NHL: 20 US Players Who Could Play in Their First Olympics in 2014
Team USA went on an improbable run during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Although they fell just short of the ultimate goal, they skated away with a silver medal.
As good as that team was, there are several players who were not selected to represent their country in the Games.
Since that time, more American players have significantly raised their profiles, and there are several players who could crack the US roster during the next Winter Games, which will take place in Sochi, Russia.
That is of course subject to whether or not the NHL agrees to send its players to the Games in 2014.
For the purposes of this slide show, we will assume that league allows them to play in Sochi.
#20 Jamie McBain- Defenseman, Carolina Hurricanes
Jamie McBain (from Edina, MN) is a talented rookie defenseman, who is not afraid to join the rush on offense. He's having a decent year with 19 points (four goals, fifteen assists), and was impressive in a 14-game stint last season, collecting 10 points in that span.
He has a lot of upside to his game, but he needs to become stronger and play a more sound defensive game.
That being said, if his development continues to trend upward over the next few seasons, he could have a shot at the Olympic squad.
#19 Cory Schneider- Goaltender, Vancouver Canucks
Cory Schneider (Marblehead, MA) has had an excellent rookie season, albeit seeing very limited action. It's not easy backing up Roberto Luongo, especially if your aspirations include "being an NHL starting goaltender."
In just 17 games this season, Schneider has put up some fantastic numbers, sporting 10 wins, a .925 save percentage, and a 2.29 goals-against average.
It is likely he will be traded elsewhere within the next year or so, because Luongo's not going anywhere (he signed a long-term contract extension with the Canucks recently), and Schneider deserves the opportunity to be a starter at the NHL level. He will get his shot, and when he does, look out.
If Schneider proves to be a fine 'tender in this league, he could be up for Olympic consideration in 2014.
#18 T.J. Oshie- Center, St. Louis Blues
T.J. Oshie (Mt. Vernon, WA) is another talented young forward, who has put up good numbers this season in just 24 games played. He missed a lot of time due to injuries, but has still managed to put up 15 points in those twenty four games. That projects to over 50 points in a full 82 game season.
If Oshie can stay healthy, and can produce like he has early in his career, he could be on the way to Sochi three years from now.
#17 Kevin Shattenkirk- Defenseman, Colorado Avalanche
Kevin Shattenkirk (Greenwich, CT) has had a very solid rookie season for the Avs. He has put up 26 points in 45 games, and is showing signs of being a good quality defenseman in the future.
He is also said to have excellent leadership skills, and my guess is that it won't be long before he plays that type of role in Colorado.
He needs to work on his defensive game, and his plus-minus is not a pretty sight, but if he continues to produce, he will be a definite possibility for Team USA.
#16 Max Pacioretty- Left Wing, Montreal Canadiens
Max Pacioretty (New Canaan, CT) has had a lot of success at the collegiate level, and since being called up by the Habs this season, he has started to show he can play in the NHL too.
In 28 games with Montreal this season, he has 19 points, and he is scoring goals, as well as setting up his teammates.
If he can become a quality forward in the coming seasons, he might be find himself donning the stars and stripes in the Olympics.
#15 David Booth- Left Wing, Florida Panthers
David Booth (Detroit, MI) is a skilled winger, who is not having a very good season for his standards, but is just two years removed from a campaign in which he scored 31 goals and 60 points. He was plagued by a concussion last season, and has only scored 15 goals in 55 games in '10-'11 for Florida.
Despite his recent struggles, he has talent, and if he can find his goal scoring touch from two years ago, he might just make Team USA.
#14 Jimmy Howard- Goaltender, Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard (Ogdensburg, NY) has been one of the best young goalies in the NHL the past two seasons. He finished with 37 wins last season, and has 28 this year. His numbers have taken a slight hit this season, but they are still very solid- He has a 2.82 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage, and has been a key to the Red Wings' success in this regular season.
He looks like a real solid future goaltender, and there is every reason to believe he could get a shot at Team USA in three years.
#13 John Carlson- Defenseman, Washington Capitals
John Carlson (Natick, MA) is a rookie defenseman for the Washington Capitals. He has shown offensive ability, notching 22 points in 57 games-played this season.
However, his most impressive stat is his plus-13 rating in those 57 games. He has shown that he can play a two-way game, and he is a future mainstay on the Caps blueline.
Carlson already has an impressive international resume, helping the US Junior Team win Gold at the World Junior Championships in 2010.
It is therefore only fitting, that at the very least, he will be strongly considered for the Olympic team in 2014.
#12 Drew Stafford- Right Wing, Buffalo Sabres
Drew Stafford (Milwaukee, WI) has shown goal-scoring ability in the NHL over the last few years, and he's found the back of the net 24 times this year, which is three more than the great, Alexander Ovechkin has.
To say they come in bunches for Stafford would be a tremendous understatement.
Stafford has four (that's not a typo) hat tricks this season alone, and has six total in just his first five seasons in the NHL.
As long as he stays in the mid-twenty goal range in the future, he has a realistic shot at Team USA.
#11 Zach Bogosian- Defenseman, Atlanta Thrashers
Zach Bogosian (Massena, NY) has been a bit of a disappointment over his first three seasons in the NHL.
He was the third overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and was touted as one of several future star blueliners from that draft- Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, and Luke Schenn, to name a few.
He has just 11 points this season over 47 games played, but he did score 10 goals in his sophomore campaign last year.
He has shown flashes of promise, but he needs to play with consistency in order to become a factor in the league. The talent is definitely there.
If Bogosian can reach his potential, he may have a chance to play in the Olympics in 2014.
#10 Derek Stepan- Center, New York Rangers
Derek Stepan (Hastings, MN), a second round pick of the Rangers (51st overall, 2008 NHL Entry Draft), has had a very solid rookie year, with 15 goals and 17 assists in 58 games played.
He has been streaky at times, but has definitely shown upside in his game. Just 20 years of age, he's an excellent playmaker, and his hockey-sense and maturity levels are beyond his years.
Much like John Carlson, Stepan also played a major role in Team USA's Gold Medal run at the W.J.C. in 2010. He has a tendency to score clutch goals, and make key plays at key times.
As long as he continues to improve, Stepan has a very good chance of playing for Team USA, perhaps as early as 2014.
#9 James Wisniewski- Defenseman, Montreal Canadiens
James Wisniewski (Canton, MI) is an offensively talented defenseman, but a major liability in his own zone. He moves the puck well, has a booming slap shot, and can carry the play.
His point production has been inconsistent for most of his young career, but he is enjoying a break-out season, with five goals and 32 assists (37 points) in 51 games, playing for the Islanders and Montreal this season.
If he can play his game consistently, USA Hockey will have a tough time not choosing him to play for the Olympic team in Sochi.
#8 Kyle Okposo- Right Wing, New York Islanders
Kyle Okposo (St. Paul, MN) was drafted seventh overall by the New York Islanders in 2006. He is a big, strong power forward who has a scorching wrist shot and excellent puck-handling ability. Because of his size, he's also very tough to knock off the puck, and as a result he's able to keep many plays alive, even those that normally would have been broken up by the defense.
He's also very responsible without the puck, and plays a fine two-way game.
He has scored 18 and 19 goals (respectively) in his first two seasons in the NHL, and there was a lot of hype surrounding Okposo heading into the 2010-11 campaign.
Unfortunately, it was never to be, as "K.O." was sidelined for the majority of this season with a freak injury suffered in an exhibition game during training camp. He has however been back for 13 games now, and has scored two goals and added seven assists for nine points since returning from his injury.
As long as Okposo continues to improve his numbers, he's a very likely Team USA candidate for 2014.
