Â• So far this season, it's been a good time to be young and American. Paul Stastny is among the NHL scoring leaders, Patrick Kane jumped straight from junior into a shootout clincher versus Dominik Hasek and Erik Johnson proved he belonged with the Blues before a minor injury setback.
What does this mean? It means the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver are going to be amazing, especially for North America.
Canada will make up for 2006's awkwardly composed squad by playing Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal (hey, maybe even brother Jordan for the PK), Jason Spezza, Dion Phaneuf, Shea Weber and Jonathan Toews, plus veterans Iginla, Smyth and Luongo. Look for a Joe Sakic swan song in his hometown.
But it's the Americans that have to get you thinking. I'm not saying they'd be favorites, but a dangerous sleeper pick, to be sure. Check out this hastily drawn-up roster I wrote on a cocktail napkin, a la Ron MacLean's hare-brained expansion Â“planÂ” he foisted upon Gary Bettman at last year's All-Star Game intermission show:
Goalies: Ryan Miller, Rick DiPietro, Jeff Frazee
Defense: Jordan Leopold, John-Michael Liles, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Hal Gill
Center: Paul Stastny, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Chris Higgins
Left Wing: Jason Blake, Erik Cole, Brian Rolston, Zach Parise
Right Wing: Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Brian Gionta, Mark Parrish
Spare: Kyle Okposo
Okay, okay; some explanations are obviously needed. First, you ask, who is Jeff Frazee? He's a Devils draft pick and a Minnesota Golden Gopher who also happens to be nearly unbeatable in international play. I'm not saying he'll get any playing time in Vancouver, but fostering that kind of talent by having him there will do the U.S. some mighty good down the road. Isles pick (and another Gopher) Kyle Okposo also falls into this category.
Toronto's Hal Gill is essentially the seventh defenseman, but in a game against, say, Canada, his 6-foot-7, 250-pound frame and penalty-killing acumen becomes mighty useful.
Assuming Jordan Leopold's hip doesn't disintegrate, or he doesn't fall down a well, he'll be a cagey vet by the time 2010 rolls around. And Erik and Jack Johnson will be playing their third years in the NHL, generally the season when stars take off.
At forward, Stastny leads a devastatingly fast scoring line with Toronto's Jason Blake and Kane on the wings. Scott Gomez and Chris Drury lead two more scoring lines, while Montreal's Chris Higgins leads a Â“fourth lineÂ” with Devils star Zach Parise (also hitting his prime in 2010) and Wild vet Mark Parrish.
The knock on the Americans in the past has been depth, but 2010 will be different. While the Modanos, Hatchers and Guerins will be out of the picture by then (Chelios could be player/coach), Brian Rafalski is another option on the blueline, as is Mike Komisarek. Lee Stempniak is a very capable fill-in at forward and former Canes teammates Kevyn Adams and Chad LaRose would be valuable grinders should the situation call for it. Plus, this is a few years away; you never know what James van Riemsdyk will learn at the University of New Hampshire.
Before now and Vancouver, other names will emerge. But one thing is for sure: Team USA will be competitive, really fun to watch and more than capable of stunning Canada on its home turf as payback for Salt Lake City.
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