Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
With the World Cup of Hockey 2016 announcement looming, let's forecast the difficult-to-narrow-down American roster.
It was crazy enough to project a Team Canada roster before the 2016 World Cup of Hockey was even officially unveiled. And heck, that came more than a month after forecasting the Euro all-star team. Why stop there? Let's explore the American team, which includes much more agonizing decisions because the talent gaps are so tiny between the top players at each position.
Players are alphabetized by position. Keep in mind the forecast is for summer 2016. Also, some roster choices may change if the NHL announces players under 23 years old cannot play for their country and must suit up for the under-23 team.
Bishop could be a lock by this time next year if he can stay healthy and make a deep playoff run with the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring. Talent isn't the problem for him. I'd give him the inside track on the No. 2 job.
Quick has his warts, from his regular-season inconsistency to his occasional injuries, but he's still the money goalie you depend on in a Game 7 or a gold medal game. The starting gig is very much his to lose.
To me he's a better goalie than, say, Jimmy Howard, but Schneider seems forever unappreciated, even with career save percentage of .924. It wouldn't be a surprise if he lost out on one of USA's top three slots. Call it wishful thinking that I have him making the team, though. He deserves to.
On the bubble: Craig Anderson, John Gibson, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller
No one can justify leaving 'Big Buff' off the 2016 team if he maintains the all-word standard he's set this season in Winnipeg.
He made the 2014 team, and he's quietly getting better every year. The workhorse Carlson is the reason we'll likely see Mike Green on a team other than Washington next year, as much as Green might want to stay.
Buried on a horrible Carolina team, Faulk is one of the most underrated workhorses in the game. He plays everywhere – and often. It's hard to believe he's still only 22 right now.
The Americans need some strong skaters to move the puck in what will be high-speed competition. Fowler fits the bill, he made the U.S. Sochi roster, and he's still ascending. He'll only be 24 at the World Cup.
Like so many big blueliners before him, Johnson simply took a while to put his whole game together. He's playing the best hockey of his NHL career now.
We have our first lock on the blueline. The crisp-skating McDonagh will match up against the opposition's best. Would the U.S. form a true shutdown pair with him and Ryan Suter? Or split them up since they're both left shooters, and pair each with a more offensive guy?
Here's your power play quarterback. In terms of generating offense via pure puck movement, Shattenkirk is USA's best bet.
Suter should once again be The Guy to build around on the American blueline. He'll be a cagey vet at 31 by summer 2016 but still squarely in his prime.
On the bubble: Alex Goligoski, Torey Krug, Keith Yandle, Danny DeKeyser
The Americans will need Backes' imposing physicality to counter the Ryan Getzlafs and Evgeni Malkins of the world.
I surprised myself with this choice given the players Bjugstad beats out (see the bubble). But Bjugstad is 6-foot-6, he'll flirt with 30 goals in his second full NHL season and there's no telling where his game will be another year from now. The kid's a tank.
He brings most of what you'd get from Dustin Brown, who didn't make my team, except Callahan has a better scoring touch to accompany his prodigious crashing and banging.
Talk about a guy who wouldn't have made the bubble a year ago but looks almost indispensable now. Johnson has already proven he's not the product of Steven Stamkos – they aren't linemates in Tampa – and his wheels will be important against the U.S.' smooth-skating opposition.
Kane is the Americans' equivalent of Crosby, in that Kane is the superstar around which Team USA will build its offense. A lock.
HIs body breaks down now and then as he creeps into his 30s, but Kesler is still a powerful skater who can excel in a shutdown role.
Harp on him all you want. I won't. He scores goals. And he comes up far bigger in big games than he gets credit for. Kessel has 13 goals in 22 career playoff games. He also sniped five in six Olympic games last year.
The former first-rounder bloomed late and won't be denied a roster spot this time around. He can be a heart-and-soul player for the Americans. He'll bring brawn but can also function on a scoring line, as he does with John Tavares on Long Island.
The team wouldn't feel the same without T.J. Sochi. President Barack Obama has probably pre-sanctioned Oshie's roster spot.
'Patches' didn't show that strongly in Sochi, but he has a place on this team. He's one of the league's most underrated goal scorers, seventh among all NHLers in the past four seasons combined.
Parise should be one of the Americans' emotional leaders. He plays a responsible two-way game, and his speed and willingness to shoot a lot will play nicely on one of their top two scoring lines.
He's proven last year's offensive explosion was for real, and he can play important minutes for the U.S., whether it's scoring from the wing on the top power play unit or taking crucial defensive zone faceoffs as a third-liner.
Stepan has been a point-per-game player for more than 50 games dating back to last season. His game has reached new heights. Given his creativity as a playmaker, he wouldn't be out of place centering the Americans' top scoring line between, say, Kane and Parise.
James van Riemsdyk
He operates nicely in Phil Kessel's shadow, scoring at a consistent-30 goal pace and creating problems around the net because he's so athletic for his big, gangly frame. The U.S. powerplay needs JVR.
On the bubble: Dustin Brown, Nick Foligno, Chris Kreider, Brock Nelson, Jason Pominville, Bobby Ryan, Paul Stastny, Blake Wheeler, Colin Wilson
PRELIMINARY DEPTH CHART
Bjugstad (a stretch to play LW, but he'll make it work)
Jan 24. update: I've changed the U.S. roster following the announcement players 23 and under can only play for the Young Guns squad. No more Trouba or Gaudreau.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin