Team USA debating Ryan Callahan replacement for World Cup

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22: Tyler Johnson #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning collides with Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the third period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

Team USA World Cup of Hockey general manager Dean Lombardi believed he had an important commodity in forward Ryan Callahan.

To Lombardi, Callahan was going to provide necessary leadership to the group. Lombardi compared Callahan to Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner on the 2010 United States Olympic team — guys who weren’t the top offensive performers on the team but players that gave it the right attitude in the big moments.

In late June it was announced Callahan would be out five months after hip surgery, which opened up a coveted roster spot on Team USA.

“Obviously he plays a certain type of game, but he also brought the Drury element,” Lombardi said. “If he’s not going to be there the issue is going to be do we maybe look for a little something different. He’s a Drury and that doesn’t exist on trees.”

Added Lombardi, “Those guys were there for leadership. It’s one of the things we talked about. People said, ‘why are you taking Drury and Langenbrunner?’ They were perfect for what we wanted them for.”

Team USA team can go a couple different directions on Callahan’s replacement.

They can try to find a player like Callahan, who is known as one of the better two-way wingers in the NHL, or opt to go a different direction to a add a different type of dimension to the team.

“It’s hard because the minute you lose a player I think two things come into your head. You think ‘how do we best replace that player’ or ‘OK, parts of him are not replaceable, what do we do to best beef up and give another weapon to the coach’ type thing. And those discussions could be all over the map,” Team USA director of hockey operations Jim Johannson said. “Obviously Ryan Callahan is a premier penalty killer in the league so are you looking for a premier penalty killer or, ‘OK, other guys are going to have to pick up the slack there and now we have an opportunity to put something else in the lineup?’”

The choice on Callahan’s replacement has drawn interest from the hockey community mainly because talented (and polarizing) Pittsburgh Penguins sniper Phil Kessel was not part of Team USA’s roster announced in late May and could be an option to join the team.

Callahan’s injury in some ways creates a referendum on Kessel and what Team USA’s staff, run by Lombardi, thinks of the scorer. Kessel reportedly came in second place in Conn Smythe Trophy voting given to playoff MVP but there’s a belief that Kessel isn’t a rounded all-around player, and Team USA seemed to pick a group that fits the grinding 200-foot system of coach John Tortorella.

“I think particularly when you look at some of the match ups, we have a lot of talent but I think it’s critical to win this thing we have to have a team and we need an identity,” said Lombardi who tried to use the history of the 1996 US World Cup team as a guide for building this collection of players.

The group of options to replace Callahan could include Buffalo Sabres winger Kyle Okposo, Tampa Bay Lightning center Tyler Johnson, New Jersey Devils winger Kyle Palmieri along with Kessel. All have their own attributes but all are different players than Callahan.

“Dean is the GM so ultimately this rests with Dean but obviously it’s a group process with Paul Holmgren, Brian Burke and myself. Especially when you get down to this type scenario, Torts would be involved in that,” Johannson said. “A lot of this has to do with how a coach is hopefully going to use players. Performance dictates that, so you can have best laid plans but again I think it’s safe to say we’re all in the fact-finding because we all have a lot of facts. We’re all examining what we think is best for this group of players and taking the feedback certainly from the coach, but also the thoughts of the management going into it.”

Lombardi said the Team USA management group will discuss Callahan’s replacement further Wednesday with deeper talks later in the week. Johannson predicted some final choice will come in August.

“The reality on the timing is technically you don’t have to name a replacement until 24 hours before the start of the tournament,” Johannson said. “Obviously we’re not going to wait that long and let the player know – I’m just guessing here that it’ll be sometime in August that we’ll make that decision and make sure the player knows more importantly for his preparation and preparedness for the event.”

Kessel recently underwent hand surgery, and it’s unclear if that may knock him out of the running for the World Cup. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford wasn’t worried that Kessel would be fine for training camp, but this starts later than the World Cup. The Penguins haven’t released any further details about Kessel, such as which hand is injured or the nature of the issue.

Team USA is monitoring players on their health, which also plays a role in potential upcoming roster decisions. Because of the shortness of this particular offseason it’s hard to know where players currently are with healing injuries.

“The hard part is you might have some guys getting their body healthy and they’re getting ready to really start training or some guys might be six weeks into a pretty vigorous training already,” Johannson said. “We really don’t involve ourselves with the individual player as far as what their preparation is except ‘here is what the mindset of our team is going to be. Be prepared for that.’”


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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!