With news that hip surgery will keep Ryan Callahan from participating in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, there’s a roster spot open on Dean Lombardi’s squad. It’s been a controversial roster, with Lombardi and head coach John Tortorella prioritizing strength and grit as assets over offensive touch and speed.
While the team would appear to need all the scoring help they can muster, the construction of the team — with inclusions like Justin Abdelkader, Brandon Dubinsky, David Backes and Callahan himself — hasn’t favored putting the country’s best scoring talent up front.
Here are five options Team USA has to replace Callahan.
1. Phil Kessel
Kessel would appear to be the no-brainer here. His speed and transition scoring would be a valuable asset to a team that, on paper, looks slow and lacks the firepower of many of their opponents. Particularly in light of his outstanding, nearly Conn Smythe-winning performance in the playoffs, smart money should be on the former Gopher.
However, he doesn’t play a physical game and has been publicly criticized by coaches in the past for his inability to buy into systems. That’s the exact kind of thing that might have had Lombardi finish his selection process with Kessel on the outside to start, right or wrong.
2. Tyler Johnson
Though he doesn’t have a Cup ring, Johnson has been one of the best playoff performers over the last two years. He might be small, but he’s shown no shortage of toughness and an ability to play through injuries, something that should appeal to the Lombardi/Tortorella brain trust.
He’s a great scorer, which is, again, something the U.S. will need. Last season in the playoffs he put up 17 points in 17 games, and over the last two playoff runs he has 20 goals and 40 points in 43 games. It would be a shame if the open roster spot didn’t go to Kessel or Johnson.
3. Bobby Ryan
Though we know he can’t spell intensity, Ryan should get serious consideration. He’s not the dynamic threat he once was, but he’s still putting up good numbers and was a contributor with the Senators last season. Working against him is that he’s bringing a similar skill set to Johnson and Kessel, but isn’t quite at the same level as them at this point.
4. Paul Stastny
Stastny, like Johnson, offers the team an option who could play center or wing, giving them a little more flexibility. Having another center isn’t a necessity, but it’s also not a bad thing. Stastny is coming off a strong postseason performance and has ample experience at the international level. His two-way play may be the best of this group and that should appeal to a management group who looks like they’re preparing to try and win games 1-0.
5. Kyle Okposo
Okposo may be the prototypical player that management could look for to replace Callahan. He has offensive ability, but also brings the physical presence and strength that appears to carry value for the team’s architects. Okposo’s offensive talents are nothing to be scoffed at, but he also doesn’t quite rise to the level of what Kessel or Johnson is capable of.
The argument for going against Kessel or Johnson may be nothing more than that the team is already too deep down the Lombardi rabbit hole. Adding a player who doesn’t fit that mold, the argument would go, adds a player who doesn’t have a clear role on the team and could prevent a total buy-in to what they’re doing. A player who fits that mold helps see the fruition of the GM’s plan.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.