Brian Burke certainly has a larger pool to pick from for this year's Olympic team than any GM has had in recent tournaments. No longer are players like Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Scott Gomez, and Chris Drury locks.
This looks to be a promising Olympics for Team USA, which could win a medal. Maybe we could see a rematch of the 2002 Olympics of Team USA vs. Team Canada.
It would be fitting, too. Team Canada won the Gold at the Salt Lake City games. How sweet would it be if we could return to the favor and win gold in Vancouver.
It certainly would do a great deal to boost hockey in our country. That's something the NHL needs right now with teams struggling in Phoenix, Atlanta, Columbus, and two teams struggling in Florida.
Is there really any question who will be the Starter? Unless Miller gets injured again before the games, like he did in 2006, Miller will be the starting goaltender and could replicate success like Mike Richter did for Team USA in the Canada Cup in 1996.
If any goaltender from the USA pool could do it, it's Miller. At 6'2," he brings great stature and presence to the net, plus, he's acrobatic, has great positioning, and a wicked glove.
He also has great focus and is used to winning games 1-0 and 2-1. He can play on his head, and win any game and beat any team in the tournament.
He'll give the rest of the team more confidence and the ability to play a more relaxed game.
As long as Lindy Ruff doesn't play him too much before the Olympics and tire him out, Miller could be a player who could also perform the same as Dominik Hasek did for the Czechs in 1998, and take home gold and the MVP.
He is the most dominant goaltender in the NHL right now, which puts Team USA on equal footing with anyone else in the tournament, or even at an advantage over other teams.
Miller leads the NHL in GAA with 1.84 and in save percentage with .937.
Watch his thoughts on goaltending and the Sabres here:
While many feel that Tim Thomas is the second string, I feel that Anderson is better suited for that, but only as of right now.
Anderson started getting buzz as a quality goaltender when he played with the Florida Panthers as Tomas Vokoun's back up.
He performed very well for them and gave Vokoun some competition. Anderson knew he was destined to be a starter in the NHL, but the question was where?
It would take a lot to steal it from Vokoun, who has proven himself in the NHL for nearly a decade. A new start and a new scenery was the key.
He signed with Colorado, and while many didn't find it to be a big signing then, many, myself included, believe it to be the best free agent signing this season (While I write this, Marian Hossa debuted earlier with the Hawks and posted two goals, he'll be the best pick up only if he makes it "third time's a charm" this spring).
Most people outside of Colorado, and probably just about every single person in Colorado, saw this year as the beginning of rebuilding.
The Avs would finish last, get the number one draft pick, maybe do a little better the next year, but get another top draft pick. Nope, not this year. No rebuilding for these guys—they're reloading.
Anderson is off to a great start and has the predicted floor team on top of the Northwest Division. In 26 games he's gone 14-7-5, and has a save percentage of .921 with a 2.57 GAA.
What makes his stats even more surprising, besides the surprising turn around of the team, is that Anderson has been without some of his better defenseman in front of him.
He certainly can fill in for a game if needed to give Miller a rest before the medal rounds or take over.
I wrote this part before he was taken off the ice in tonight's game against Florida. I haven't read what happened exactly yet.
Like I said, as of right now, Thomas looks like the third string. Although a strong December could boost his stock to second, or even challenge Miller for the starting role.
It's hard to bet against a guy like Thomas who has climbed the professional equivalent of Mt. Everest to be where he is now. He won the Vezina last year and took the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Although his attitude was not great in the second round against Carolina, Thomas has proven himself, which may actually hurt him.
I believe he needs that challenge to prove everyone wrong. He has been challenged early this season, as it hasn't gone smoothly as of yet.
But with Savard and Lucic back, and the Bruins adapting to other departures, his stats should improve as well as his wins, and his team's standings.
I must add that usually a team likes to carry a goalie who is younger as the third guy, just to give him the experience for future references.
The best candidate for that criteria would be Jonathan Quick, although, with Miller not being an old man and likely still in his prime in 2014, there may be no need for that.
Quick is doing a great job for a 22-year-old in L.A. If Thomas or Anderson have bad Decembers and Quick gets real hot, then I see him as a viable third goaltender.
