Believe it or not, the 2022 Winter Olympics are just around the corner and after sitting out in the 2018 edition of the tournament, the NHL is once again sending its players to the international stage this coming February. The competition represents the first time top NHL players will compete internationally (discounting the IIHF World Championships which often don’t feature the best players due to scheduling conflicts with the Stanley Cup Playoffs) since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
With so much time having passed, the rosters for the world’s top hockey nations will look quite different this go around. For the United States, the 2022 Olympics represents the beginning of the Auston Matthews era. While the superstar center for the Toronto Maple Leafs is sure to steal the headlines, there are plenty of intriguing options up and down the lineup from forwards capable of highlight-reel goals, entertaining puck-moving defensemen, and a plethora of quality goaltenders. Let’s take an early look at how the Americans could line up this February.
The first name on the team sheet has to be Matthews, who is expected to center the American top line. In a perfect world where injuries don’t exist, that second-line center spot would surely belong to Jack Eichel, but unfortunately, the new Vegas Golden Knight will miss the tournament recovering from neck surgery. Replacing Eichel in the top six is likely to be Dylan Larkin, the newly appointed captain of the Detroit Red Wings. J.T. Miller of the Vancouver Canucks is another center who looks likely to make the squad, giving the U.S. a fairly young crop of centers. That’s where Dallas Stars center Joe Pavelski comes in. Providing a veteran presence, particularly when it comes to Olympic hockey, will be critical for Pavelski as he will be looked upon late in games and in tight situations. The center position is, on paper, the position lacking in-depth for the Americans, but an MVP-like performance from Matthews could negate that lack of depth rather easily.
When you think of USA hockey in the 21st century, you immediately think of Patrick Kane. The three-time Cup winner for the Chicago Blackhawks has been the face of American hockey for the past decade and will surely line up next to Matthews on the top line. Looking past Kane, the team looks to be filled with some of the top young wingers in the game. Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau will likely play together due to their chemistry playing for the Calgary Flames. It’s also hard to imagine that Matthew gets picked to the team without his brother, Brady Tkachuk, the Ottawa Senators captain, also getting the call. Mixing in Troy Terry, the breakout star for the Anaheim Ducks, Winnipeg Jets sniper Kyle Connor and Kane’s Chicago teammate, Alex DeBrincat, and all of a sudden the team is looking that much more lethal. Filling out the rest of the winger spots, veteran leadership will be key. 2014 Olympic hero T.J. Oshie along with Max Pacioretty and Chris Kreider will make for a formidable crop of wingers.
The real strength of this American team will be the defensive group. On an enlarged Olympic-sized rink, puck-moving defensemen will be that much more valuable to overall success, and this looks to be the golden era of American offensive defensemen. Reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox is a lock to make the team, as is the new Blackhawk, Seth Jones. Jones’ former Columbus Blue Jackets teammate, Zach Werenski, has a strong case to make the squad, as does Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins, who only seems to be getting better every year. On the topic of former teammates, McAvoy’s former Bruins teammate, Torey Krug of the St. Louis Blues has a strong case to make the team. Budding stars Quinn Hughes and Jaccob Slavin are both likely to make the squad as well. Rounding out the defensive core, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals will provide Olympic experience to a young group.
The starting goaltending spot for the Americans, at least heading into the Olympic games, surely belongs to Connor Hellebuyck. The former Vezina winner and star for the Jets will likely get the first crack at the job. Hot on his tail, however, will be Ducks goalie John Gibson. In what has been a tough stretch for Anaheim early on in his career, Gibson has been the saving grace for the franchise and might be looked at differently if he played in a bigger hockey market. The third goaltending spot is where things get interesting, as there are a couple of options to consider. In the spirit of playing for the present with an eye on the future, Florida Panthers rookie goaltender Spencer Knight is the early favorite for that final spot. Knight is projected to be one of the world’s top netminders in the coming years, and bringing him into that Olympic environment early on will only help him fully develop into the future star he appears to be.
While we are still a couple of months away from the start of the Olympics and injuries between now and then can change things, this is a good look at what is likely to be the USA roster. With a forward group led by the likes of Matthews and Kane, a star-studded crop of defensemen and three solid goaltenders, the United States looks to be one of the most formidable squads in the entire tournament.
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