The American squad was constructed solely to beat high-powered Canada. A genius move or have they outsmarted themselves by leaving talent at home?
THN is rolling out team previews, twice a day, for each of the eight teams taking part in the World Cup.
- Saturday, Sept. 17 vs. Europe
- Tuesday, Sept. 20 vs. Canada
- Thursday, Sept. 22 vs. Czech Republic
IIHF World Ranking: 4th
THN’s Prediction: 4th
Team USA courted controversy immediately when Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader was announced as one of the first 16 players on the roster. But GM Dean Lombardi wasn’t done there, adding Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan (who later pulled out due to injury) to the team with two of the final spots. That meant big-time talents such as Tyler Johnson and Phil Kessel were left at home in favor of guys who can grind and crash around the boards. Not coincidentally, truculence collector Brian Burke is a senior advisor with the team.
Will the gambit pay off? The logic, as Lombardi said, was to construct a team that could beat Canada and one in which every player knew his role immediately. Defeating Canada is still a tall order and the bigger fear is the potential semifinal date with a skilled team from Group B.
The American defense may also be in for a rude awakening, since top talents Seth Jones and Shayne Gostisbehere were pledged to Team North America. In their stead are Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson, who will likely be targeted as marks by skilled players from other teams. That puts the onus on elite blueliners such as Ryan McDonagh and John Carlson to leap to the rescue if things get chaotic.
On the positive side, the Americans are blessed with a huge dollop of talent up front, led by Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski and Blake Wheeler. The team has great size and if they can convince other squads to get into physical battles, they’ll have an advantage on most occasions. And when you have Jonathan Quick in net (or Ben Bishop or Cory Schneider), your team always has a chance to win. So the Americans may not play the prettiest hockey in the world – and with John Tortorella as coach, that’s practically a guarantee – but they will be a dangerous squad to meet.
But there is another caveat on this roster: age. Many of the Americans are over 30 and hockey is increasingly a young man’s game. The tournament necessitates a short summer and for those who battled long into the playoffs (David Backes, for example), the hill becomes even steeper to climb. Will speedy opponents expose the older players, or will that be saved for later on in the NHL season? For Team USA’s sake, the hope is that the veterans mapped out a summer that allowed their bodies to heal, while still maintaining a conditioning routine allowing them to return to regular season form about a month earlier than usual.
At the least, the Americans will benefit from games against the Czechs and Team Europe in the round-robin. They are guaranteed one match against the Canadians and they’ll have to make it count, because the competition in the crossover means they might only get one shot.
Nobody on Team USA’s World Cup roster has more game-changing ability than DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN, yet, somehow, he’s the only member of the squad making his international debut for the red, white and blue. Byfuglien can control games with his physical presence, booming slapshot and sound defensive play. On a blueline that has some high-end skill, Byfuglien topped the crew in scoring last season with 19 goals and 53 points for the Jets.
In Ben Bishop, Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider, the U.S. has three of the best goalies on the planet. The trio finished 2-3-6 in Vezina voting in 2015-16, and each is capable of carrying a team and stealing wins consistently. Expect that to come into play for a squad that left three of its top 10 scorers from the past two seasons – Phil Kessel, Kyle Okposo and Nick Foligno – at home in favor of more grit and defensive responsibility.