Rafalski is the best all around defenseman the U.S has right now, which is amazing given his age, 36.
Age hasn't slowed him down though, he's still a very skilled skater, has great positioning, great reads on plays, great passing skills, and a pretty good shot from the point. He brings tons of leadership, which this team will need given how young and inexperienced it will be.
He'll definitely be given a letter, I don't see him as captain, but it's a possibility. He'll be the only returning defenceman from the 2006 games—he also played on the silver medal team in 2002.
He's won three Stanley Cups with two different teams. He had a career-year last year at 35 with 59 points, and has been one of the most consistent point producers since he broke into the NHL in 1999-2000.
Expect every break out and rush to begin with a crisp pass from Rafalski.
Check out his thoughts on Team USA's chances:
Playing in the Olympics is in Ryan's blood. We all know that his father was a part of the team in 1980 that performed the "Miracle on Ice" to win the gold.
His uncle, Gary Suter, has also represented his country, playing in the 1998 games. Ryan will be the third Suter to play for his country in the 2010 Olympics, and could help perform Miracle Part Deux 20 years after his father did.
At 24, Ryan is playing in his 5th NHL season. He has two goals, 11 points, and averages 24:02 of ice time. He's a good in all three zones of the ice, and will be able to make key first passes for the team.
He has a pretty decent shot from the point, and is very good with his stick. Suter gives team U.S.A a very solid, and dependable all-around defenseman.
Watch a feature on the defenseman here:
Besides Martin Brodeur, Paul Martin is another key player that has kept the Devils from their predicted free fall every year since the lockout.
He has been the best all around defenseman for the Devils since Scott Stevens. He's a very solid two-way player, a hard hitting defenseman, blocks shots, makes great passes out of his zone, and just lays it all out on the line for his team.
He's out right now with an injury but he should be good to go before the rosters are even announced, and will be a 100 percent by the time the games come in February.
Martin is just the kind of player Burke loves, and I bet he wishes he had a player like him on his team. This guy knows what it takes to win and he does it.
He's a fiercest competitor and will give just the kind of defense this team will need to win a medal.
At 21, Erik Johnson is playing like a veteran as oppose to a defenseman playing in just his second season in the NHL.
He is certainly bouncing back well from a season-ending injury that occurred last year before training camp started. He certainly is showing exactly why he was taken first overall in 2006.
In 25, games he has four goals and 18 points, is a plus-six on a team that, overall, is playing bad defensively, and is averaging 21:59 minutes.
No doubt, he will be a premier defenseman in this league, he's the best defenseman the St.Louis Blues have had since Chris Pronger, and will no doubt be the future captain of his team.
Johnson will be a huge factor for this team that's looking to compete and beat teams like Canada, Russia, and defending medal champs Sweden. He brings a very complete game and if he were Canadian he'd be given consideration for them as well I believe. Thankfully this kid is born in the U.S. Johnson will be a main contributor this year and Olympics to come. He definitely boasts this team and will probably be playing on the second pair and will be seeing other countries top lines. He has the speed to keep up with the fast paced Europeans which helps out a lot. He gives Burke another defencemen to help break the puck out and make that first pass to begin an attack and will be very helpful on the power play and is an option for the penalty killing unit.
Orpik I consider to be our watered down version of Chris Pronger. He doesn't have the same offensive upside as Pronger but he's just as nasty and ferocious as him.
He is a player Burke will be all over. Burke will have him out there killing penalties and intimidating other countries' top players.
Playing in an NHL-size rink makes Orpik more valuable. While in an Olympic-size rink he may not be able to keep up with Europeans, and could get beat by them from the outside, in an NHL-size rink it gives other players less room to skate by him, and escape bone-crushing hits from him.
Komisarek brings the same type of game as Orpik, but I believe Orpik is more defensively dependable and plays a smarter game. He knows when to take his hits and when not to. Orpik was very valuable to the Penguins defense when they won the Stanley Cup this past spring, and he'll play the same role for Team U.S.A
Although he wasn't invited to the 34-man orientation camp in August, I think Matt Carle has played himself onto this team.
