By Allan Muir
The opening of the Sochi Games is just a year away, and while there’s still no formal agreement that NHL players will skate in the men’s hockey tournament, all signs point in that direction and league officials are to meet with the IIHF on Feb. 14 and 15 to discuss the matter.
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Coming off a surprising silver medal performance in 2010, Team USA will ice a competitive squad that is stacked in net, young and mobile on the blueline and aggressive, if not particularly deep, up front.
Here’s how we see Team USA lining up in Russia.
• Jonathan Quick (Kings): He’s off to a sluggish start this season, but at this point, the Conn Smythe winner is the presumptive No. 1 because of his proven big-game ability.
• Ryan Miller (Sabres): He hasn’t been the same player since the end of that 2009-10 season, but he doesn’t have anything to prove. The 2010 Olympic MVP is a lock to make this team.
• Cory Schneider (Canucks): The Senators’ Craig Anderson is lights out right now, but he’ll be 32 when the Games roll around. Schneider will be 27 and he has a future with the USA Hockey program, so he’ll get the call.
• Ryan Suter (Wild): He’ll be Mr. Everything on the American blueline.
• Jack Johnson (Blue Jackets): This two-way blueliner eats heavy minutes and is a tremendous presence. Look for him to wear the C.
• Ryan McDonagh (Rangers): He’s young, but used to playing heavy minutes against top forwards. He’s also great at taking away the lane and blocking shots.
• Keith Yandle (Coyotes): Strong transitional play and special teams expertise make him a safe bet for top-four minutes.
• Kevin Shattenkirk (Blues): He continues to develop into a reliable two-way player. Strong in transition, he doesn’t make many mistakes.
• Justin Faulk (Hurricanes): This youngster has shown a dramatic development curve. He can play in all situations, and his speed and hockey sense make him an ideal third-pairing guy.
• Zach Bogosian (Jets): When he’s healthy, he’s a beast. He can be the crease-clearing physical presence the Americans desperately need on the back end.
• Zach Parise (Wild): Team USA’s top all-around forward, he’ll be asked to lead the offense.
• Patrick Kane (Blackhawks): The dynamic, creative winger has rediscovered his game this season. He’s a lock for the first line.
• Bobby Ryan (Ducks): Big body, soft hands. He could play on either of the top two lines.
• Joe Pavelski (Sharks): He performed brilliantly in Vancouver and should assume a larger role in Sochi. Look for him to take all the big draws.
• Max Pacioretty (Canadiens): This dogged puck pursuer and volume shooter could earn a top-six role.
• Ryan Kesler (Canucks): He would be best used on the second unit, but a lack of elite centers could force him into a first-line role.
• Dustin Brown (Kings): He brings a physical presence and a knack for scoring big goals.
• Ryan Callahan (Rangers): He boasts leadership, smarts and a willingness to pay any price to win a game.
• David Backes (Blues): The big, physical pivot will center the shutdown line.
• T.J. Oshie (Blues): The buzzsaw winger will provide energy in a depth role.
• Jason Pominville (Sabres): Emerging as a reliable, two-way forward for the Sabres, he has the versatility to slide up or down the roster.
• Phil Kessel (Maple Leafs): America’s best natural finisher is off to a rough start with Toronto, but he’ll fill a top-six/power play role in Sochi.
• Alex Galchenyuk (Canadiens): It’s all projection at this point, but his speed, skill and creativity are made for the big ice. He could be a dynamic fill-in as the 13th forward, much like Jonathan Toews was for Canada in 2010.