A year from now, the Olympic hockey tournament will be underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Will Max Talbot be wearing the "C" for Canada? Will Team USA be led by a bunch of college kids, a la the 1980 Miracle on Ice group? I don't think so.
With the International Olympic Committee, NHL and NHLPA meeting last week, I'm more and more optimistic a deal will be struck that sees the NHL continue its Olympic participation -- which means Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid will be center stage at the Games' most important tournament.
Here's my predicted Team USA roster for the 2018 Winter Olympics:
Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres down the middle lead what might be the fastest forward group an American team has ever iced at the Olympics. The other projected centers are veterans Ryan Kesler -- who is having an outstanding season for the Anaheim Ducks -- and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks. Tyler Johnson and Charlie Coyle, who is a natural center but has played most of the year on the wing for the Minnesota Wild, also will be in the mix. I gave the nod to youngsters Johnny Gaudreau, J.T. Miller (who can also play center) and Brandon Saad on the left side with Montreal captain Max Pacioretty adding veteran presence, although James van Riemsdyk, the speedy Chris Kreider, veteran Zach Parise and Nick Foligno also should get a look. The right side might be the most dangerous group for Team USA, led by Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel, who won't have to tweet about being somewhere else when the Olympics are over. You have to figure Cam Atkinson, Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie have the inside track at rounding out the 13 forwards, with perennially overlooked Kyle Okposo knocking on the door.
This overall group of defensemen should be able to transition the puck as well as any at the Olympics with its smarts and strong skating ability. A good balance of right and left shots in the defensive pairings is important for Team USA. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski play together for the Columbus Blue Jackets and give the defensive corps a nice youthful jolt. I repatriated Cam Fowler, a member of the 2014 U.S. team in Sochi, given his renaissance season for the Anaheim Ducks. Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes also will get a long look, as will the Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen, who might have been Team USA's best player at the World Cup of Hockey.
This group has a ton of question marks, including the long-term injury Jonathan Quick is dealing with. Assuming he's fully recovered, he's in the mix as a No. 1, but it'll be interesting to see how a maturing John Gibson, named to Team North America last fall, plays in the playoffs for an Anaheim Ducks team that once again has Stanley Cup aspirations. I gave Cory Schneider the nod as the No. 3 in spite of an up-and-down season for the New Jersey Devils, but Ryan Miller (remember 2010?) of the Vancouver Canucks and Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators are also part of the discussion, as is Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- if he can regain his form. Still, a position that has long been considered a strength for the U.S. is now surrounded by uncertainty.