It shouldn't take a miracle for Team USA to win gold at the Olympics these days, but the fact is the program hasn't taken top spot since Lake Placid in 1980. Sure, the Americans could have iced a great team had NHLers gone in 2018 - but you can't change the past. Luckily, some of the players who would have been young guns in South Korea are now superstars ready for Beijing and Team USA will have a number of elite talents on its side.
But is the squad good enough to go all the way? The Americans will benefit from an early test against Canada in the round robin, while also playing Germany and China. Barring something unforeseen, Team USA will make the playoff round and that's why we'll really see what this team is made of. As for who will be on that team, here's a look at a possible roster.
Each team is permitted a roster of 22 skaters (14 forwards, eight defensemen) and 3 goaltenders.
Matthew Tkachuk - Auston Matthews - Patrick Kane
Johnny Gaudreau - Jack Eichel - T.J. Oshie
James van Riemsdyk - Paul Stastny - Cam Atkinson
Brady Tkachuk - Joe Pavelski - Alex Tuch
J.T. Miller, Kyle Connor
The sizzle comes right at the top, as former U.S. NTDP linemates Tkachuk and Matthews are reunited with American legend Kane on the other wing. That combination of size, skill, skating and snarl will be a handful and the second line's not too shabby, either. That trio hinges on Eichel's health of course and if he can't go, the Americans will be a little thin down the middle.
Oshie gets the nod on the second line because he is Captain America in clutch situations, while Atkinson can bring both scoring and penalty-killing acumen to the lineup. As for the fourth line, that's just a nasty set of wingers to deal with, plus a clutch vet in Pavelski. Miller brings versatility to the spares, while Connor brings more offense and speed if needed. Others considered include Blake Wheeler and Kevin Hayes.
If there is one concern about Team USA's roster right now, it's line matching. Knowing Canada's centers, for example, will the two scoring lines get any breathing room or puck touches when facing the likes of Crosby, Bergeron, McDavid, MacKinnon and O'Reilly? Special teams will be crucial in that respect.
Zach Werenski - Adam Fox
Torey Krug - Charlie McAvoy
Jaccob Slavin - Brett Pesce
Quinn Hughes - Seth Jones
The defense corps was both the most fun to put together and the most agonizing. Simply put, the Americans have a ton of great options and some of the best also happen to be the youngest. So there's a bit of projection here in slotting in Quinn Hughes over Ryan McDonagh, the Tampa Bay warrior and veteran. As much as it pained me to leave McDonagh off, the man has played a lot of hockey the past two years.
Slavin and Pesce are the obvious shutdown pair, while Krug and McAvoy have familiarity from Krug's days in Boston. Fox is your top PP quarterback, while Werenski is the two-way leader. Jacob Trouba was another tough omission, while Keith Yandle was also considered thanks to his power play prowess. Jeff Petry could have been here, too.
In terms of minutes, you can pretty much throw all the pairings into a blender; there is talent everywhere.
Goaltending was pretty easy here because the candidates were so obvious and also so high-end. Hellebuyck is a Vezina winner with great size who will thrive with such a deep team in front of him, while Gibson has been known to steal the show on the international stage before. Knight is the youngster along for the ride and being in the Olympic atmosphere will be fantastic for the Florida phenom and he could very well be the starter in 2026.
Netminding is undoubtedly one of Team USA's greatest strengths in this tournament and they will arrive in China with one of the best trios in the Games.