The Olympics are now less than a calendar year away, although the selection process is well underway for the participating countries. The defending Olympic champions (Sweden) are looking to repeat as gold medalists, but an influx in young Canadian, American, and Russian talent ensures that the 2010 games will be hotly contested. Last summer I wrote a piece on my ideas for a prospective Canadian lineup, and ideally I would like to cover the rest of the hockey powers at some point before February 2010. Here are my picks for the 2010 American lineup.
Zach Parise – Paul Stastny – Pat Kane
The top line of the USA (in fact the entire forward core) is going to be built around speed and skill. Parise is a lock for the top line left wing position, and he has a shot at becoming the first American-born player to crack the 100 point plateau since Doug Weight did it as an Edmonton Oiler back in 1996. At center, Stastny is the best two-way center from the States. He is relatively unproven at the international level, but as we have found out numerous times, picking based on past experience and success is usually a mistake. Stastny is flying a bit under the radar right now because he has had an injury-filled 2008-2009 campaign, but expect him to return with a big season leading up to the Olympic games. At right wing, the Americans have a few options, but their best bet is Kane of the Blackhawks. Kane is slumping right now (thanks to a nagging ankle injury), but he has already displayed his superstar talent in his brief NHL career.
Phil Kessel – Scott Gomez – Dustin Brown
The second offensive unit features the speed and skill of Kessel and Gomez combined with the forechecking and physical play of Brown. Gomez has had an awful season with the Rangers, but he is still an elite puck rushing center who can break down opposing defenses with his speed and hands. Kessel has developed into a go-to guy for the surprising Bruins, and he possesses an elite shot. Brown's offensive game is nothing to sneeze at either, but it is not what he is known for. Perhaps the most devastating hitter in the game, Brown will keep the opposition honest, and allow Kessel and Gomez to operate with lots of open ice.
Chris Higgins – Chris Drury – Bobby Ryan
The third offensive unit features the speed of Higgins and Drury paired with the skill of Ryan. Ryan has emerged as a top line player for the Ducks this season after a long and arduous journey to the NHL. The Ducks were extremely patient with him, and it is looking like they made the right move. Both Drury and Higgins are responsible defensively and good finishers at the other end. Ryan will be a bit part of the American power play, while Drury will most definitely be a big part of the leadership group put together for 2010.
David Booth – Ryan Kesler – Jamie Langenbrunner
The checking unit for the Americans will feature the unheralded Booth, who has developed into a terrific buzz-saw forward with a combination of energy and skill matched by few around the league. Kesler has developed into a top checking center and his offensive game continues to improve. Langenbrunner is a big game performer and has stepped his game up after being named captain of the Devils after Brent Sutter took over last season. These three will be matched up against the opposing top lines and will be expected to chip in offensively as well.
Extra Forward: Jason Pominville
The versatile Pominville is a natural choice for the spare forward – he can play a scoring role as well as he can check. His 2008-2009 season has been a forgettable one, but he has bounced around the Sabres lineup trying to spread out the scoring a bit. There are a few honorable mentions as well: Joe Pavelski, David Backes, Erik Cole, Patrick O'Sullivan, and Blake Wheeler.
Brian Rafalski – Mike Komisarek
Rafalski's speed, skill, and skating ability will mesh well with the rugged defensive style of Komisarek. Rafalski will also be a welcomed veteran presence on a blue line that will be extremely green. Komisarek is a tough customer and can skate very well for a big defensive defenseman.
Ryan Suter – Erik Johnson
Both Suter and Johnson are solid defensemen at both ends of the ice. Johnson will need to show he can bounce back from a devastating knee injury that has sidelined him for the 2008-2009 season. Suter is a good puck moving defenseman who can skate and play with an edge. Johnson has all the tools to be an elite, Norris-caliber defenseman for the next decade.
Jack Johnson – Keith Ballard
Sticking with the theme of speed and skating, the bottom pairing features two defensemen who can absolutely fly. Johnson possesses game breaking speed and he isn't afraid to use it, while Ballard plays a throwback game with his combination of offensive ability and physical play. The Panthers knew what they were doing when they sent troubled captain Olli Jokinen to Phoenix for him.
Extra Defenseman: There are a few names to consider: John-Michael Liles, Brian Lee, Ryan Whitney, Paul Martin, and Tom Gilbert. Martin is the best fit here as he has a bit more experience than the others.
Ryan Miller is a lock to be the starting goalie for the Americans. Rick DiPietro has shown flashes of his talent in the past, but his injury problems have limited him to only a handful of games over the past year. Tim Thomas' workmanlike effort has endeared him to many fans around the NHL, and he is a good choice for a veteran backup. As for the third goalie, I am of the mindset that it should be for a young guy looking to get a taste of what the big tournaments are all about, and Schneider is the best young American goalie right now. He has dominated the AHL and will be doing the same in the NHL sooner rather than later.