#7 Cam Fowler- Defenseman, Anaheim Ducks
Cam Fowler (Windsor, ONT*) was born in Canada, but was raised in the US, and played for Team USA on the W.J.C. Gold Medal team.
He slipped in this year's draft, and ultimately was picked by the Ducks 12th overall.
We knew he'd be a good player, but no one expected him to be this effective, this quickly. He has 29 points in 51 games this season (seven goals, 22 assists), and he's a big reason why the surprising Ducks are in playoff contention.
He's a future stud in this league, and he should have no problem making the Olympic team in 2014, as long as he gets better every year.
#6 Brandon Dubinsky- Center, New York Rangers
Brandon Dubinsky (Anchorage, Alaska) has been a surprisingly effective player for the Blueshirts since his rookie year, and he has 41 points this season (19 goals, 23 assists), and should easily surpass his career high of 44, which he set last year.
"Dubie" is a very good playmaker, but he has a scoring touch as well. He's a major reason the Rangers have been in the playoff discussion at all this year, and he is turning into a quality NHL forward.
He should be able to follow in the path of teammates Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury, who both played for Team USA last year. He'll likely be on the 2014 team.
#5 Rob Scuderi- Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings
Rob Scuderi (Syosset, NY) is a shut-down defender who plays a good two-way game.
The Long Island native has just two goals and eleven assists this season (13 points), but is a plus-12 through 56 games for the Kings this year.
Scuderi was a big part of the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup championship team, and he made several key defensive plays to help key the Pens to a series win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Fellow Pens defensive defenseman Brooks Orpik was on the Olympic team last year, and Scuderi should join him in three years, in Sochi.
#4 Jason Pominville- Right Wing, Buffalo Sabres
Jason Pominville (born in Quebec, but raised in the US) has already proven himself as a star for the Buffalo Sabres, and I believe he was snubbed last year, when he was not chosen to represent the US in Vancouver. After all, he only finished with 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists), and a plus-13 rating.
In the last five seasons (not including this season) he has three 60-plus point seasons, as well as an 80 point season (2007-08).
He is a proven scorer and playmaker, and he should finally get a shot at the Olympic team in 2014.
#3 Alex Goligoski- Defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins
Alex Goligoski (Grand Rapids, MN) is currently enjoying a 30 point season, with nine goals and 21 assists. He has shown he can quarterback the power play, and is logging important minutes for the Penguins this season. He should surpass the 37 points he had last season, his sophomore year.
Goligoski should make the Olympic team in 2014, and he should be a big part of the US power play if he is chosen.
As long as he doesn't experience a setback between now and then, he should be a shoe-in.
#2 Keith Yandle- Defenseman, Pheonix Coyotes
Keith Yandle (Boston, MA) is coming a 41 point campaign last season, and he has not disappointed this year, with 47 points (nine goals, 38 assists) in 58 games played for the 'Yotes.
Yandle was named to his first NHL All-Star Game this year, and surely it will not be his last.
He will likely finish above the 50-point plateau by the end of the season, and if he didn't play in Pheonix, he'd probably be in the Norris Trophy conversation.
He'll be on Team USA in 2014, barring any unexpected setbacks.
#1 Dustin Byfuglien- Defenseman, Atlanta Thrashers
Dustin Byfuglien (Minneapolis, MN) was not expected to have this type of impact on the Thrashers when he first came to Atlanta from the Blackhawks. He was rarely used as a defenseman on the 'Hawks, and so no one really knew he'd be a good blueliner, let alone a Norris Trophy candidate.
But "Big Buff" has had one heck of a season for the Thrashers (17 goals, 26 assists, 43 points), and he has already been rewarded for his excellent play, in the form of five years and twenty-six million dollars.
Byfuglien signed the contract extension with Atlanta just yesterday, and he deserved every cent.
He's a future stud in the NHL.
He's already won a Stanley Cup and played in an All-Star Game (this year). He soon should be able to add "played for Team USA at the Olympics" to his resume.