The absence of NHL players might have knocked the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team from the perennial-contender status it has enjoyed for the past two decades, but the 2018 squad still has the potential to make a run in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The NHL's decision to skip the Winter Olympics denies fans the chance to see young phenoms such as Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews suit up for the U.S. on the brightest international stage, but there are still several new players who could become household names in America over the next few weeks.
While some of the world's best players may not be featured this year, it has allowed guys who would never have sniffed Team USA to get a chance to live out a dream.
So how should Americans set their expectations for the men's hockey team? Heading into the opening match on Wednesday, the U.S. are not seen as favorites, according to OddsShark.com.
Olympics 2018 Men's Hockey Gold-Medal Odds
Olympic Athletes of Russia: 9-4
Czech Republic: 9-1
Republic of Korea: 250-1
US Team Preview
The United States, like most countries, had two options when selecting a team. It could load up on ultra-talented young players such as Casey Mittelstadt or Brady Tkachuk to resemble a World Junior Championship team, or it could go for former NHL players now playing elsewhere.
The American squad that will take the ice in South Korea will lean more toward the latter, but there are several young guns to keep an eye on.
Jordan Greenway leads the group. The Boston University junior and Minnesota Wild prospect is a massive power forward at 6'5" and 230 pounds who has 82 points in 104 games during his college career. The 20-year-old will also make U.S. history on Wednesday:
Troy Terry and his slick hands should also stand out in this tournament. The 20-year-old, a junior with Denver, has been lighting up the NCAA ranks in the past two seasons in particular with 77 points in his last 63 games.
He should provide a nice influx of skill on the power play, and his famed shootout skills could make him this year's version of T.J. Oshie:
While Greenway and Terry may highlight a small group of young players, it does not mean the older crowd cannot make some noise.
Captain Brian Gionta, who is playing despite having retired from the NHL this season, is the most accomplished player on the roster.
The 39-year-old should not be expected to bring a ton to the table offensively considering he has not eclipsed 50 points in a season since 2008-09, and he has not put up more than 40 points in the last three years. But he possesses a wealth of experience thanks to 14 full NHL seasons and an Olympics stint in 2006.
Gionta expects the 2018 group, which also includes notable names such as longtime NHL defenseman James Wisniewski, former first-round pick Bobby Sanguinetti and 2009 Hobey Baker Award winner Matt Gilroy, to be hungry to take advantage of a surprising opportunity.
"It's a group of guys that is well-deserving, they have great careers," Gionta said, per Tara Sullivan of the Boston Globe. "Whether you played a game in the NHL or not, for people, naysayers to knock on that, where these guys play, where we're at, I love our team. I love our hunger. I wouldn't say we have a chip on our shoulder, but we expect to come in here and compete for a medal."
Whether Team USA can actually accomplish that goal is a different story.
A lack of NHL players hurts every other nation, but the USA does not match the star power and depth of top teams such as Sweden and the Russian team.
The Swedes boast arguably the best goaltending tandem in the shape of former NHL starters Jhonas Enroth and Viktor Fasth in addition to the likely No. 1 pick in next year's draft, Rasmus Dahlin.
Meanwhile, the Russian side will trot out a crazy amount of offensive firepower with former NHL superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk along with top prospect Kirill Kaprizov and former lottery pick Mikhail Grigorenko.
Throw in the most depth-laden nation in the world in the form of Canada, and the U.S. has its work cut out in terms of medal hopes.
The Americans can stay in every game by playing a disciplined, checking style, but there are obvious deficiencies that can only be masked for so long. Eventually, Sweden will break through in a defensive matchup, Russia will prove to have too much scoring power and Canada will wear the U.S. down by rolling four lines.
A bronze medal appears to be the ceiling for the United States. Expect the team to move into the knockout round without any problems considering lowly Slovakia and Slovenia also reside in Group B with Russia. However, look for the U.S. to fall just short of earning a spot on the podium by the end.
Statistics are courtesy of HockeyDB.com.