Many believe he's reaping benefits off of playing alongside Chris Pronger, which could be true, although I don't think that's all of it. You have to be a good player to keep up with Pronger. They wouldn't have some slouch playing with him.
Carle averages 24:05 minutes, has 14 points in 24 games, and is a plus-17. As great as Pronger is, the duo, as a combined effort, are why both have great plus/minus ratings.
I think he'd make a great pairing with Brooks Orpik as, like I said, he's our watered down version. When Brooks makes a hit, Carle will be able to cover up in their zone.
He'd make a great addition on the second power-play unit, and can eat up minutes for you too if needed. If he keeps up his play, there's no reason why Burke cannot pick him.
Herb Brooks said it best, "it's not about having the best players, it's about having the right players."
To me, Matt Greene is the right kind of a guy to have on this team, and one Burke must be giving some consideration.
We all know that Burke loves a guy who is tough and Greene is certainly tough. He leads all U.S.-born defenseman in both blocked shots, 54, and hits, 79. In fact, his 79 hits are second in the NHL among defensemen.
While I don't see him playing in the top six, he should be on the team as a reserve. He sacrifices his body for the team, and he understands the puck is more important than his own well being.
He'll play with the kind of snarl that Burke wants. If a guy has a bad game defensively, put Greene in and he'll get the job done for you.
Probably no forward will be counted on more than Parise. He is the U.S.'s most complete two-way forward right now.
He scores, he makes plays, he drives hard to the net, he'll score you pretty goals, or gritty goals. He has great sense both offensively and defensively. He's playing in his prime right now at age 25.
In 24 games, he has 15 goals and 30 points—ninth in the NHL. He's on pace for his best year—49 goals and 98 points—but could possibly score over 100 points.
Can anyone remember the last time an U.S born player scored over a 100 points? I do, it was Doug Weight in 1995-1996 with a 107 points.
Parise is playing better offensively under Jacques Lemaire—believe it or not. Many thought his production would drop. Nope, not at all.
Parise is excelling under Lemaire. While offense has been hard to come by for the Devils, they still are fourth in their conference in large part because of Parise.
Parise will be expected to play around 20 minutes a night in the Olympics, and will be relied on to score on both power plays and five-on-five, as well as kill off penalties.
He'll be paired against other countries top lines and will see the other teams' top defensive players, and still be expected to score. A lot of hopes are resting on his shoulders. I doubt he'll crack under the pressure, and, instead, will excel because of it.
Phil Kessel is considered to be one of the top-ten most exciting players in the NHL with the way he bursts through the neutral zone, dangles past defenders, and releases wicked wrist shots top shelf.
After having offseason surgery, Kessel has come back on fire, scoring 13 points in 14 games—eight of those are goals.
While he doesn't have a Marc Savard feeding him the puck anymore, or a Milan Lucic feeding him the puck from the corners and creating space for him, he still is producing just as well on a horrible Leafs team. Playing with a player of Parise caliber could make Kessel one of the top goal scorers in the tournament.
Burke knows this guy well, as does coach Ron Wilson, since they have him on their team. They'll know exactly how utilize Kessel to make him effective and a dominate offensive force for them.
Having two players like Kessel and Parise gives the U.S. some equal playing ground by having two natural goal scorers on the team, something that was missing in the 2006 games. Kessel will be expected to produce heavily on their power play.
Patrick Kane is a pretty small guy and looks like he could pass off on a pee-wee team. But, even with his small size, he has revitalized Chicago with his savvy skills.
He's a fast skater, can shoot the puck, and can set up anyone on the ice. He's only 21, yet he's a big reason why the Hawks went from playoff hopefuls in 2008 to the western conference finals in 2009.
He's on pace for his first 30-goal season, is playing his best hockey so far in his young career, and is on pace to finish with 82 points. Wilson will be expecting Kane to give the U.S. timely goals, or set up those goals.
He has a good eye on the ice and a high Hockey IQ. Kane isn't intimidated by bigger players, and, as he does in the NHL, he'll skate around them, avoiding their hits, making holes in their defense and scoring opportunities.
Watch Kane talk Team USA here:
While Drury is having his worse offensive year so far, there's no taking away from him his leadership qualities and experience.
