The United States men’s hockey team is set to play their first game on Thursday against China. Although the NHL decided to pull out of the Winter Olympics, the United States’ roster has some pretty interesting names on it.
Team USA has a handful of players to keep an eye on at the tournament, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to predict how the team will do. Yet, if these five players perform well, perhaps we could see them secure a medal. Here’s a look at the five players.
Hockey fans should be keeping a close eye on Matthew Beniers. The Massachusetts native was just selected second overall by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and they have to be feeling very confident about their decision. He’s dominating at the University of Michigan this season, with 16 goals and 36 points in 28 games. He is also coming off of a freshmen campaign where he had 24 points in just as many games. He could be with the Kraken as soon as next season.
Given the Kraken’s difficult season so far, it’s safe to say they will likely develop into a contender slowly. The 19-year-old center has the tools to become the player they build around, and this is the fans’ big chance to see him live.
Speaking of top-of-the-line prospects, Team USA sports another one in defenseman Jake Sanderson. The 19-year-old was selected fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators during the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he has been putting together a strong collegiate career with the University of North Dakota. After recording 15 points in 22 games as a freshman last season, he has seven goals and 24 points in 21 games in 2021-22. He is developing his offensive game, which should excite fans.
Participating in the Olympics will be a huge opportunity for Sanderson to build his argument to leave school early. However, it’s unsure when the 19-year-old will be able to arrive in Beijing. He is currently in COVID protocol and stuck in the States, but once he is cleared to go, he is expected to be a big part of the team’s lineup. Here’s to hoping he can join the team shortly.
Kenny Agostino should be a key player for the United States at the Olympics. Although he never dominated in the NHL, he’s been excellent in the American Hockey League (AHL) and the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL); in 22 games with the Toronto Marlies last season, he had nine goals and 22 total points, and his scoring touched hasn’t slowed down since he moved to the KHL, as he has 20 goals and 20 assists in 46 games with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod this season – solid numbers from the 29-year-old.
The competition during the Olympics should not be too different. Without NHLers, Agostino could dominate offensively and perhaps even help land him a contract back in the league next season. He had 13 points in 27 games with the New Jersey Devils during the 2018-19 season, his last in the NHL.
Pay attention to Drew Comesso during the Olympics. He is competing with Strauss Mann for the starting job and has a good shot at securing it. However, even if he doesn’t, he should still see some game action. This should excite Chicago Blackhawks fans, as he is considered their top goaltending prospect.
Commesso is in his sophomore season with Boston University. In 24 appearances this season, he has a 12-8-3 record, 2.48 goals-against average, and .915 save percentage. Overall, it’s been a very solid year for the 19-year-old, and he should be able to translate it to the tournament.
Steve Kampfer may become the team’s veteran leader on defense. The 33-year-old has had a long professional career, and he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. In fact, since moving to the KHL this season, he’s been excellent. In 46 games with AK Bars Kazan, he has 11 goals and 19 assists. If he can provide that kind of production for the United States, they will be in very good shape.
Kampfer spent the three previous seasons as a depth defenseman with the Boston Bruins. His final campaign wasn’t too bad, as he had two goals and three assists in 20 games. His vast experience in the NHL and AHL should earn him a letter on his jersey for the tournament.
These five players are my stand-outs, but you could make a case for every other player on the roster. We will see what the United States can do with their primarily young team starting on Thursday. Veterans like Agostino and Kampfer will be excellent to have around, but the kids will likely have most of the limelight.
Michael DeRosa is a contributor who covers the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. Since 2017, he’s written and edited for numerous websites. Besides his work for THW, you can also find him on NHLTradeRumors.me, BBallRumors.com, BaseballRumors.me, FootballRumors.me and The Rat Trick.