Jim Neveau, Blackhawks Correspondent
Woodridge, IL – Now that the US Olympic Men’s Hockey Orientation Camp has come and gone, it is time to dissect where exactly the team is in terms of his make-up going into the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Brian Burke made the comment today that there are between 14 and 16 players who he considers “locked in” for the roster for the team, and also agreed with a questioner who said that the team would likely be comprised of 8 defensemen, 12 forwards, and 3 goaltenders.
The question, of course, then becomes this: who are the guys who are locked into the squad? Of the remaining 9 to 11 spots, how many of them will be guys who weren’t at the camp this week? With Keith Tkachuk and Rick DiPietro not attending the camp, it is possible that there will be at least one or two guys who will be included on the final roster, to be announced at the end of the year.
Since I’ve spent the last three days watching these players, and there have been subtle hints dropped by GM Brian Burke and others, here is my “expert” opinion on which players will comprise the US roster at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver:
Players I consider to be “locks” will be listed in bold:
David Backes, David Booth, Dustin Brown, Dustin Byfuglien, Chris Drury, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Ryan Malone, Mike Modano, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski
Ron Hainsey, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Mike Komisarek, Paul Martin, Brian Rafalski, Ryan Suter, Ryan Whitney
Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Tim Thomas
Next in Line:
Rick DiPietro, Scott Gomez, Brooks Orpik, Bobby Ryan, Paul Stastny
I included Mike Modano and Joe Pavelski, and left off Stastny, mostly because Stastny has been injured recently, and playing for a team like Colorado may hinder his ability to rack up numbers. Modano may then get brought in by default to anchor the third or fourth line.
On the defensive side of the puck, conventional wisdom would indicate that Brooks Orpik would likely be the guy on defense, but if Jack Johnson can continue to display the skill that he showed at Orientation Camp, Burke may have a tough time not bringing his youth and enthusiasm to Vancouver.
Goalie-wise, I think this team is pretty well set with Miller, Thomas, and Quick on the depth chart. There isn’t much to improve upon with that area, but DiPietro could crash the party if Quick gets off to a slow start this season and Rick can come back from his injury woes.
With this make-up of the team in mind, I went ahead and created some lines for the squad. It may be a bit premature to start making these kind of decisions, but hey, who am I to argue with a little bit of reckless prognosticating?
Left Wing: Parise Center: Backes Right Wing: Kane
Left Wing: Booth Center: Pavelski Right Wing: Kessel
Left Wing: Malone Center: Kesler Right Wing: Brown
Left Wing: Drury Center: Modano Right Wing: Byfuglien
Line 1: Rafalski-Komisarek
Line 2: Whitney-E. Johnson
Line 3: Martin-J. Johnson
Line 4: Suter-Hainsey
I like the idea of pairing a physical player with a more polished offensive player, so the first line of Rafalski and Komisarek is an ideal pairing. The Whitney-Johnson line could be very good in this department as well.
On the offensive side, the Parise-Backes-Kane line is going to be an absolute beast for teams to deal with. Zach and Patrick are going to give guys headaches with their speed and athleticism, and Backes can beat guys with both his offensive prowess and his physical defensive play.
The second line with Kessel and Pavelski will also be a bit of a hassle for other teams. The third line combo of Malone, Brown, and Kesler is an absolute monster full of two-way players who can do well offensively and physically.
The fourth line would be an interesting one. Modano is an aging player who can likely still score some points, but he has been relegated to playing a checking line role with Dallas, so this role would be fine for him with the US team. Byfuglien would be a good player offensively for the line, and his 6 foot 3 frame is ideally suited for a checking line role. Also, Chris Drury is a good two-way player as well.
There are a lot of hard decisions that are going to have to be made regarding the US team in the next couple of months. Obviously, a lot of these players could change roles during the upcoming season, or get hurt and knock themselves out of contention. It will be an interesting fall to say the least. With the remote control in hand, let’s get the try-out known as the season under way!