Phil Kessel (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ryan Callahan’s off-season hip surgery to repair a labral tear will sideline him for five months, meaning he’ll be forced to miss the World Cup. Team USA GM Dean Lombardi will have to replace Callahan, and there are several players who could take his place.
The American roster is going to need an adjustment before September’s World Cup after it was announced Tuesday that Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ryan Callahan will be forced to miss the tournament.
Callahan, 31, underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a labral tear in his right hip, and the expected recovery time for the surgery is five months, meaning Callahan isn’t expected to return to action until November, at the earliest. In all likelihood, the veteran winger could be out until at least December and maybe longer depending on what type of time is needed to get him back up to game speed before his return. All that is to say that not only have the Lightning lost a piece of their roster, but so has USA’s World Cup squad.
Luckily, there are still months to go before the tournament, and it’s not as if USA was at the bottom of the barrel when they were picking Callahan for their World Cup team. There are a number of players who could replace Callahan on the roster, and here are five of the top candidates:
5. Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators
It was once infamously said that Ryan couldn’t spell “intense,” but ask him to spell “score” and he wouldn’t have much trouble. Ryan is coming off of a 22-goal, 56-point season, and while he may not bring the exact attributes that Callahan has, Ryan’s big enough, strong enough and has enough experience to be an asset to the American team.
It’s been a while since Ryan was really on Team USA’s radar, though. He hasn’t played at a World Championship since 2011-12, was passed over for the Sochi Olympics — that’s where the intense line came from — and he wasn’t an original pick for the World Cup. But in his last foray into international competition, Ryan came to play. At the 2012 World Championship, Ryan scored five goals and seven points in eight games.
4. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils
Whether his past campaign was a flash in the pan or not is yet to be seen, but it’s hard to ignore that Palmieri was tied for fourth in goal scoring by American born players in 2015-16 with 30 tallies. It was double his career high, but that was in part because he was given more opportunity in New Jersey than he ever was in Anaheim.
The concern, though, is that Palmieri isn’t exactly going to fit anywhere but 5-on-5. He excelled on the Devils’ power play during the past season, but does he fit on either of the top American units? That’s somewhat unlikely, unless he’s an injury replacement on the second unit. He didn’t play much on the penalty kill in New Jersey, either.
What he does boast that Callahan doesn’t, though, is speed. Palmieri has wheels, and in a tournament that is sure to be up-and-down, that would be a good asset.
3. Paul Stastny, St. Louis Blues
Callahan was in part brought in because he was reliable at both ends of the ice. If the American roster is looking for someone who can be just as reliable, Stastny may be the guy. The main issue, of course, is that Stastny isn’t a natural winger, so the replacement wouldn’t be one-for-one. But having someone with Stastny’s versatility on the roster can be an excellent asset.
Stastny was injured for part of the past season and may have some bumps and bruises to heal from after a run to the Western Conference final, but he played well down the stretch and scored three goals and 13 points in 20 post-season games. During the regular season, he notched 10 goals and 49 points. And that’s while averaging only 20 seconds less per game on the penalty kill than Callahan.
Stastny’s not a perfect trade off, but he’s an intriguing option.
2. Kyle Okposo
Let’s run down Okposo’s qualifications. He’s a three-time 20-goal scorer, two-time 60-point man, has a rocket of a shot and plays bigger than his 6-foot, 217-pound frame. Oh, and he’s a natural right winger, making it easy for him to slot right into the lineup.
Okposo is an interesting case, because he can be the kind of player to take over a game if he starts finding his groove. Other nights, though, he can sometimes get lost in the fray. But over the course of a short tournament, if the American team gets the Okposo who is playing like he’s from another planet, he could be one of the driving forces behind a gold-medal finish.
One potential knock against Okposo is that he’s never really played well on the international stage. He’s appeared in 23 total World Championship games but has only five goals and 11 points. That’s not bad, but it’s the definition of average. However, Okposo hasn’t played with Team USA over the past four years, which have included three of his very best seasons. He might be worth consideration.
1. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
The trouble is going to be Kessel’s defensive game. More specifically, it’s how his defensive game helps replace what American GM Dean Lombardi wanted to have on his roster with Callahan. Kessel and Callahan are far from the same player in a lot of ways, but there’s one big, and awfully important, area that Kessel is Callahan’s superior: scoring ability.
Kessel scored 26 goals and 59 points during the regular season. He added 10 goals and 22 points — and nearly a Conn Smythe Trophy — in the post-season. He was a key cog in a Stanley Cup championship. He’s got speed to burn, a wicked shot and was a dynamo at the 2014 Olympics with five goals and eight points in six games.
Over the past three seasons, Kessel is the fourth-highest scoring American player in the NHL with 88 goals and 200 points. Only four American players have been more effective with the extra man, only four have scored more game-winners and only one, Max Pacioretty, has been a better shot generator.
There are more reasons Kessel should be on the American roster than reasons he shouldn’t, but Lombardi constructed Team USA with a certain idea, certain role players, in mind. Kessel shouldn’t be left off the roster again, but he very well could be if Lombardi wants to replace Callahan with the most Callahan-esque player possible.