NHL U.S. defenseman rankings tiers: Why Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy are in an elite class

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With the 2022 Winter Olympics fast approaching and NHL players still on track to participate, excitement is growing for American fans.

(Not over Team USA's new sweaters, unless Patrick Kane will be playing rugby in Beijing. But USA Hockey has answered the nagging question of what the men's national team would look like if Mike Ditka designed the jerseys.)

The U.S. team's goaltending depth is stronger than Canada's. The team has forwards like Auston Matthews, which is great, although not "Canada great," considering our friends from the North could have Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon playing on their second line.

But the most fascinating part of the potential Team USA roster is the defense, because the growth of that position in this hockey nation has itself been fascinating.

The country has produced Hall of Fame defensemen like Phil Housley, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Mark Howe. The current crop has the potential to yield a few more.

Here's a look at the state of American defensemen, taking into account recent history and their starts to the season. We've ranked them in tiers according to our own observations and with input from those we informally polled, including Chelios, now an ESPN studio analyst.