. He has 31 points in 34 games this season, won the silver medal in 2010 and even played in Russia during the last lockout (putting up 15 points in 17 KHL games).
The case against: The only thing Pavelski doesn't do is add size to the lineup.
Olympic outlook: Rosy.
The case for: One of the NHL's best two-way centres, Ryan Kesler won the Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward in 2011. He's a chippy, agitating pivot who can play equally well in a skill game or a physical contest, and he's adept both as a play-maker and a goal-scorer.
The case against: Kesler's had some injury problems in the past. There's also some concern he may pass to Daniel or Henrik Sedin out of habit in games against Sweden, though presumably that works both ways.
Olympic outlook: Kesler will play key minutes down the middle for the American side.
The case for: Phil Kessel is an elite goal scorer—one of the best in the NHL—and certainly the best one eligible to play for Team USA. Since his rookie season, he's one of only two Americans to score more than 200 goals, and since his breakthrough 2008-09 campaign nobody else born in the United States has scored more.
The case against: Let's turn this section over to the Toronto media.
The Globe and Mail's Jeff Blair, for example, described Kessel last summer as "a milquetoast, Tom Thumb guy who shrinks even further in front of the cameras."
The Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk at around the same time said "he’s been plagued by accusations that he’s a perimeter-hugging, conditioning-be-damned softie who’s been known to have great Octobers followed by significantly less impressive Novembers through Aprils" and that "Kessel has only ever been described as being “driven” on the days he catches a lift to the rink with his roommate [Tyler Bozak]."
Olympic outlook: The perimeter-hugging, conditioning-be-damned softie will go to Sochi for Team USA. He'll probably score goals for them there. And if he mumbles into the camera afterward, it's a safe bet the team's executives will be just fine with the trade-off.
The case for: The St. Louis Blues captain as a case as the most underrated player in hockey, though if David Backes keeps scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace, he's likely to start getting the recognition he deserves. A truly elite defensive centre, Backes plays a nasty, physical brand of hockey and routinely shuts down some of the NHL's top scoring stars.
The case against: Backes won't be the fastest player in Sochi, and as has been mentioned, his point totals are less shiny than those of some other candidates.
Olympic outlook: Backes is likely to take on the same role in Sochi that he has in St. Louis. that of centering a power-vs.-power line. He'll face the daunting task of dueling directly with players like Canada's Sidney Crosby and Russia's Pavel Datsyuk, but no American is better suited to that challenge.
The case for: Ryan McDonagh is a workhorse and has emerged as the leader on a New York blue line replete with exceptional defencemen (including players like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal). He does everything well at both ends of the rink and despite him generally playing top opposition, the Rangers do significantly better when he's on the ice than when he's off it.
The case against: While there are question marks next to the names of a lot of potential American defenders, McDonagh isn't one of those. He's a top-flight No. 1 defenceman.
Olympic outlook: He will play pivotal minutes in Sochi, and likely finish second in total ice time.
The case for: Zach Parise is an elite two-way forward, and he showed it at the last Olympics, where he put up eight points in six games and added a plus-four rating. His scoring is down a little from the heights it hit in New Jersey, but his possession game is as good as ever. At five-on-five the Wild go from a 10 shots/hour advantage with him on the ice to being slightly outshot with him off it.
The case against: We can play games with the numbers—Parise only had a single point in Minnesota's first-round loss to Chicago, he's a career minus-14 in the playoffs, etc.—but games is all they are.
Olympic outlook: Not only will Parise make the team, but he'll be featured prominently.
The case for: Last year's Norris Trophy runner-up is again one of the NHL's premiere workhorses on the blue line. Ryan Suter is averaging nearly 30 minutes per game for the Wild and leads all defencemen in time on ice. Not only that, but he was a standout in 2010, putting up four points and a plus-nine rating in six games for Team USA.
The case against: There isn't really a case against.
Olympic outlook: He is a lock, barring injury, and likely to lead Team USA in total ice time.
The case for: Patrick Kane broke into the league in the 2007-08 season. Since his rookie campaign he has scored 469 points, which makes him the only American forward to top 400 in that span. He was also the most valuable player in a little tournament called the "2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs" so he has some experience in pressure situations.
The case against: Kane briefly had a negative plus/minus this season.
Olympic outlook: As the best offensive weapon available to the Americans, Kane is a lock for Team USA.