December 31, 2009
(Ed. Note: No Puck Previews this evening; please join us again in the morning for Three Stars, Winter Classic news and, of course, our Winter Classic live blog at 12:30 p.m. EST. Happy and healthy New Year, everyone.)
The U.S. Olympic team will be announced after the Winter Classic on Friday, as USA Hockey officials make the proclamations on the Fenway Park ice while Boston youth hockey players skate out wearing the jerseys of the chosen few. Wouldn't it be great if smurf-ish Montreal Canadiens winger Brian Gionta(notes) made the team and it was revealed his youth hockey avatar was actually Brian Gionta?
Alas, Brian Gionta will not be on the 2010 roster, at least based on a review of expert predictions and our own projections. Who will? There are locks at every position, but some of the biggest surprises could be found on the blue line.
Coming up, the Probable and the Bubbles for Team USA 2010, the 30th anniversary of the greatest moment of Al Michaels's career.
Jonathan Quick(notes) is our choice, and increasingly the consensus choice, for the No. 3 goalie sport for the 2010 squad. He was the third goalie at Olympic orientation camp during the summer, has improved as the season has progressed for the Los Angeles Kings and, at 24, is clearly the U.S. goalie of the future.
The only other player in the conversation is Craig Anderson(notes), who's been outstanding in making the Colorado Avalanche a playoff contender this season. But he'll be 29 next year; USA Hockey gains more with Quick riding shotgun here.
The Probable: Mike Komisarek(notes), Toronto Maple Leafs; Paul Martin(notes), New Jersey Devils; Brooks Orpik(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins; Brian Rafalski(notes), Detroit Red Wings; Ryan Suter(notes), Nashville Predators.
Just like with Team Canada, we're looking at about two open spots out of seven on the blue line; and just like with Team Canada, someone's going to feel like their guy was jobbed out of the Winter Games.
Erik Johnson(notes) (St. Louis Blues) and Jack Johnson(notes) (Los Angeles Kings) are right on the bubble. The Blues D-man has had a better season statistically than the Kings blue-liner, although both players have logged considerable ice time on average. Both are U.S. National Team Development Program products with international experience.
Scuds plays for Dean Lombardi's Los Angeles Kings, and Lombardi thought enough of him to sign him as a blue-chip free agent last summer.
Selecting the 31-year-old is a gamble, because he doesn't have anywhere near the tournament experience as the Johnson boys do. But he is a shutdown defender in the mode of (or at least the spirit of) Komisarek and his former Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Orpik. Seeing the offensive firepower pointed at the U.S. from other nations in the Olympics, that's huge.
Now, let it be known that Rich Hammond, the Kings' beat writer, doesn't list Scuds among the Olympic probables. So it could be Johnson and Johnson, despite our wishful thinking.
Wild cards: Andy Greene(notes) of the New Jersey Devils, who may have played himself onto this team in the last three months ala Patrice Bergeron(notes) in Canada; Ron Hainsey(notes) of the Atlanta Thrashers; and Keith Ballard(notes) of the Florida Panthers. Tom Gilbert(notes) of the Edmonton Oilers, a player very much in this conversation last summer, has played himself off the roster with nine points in 40 games.
The Probable: David Backes(notes), St. Louis Blues; Chris Drury(notes), New York Rangers; Patrick Kane(notes), Chicago Blackhawks; Ryan Kesler(notes), Vancouver Canucks; Phil Kessel(notes), Toronto Maple Leafs; Jamie Langenbrunner(notes), New Jersey Devils; Ryan Malone(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning; Zach Parise(notes), New Jersey Devils; Joe Pavelski(notes), San Jose Sharks; Bobby Ryan(notes), Anaheim Ducks; Paul Stastny(notes), Colorado Avalanche.
Now, there may be some eyes bulging at the prospect of Drury being cemented as an Olympian with the year he's had. But he's on nearly every projected roster we've seen; and as a two-time Olympian, he's a valuable voice of experience for a bunch of newbies.
His Rangers teammate, Ryan Callahan(notes), is getting chatted up big time as a depth forward and could make the cut. But our eyes are on two other players to fill the final two spots at forward: Paul Gaustad(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres and Dustin Brown(notes) of the Los Angeles Kings.
If GM Brian Burke is serious about building a team rather than a collection of names, then Gaustad is a quintessential role player to that end: The best faceoff man in the NHL this season (62.1, tied with Zenon Konopka(notes) of the Lightning) and a player of impressive versatility. He doesn't have any international experience and wasn't at orientation camp; but he's a Burkian player.
As for Dustin Brown: Good international experience, has been a leader for the Kings and plays the type of game Burke looks for in this team. But most of all: He was in the promo photo shoot with the fancy shots! Of course he's in!