Projected goalies: Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings) and Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings)
Discussion: Goaltending is the USA's chief strength, and Cory Schneider (Vancouver Canucks) could also be the the No. 3, depending upon how much he plays this season and next. The wild card is Craig Anderson (Ottawa Senators). If he continues to play as well as he has in the early going this season, he has to be considered.
Agreed with the first two picks, but not sure I'd take Howard as the three right now. If the choice was now, it would be pretty unquestionably Anderson. Not that the third goalie should have to make too big an impact, but you never know. The real interesting thing is do you give Miller the job, hoping he catches the magic from 2010, or do you give Quick the job based on last season? Neither is playing particularly amazing right now, but luckily we've got a year to sort that out.
Projected centers: Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Paul Stastny (Colorado Avalanche), Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks) and David Backes (St. Louis Blues)
Discussion: The Americans' problem area is at center. They have quality players at the position, but no superstars. It's not like the 1990s when the Americans could send out Pat LaFontaine, Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, Doug Weight and big, gritty Joel Otto just to keep you honest. On paper, the Americans don't measure up at center against a Canadian team that can offer Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Joe Thornton and John Tavares at center. Plus, the Americans have to be concerned about Kesler's health. He has had more than his fair share of medical woes. Because this is an area of concern, Derek Stepan and maybe even role players Justin Abdelkader and Brian Boyle are very much in the mix. They might be a good fit as fourth line role players. The Americans might even consider using James van Riemsdyk at center. If you like long shots, think about Montreal Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk. It seems highly unlikely he would be ready for such a big stage. But he is richly skilled.
Agreed with the choices. They don't have elite scoring at C, but all four of these guys is quality, and Backes combines grit with offensive pop. Stepan would be an okay choice, as would Galchenyuk if he's deemed ready. But if we're talking about Abdelkader and Boyle, we're in trouble.
Projected left wings: Zach Parise (Minnesota Wild), Max Pacioretty (Montreal), Van Riemsdyk (Toronto Maple Leafs) and T.J. Oshie (St. Louis)
Discussion: Anaheim Ducks winger Bobby Ryan is still very much in the mix, and it's hard to believe that the USA wouldn't have room for a proven 30-goal scorer. But Parise is a lock, and Pacioretty and Van Riemsdyk are younger players on the rise. Oshie seems like a good fit because he is an energy guy who can make things happens offensively.
No way our team can afford to pass on a proven scorer like Ryan. I would imagine JVR is still a question mark, as he's yet to take the step we all expected. Oshie is a decent option, but we have a lot of those energy guys already.
Projected right wings: Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), Phil Kessel (Toronto), Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers) and Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
Discussion: Kane is even more dangerous on big ice, and Kessel can also take advantage of the extra 15 feet with his speed. Callahan and Brown are highly desirable because they can play at a high level offensively and provide physical play.
No brainer choices here and arguably the biggest strength outside of goaltending. Two elite scorers and two gritty forwards with great offensive touch.
Projected 13th forward: Jason Pominville (Buffalo)
Discussion: He has been one of the league's more consistent scorers over the past few seasons, and given the way he is playing this season he could easily find a place in the top six in Sochi. He has scored between 20 and 34 goals over the past six seasons. Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets) could be in the hunt if someone in the top 13 falters.
There's no doubt that this guy needs to be a regular in the lineup. He probably can't crack the top four RW, which is saying a lot since he's one of the better players in the league the past two seasons. Even if he has to play out of the position, we need Pominville out there.
Projected defensemen: Jack Johnson (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Suter (Minnesota), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Erik Johnson (Colorado), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins), Justin Faulk (Carolina Hurricanes) and Keith Yandle (Phoenix Coyotes).
Discussion: The American defense is far from settled. Jack Johnson and Suter are locks, and Shattenkirk is playing too well to ignore. As a rule, U.S.-born general managers love Orpik's edgy defensive game. Faulk is viewed as a rising star. Erik Johnson isn't the lock he once was. Yandle's offensive skill makes him attractive. Ryan McDonagh (Rangers) is probably next on the American list, and he would probably make the top seven on some lists. Alex Goligoski, Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, John Carlson and Paul Martin are solidly in the mix. Goligoski played well at last spring's World Championships, and Martin is a versatile defender. Dustin Byfuglien is a force at the NHL level, but it's unknown about whether he would be effective on the big ice surface. It's not unthinkable that the committee might look at him as a fourth-line forward. If the selection committee decides the team needs more grit, Tim Gleason could be in the mix.
No way McDonaugh doesn't make the team. At this point, I'm not sure I see Faulk as a top six, as he'll only be 21 and I haven't seen the rise some are claiming. Have to be careful with too much of a gritty guy on big ice, but Orpik still has a chance. I can envision one of Goligoski or Fowler making it, and John Carlson has a chance if he can get things on track again. I still love the idea of Byfuglien as a secret weapon to annoy the other goalie (especially if its Luongo).