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.
• 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.
• Zach Parise (Wild): Team USA's top all-around forward, he'll be asked to lead the offense.
• 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.