While Drury isn't scoring, he is doing other stuff that goes unnoticed by many. He does the little things that win games, the nothing plays, the kind of plays that don't look like anything, but are what win a game.
He is also known as one of the best clutch performers in the NHL, and, in a short tournament like the Olympics in which the stakes are high, Drury is a guy who performs at his best.
Many times, he has scored game winning, or tying goals in the dying seconds of a game in his career, and I believe Drury can still do that for our country at the Olympics.
He'll be one of the few players who've been there before, and will be greatly depended on to help all the young players who will be there for the first time.
The things that go unnoticed that I was talking about could be telling war stories to the younger kids to get them pumped up for the next day's game, or a motivational speech in the locker room before they take the ice.
He'll be depended to be a calming personality, and to try to keep his guys loose and relaxed.
John Madden is regarded as one of the best checking/shutdown centers in the NHL, and is a big boost who goes unnoticed in Chicago.
He's exactly the kind of player a team wants taking a face-off in the defensive zone, or to get a cycle going in the offensive zone.
He's one of the best players in the game on the penalty kill, and exactly the kind of player Burke will need if he's going to round out the third and fourth lines with tough grinders because they'll no doubt be taking penalties.
Madden will be the guy counted on to hold leads late in games to prevent a tying goal, he's another guy who does a lot of unnoticed things and will be counted on for leadership.
Many believe that maybe Modano shouldn't be named to the team because of his age, that he's not the dynamic center he used to be, or that he's far too slow.
Well, I think he should be. Modano isn't playing badly in Dallas, despite his age and limited ice time— no longer playing top-six minutes. He has seven points in 11 games and plus-three rating. He's been there for the 2006 Olympics, the silver medal team in 2002 and a big part of the team that won the Canada Cup in 1996.
He has tons of international experience, he is one of the best U.S players ever to play the game, a cup winner, and can still contribute to the team.
While I see him only playing fourth-line minutes, his role will resemble what Steve Yzerman's and Mario Lemieux's roles' were on the 2002 Canadian team. He'll be a great leadership addition, won't be risk defensively on the ice, and might even score a goal or two for you. He'll play any role the team gives him.
He knows what it'll take to win, and will lead by example. He'll do whatever it takes to win and take on any role they give him and excel at it. He's a future hall of famer who will only help the team, not hurt it, there's no reason why not to take him.
Ryan Kesler is exactly the kind of player Brian Burke loves. He's good offensively, but he's a guy that gives you a lot of sand paper.
He's great around the net, can win face-offs, play on the power play and penalty kill, play a shut-down role or a set-up role. He goes to the dirty areas. He'll hit, he'll block a shot, and he'll screen the goalie.
Kesler has gotten better every season and is improving again this year. He's one of the most underrated two-way players in the game, and will help this team in all facets.
He's on pace for a career year of 73 points. He'll be a great player to have playing center, setting up the wingers, or playing on the third line and be a shut-down guy.
While he's not scoring as much as the Ducks would like, and Anaheim is having disputes with the coveted winger on signing an extension, Ryan is a natural goal scorer. He lead all rookies last year in goals with 31 in 64 games.
There are also rumors circulating that Burke will give a huge offer sheet to him to steal him away from Anaheim, which is why he's trying to get new first and second-round draft picks.
Burke wants him on his team in Toronto, and he'll definitely want him on his team in the Olympics. Ryan is a big body, who can score fancy or garbage goals. He'll give the Americans another scoring option to try and match up other offensive threats like Russia and Canada.
Dustin Brown is a good second-line player to have, and great power forward to have at your disposal. Or, he's a great player to have on your checking line.
With players like Kessel, Parise, Kane, Malone, Ryan, and Kesler, there's no room for him on the first two lines, but he gives you something better—a guy who can play the role as a checking forward, shut down the others teams offensive, as well score for you.
He is another guy who brings leadership, he's the Kings captain, and is a player who leads by example.
He plays a tough game and brings the kind of sand paper Burke loves. He likes this guy's tough side and will no doubt select him to the roster.
Ryan Malone is one of the toughest players in the NHL, and simply one of the best power forwards there is.
