Here's how we predict Team USA's World Cup of Hockey squad will look:
We know not having access to Alex Galchenyuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Brandon Saad -- all of whom are expected to be on Team North America -- hurts Team USA. But there are still excellent forwards who will not be on this team, as was the case in Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Games. That's how deep the talent pool is for USA Hockey.
Tyler Johnson's emergence as a top-end center with playoff experience for the Tampa Bay Lightning helps Team USA immeasurably as it allows Joe Pavelski and Derek Stepan to settle into a two/three role with Ryan Kesler (and/or David Backes) anchoring a hard-hitting fourth line with good offensive up-side.
It will be interesting to see if Nick Foligno can follow up his breakout year in Columbus -- he led all American-born players with 73 points last season. If he can't, Chris Kreider could slot in as another left-handed shot. Nick Bjugstad will be in the mix if he continues his strong play from the second half of last season with the Florida Panthers; while Bobby Ryan (if he bounces back), Kyle Okposo, Ryan Callahan, Paul Stastny and Jason Pominville all could move into consideration.
Bottom line, this should be a strong, deep, hard-working squad that'll stack up nicely against the competition. And yes, we have Patrick Kane on this roster until the league and/or the courts tell us otherwise.
Likewise Seth Jones and/or Jacob Trouba might have made a difficult choice for U.S. general manager Dean Lombardi even more onerous, but as it stands the management team of Lombardi, Brian Burke and Paul Holmgren will once again have to wrestle with a large group of World Cup worthy defenders, including Jack Johnson and Keith Yandle -- both of whom were in strong contention for spots in Sochi but did not make the final cut. Both will be struggle to make this squad as well.
One major difference between Sochi 2014 and Toronto in 2016 is whether size and physicality will play a larger part in the discussion with games played on the NHL ice surface compared to the larger Olympic surface in Sochi.
Does Erik Johnson, a stalwart on the U.S. silver medal team from Vancouver, play his way back into consideration? Given that, is there room for two-time Olympian and heart and soul guy Brooks Orpik on the squad? Does Alec Martinez from Lombardi's Los Angeles Kings team shoulder his way into the discussion? Or Nick Leddy?
No matter how you slice and dice it, this will be a tough, skilled group on the back end and good players are going to be left behind.
Hard to imagine these wouldn't be the three U.S. netminders if you picked the team right now. The question is how do you rank them?
Quick has two Stanley Cups and a playoff MVP award on his resume, but the Kings missed the playoffs last season and it was Bishop who took his Lightning to the Stanley Cup finals. Meanwhile, there might be a case for Schneider as the top American goaltender last season with his .925 save percentage with a woeful New Jersey Devils team. The Devils aren't likely to be near the playoffs again this season, but Schneider's play will be key to figuring out where to slot him in the pantheon of U.S. goaltenders.