I remember in the 2008 playoffs he was hit in the face with a shot from the point while standing in front of Chris Osgood, and still finished the game—and didn't miss anytime either. Most players would have been done for the series. Not Malone—who suffered a broken nose from the shot.
He's having one of his best seasons in Tampa this year playing alongside sophomore-sensation Steven Stamkos. He has 14 goals and 22 points in 25 games, he's on pace to come close to breaking 50 goals as well. I like to consider him our version of Brendan Shanahan. Honestly, he is a player that a lot of teams are missing in their puzzles for winning the Stanley Cup.
Here's a guy who will do whatever it takes to put the puck in the net and win a game. I hate the Penguins, but I liked Malone. He was the sole reason I ever watched a Penguins' game if they weren't playing Washington or Detroit.
He battles in the corners, drives hard to the net, screens the goalie, fights battles in front of the net, bangs in rebounds, hits, fights, and blocks shots. This guy puts it all on the line for his team, and he would make any Olympic squad.
He wears his heart on his sleeve and has guts. He'll change a game, whether it's by a hit, a much needed fight, or a momentum-changing game-breaking goal.
He'll bring valuable offense to team U.S.A., and will see top power-play minutes and penalty minutes in the tournament. He and Jordan Staal were one of the best penalty killers in the 2008 playoffs, and definitely a player who's invaluable to team U.S.A.
With Joe Sakic retiring this summer, Paul Stastny is now the man in Colorado. He'll give team U.S.A some solid depth down the middle.
He leads Colorado in Points and assists. He's good for setting people up, but his 49 percent face-off rating isn't all that impressive. He's definitely not a player you want to count on in the dying minutes of the game to take a face-off in your own zone. Although, one can't count him out.
For some reason I'm kind of iffy about putting him on this team. I'm not taking away from his talent, but a player like Kesler can set people up just as well, has physical upside to him, and a great defensive upside.
But, Kesler can also play right wing, so that gives space for Stastny as a center. He definitely is a good person to have on your second line. I don't know why I'm iffy on him but I'm putting him on it because of how well he's doing, and I have a feeling he'll pick it up more as the season goes on.
Team U.S.A will have no shortage of leadership on this roster, Langenbrunner is the captain of the New Jersey Devils.
While Zach Parise and Martin Broduer have a lot to do with the Devils winning, I believe the captain has a lot to do with it, and the Devils are a team with major injury problems.
I'm a firm believer that, when a team still wins despite adversity, a lot of it has to do with the man wearing the "C." Jamie fits in nicely as the third line's right-winger. He's one of the best two-way players in the game, plays in all situations, has won two cups in his career, and a silver medal in 2002.
He has Olympic experience which will be valuable with this young squad, who figures not to have a lot Olympic experience.
Ryan Callahan isn't having as good of a season as the Rangers had hoped.
Many thought after his performance in the first round against Washington last year, that this would be a breakout year for him. That hasn't happened yet but Callahan has a quality about him Burke will want for this squad, and that is his physical presence.
Ryan Callahan is second in the NHL among forwards with a 100 hits in 27 games. He was a pretty good clutch player in the playoffs, which is good asset to have in this kind of tournament.
He may not be good enough to be among the 12 starting forwards, but as the 13th forward I see him there. If the U.S. struggles out of the gate, I see Burke putting him in there to spark the team with his physical play.
There are a lot of people who could make this team that I didn't have on this list.
This is the club I'd take, but who am I to really say? I don't see room on this squad for guys like Keith Trachuk, Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, Keith Ballard, John-Michael Liles, Jack Johnson, Paul Gaustad, Tim Gleason, or others who could garner some consideration.
However, I don't see Mike Komisarek deserving any consideration, I am not a fan of his, I think he's a high risk defensively and he doesn't know when to make his hits.
I see Burke taking a team that's very tough physically and defensively. The team will be winning low-scoring games. I see the first two lines being filled with players who can score and the other two lines being tough, physical shut-down guys.
I see U.S leading the tournament in hits and lowest goals against if Miller pulls a Hasek. This is definitely a team that could win a medal and could definitely go for gold.
A gold medal would be huge as it could spark a ton of interest for hockey in the States, which could help teams like Atlanta, Phoenix, both Florida teams, and Columbus.