Imaginary NHL Olympics 2022: Projecting USA's roster - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Imaginary NHL Olympics 2022: Projecting USA's roster

If the NHL sent players to the Beijing Olympics in 2022, what would Team USA's roster look like?
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James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

I drafted up an imaginary 2022 Olympic men’s roster for Canada earlier this week, and it whetted the heck out of my appetite. Can’t stop now. I’ll have to project out teams for each of the major nations, despite the fact the tournament is a long shot to happen with NHLers.

You can read my projected Canada here. Next up, a team that, on paper, looks stronger than the Canadian squad on defense and in goal: USA. Ages as of Feb. 4, 2022.

FORWARD LINE 1: Matthew Tkachuk (24), Auston Matthews (24), Patrick Kane (33)

This would be one of the tournament’s most dominant lines. Matthews reunites with his good friend and former U.S. NTDP linemate in Tkachuk. Kane’s sublime puck skills join with Matthews’ shooting ability and Tkachuk’s forechecking prowess to create a balanced trio.

FORWARD LINE 2: Johnny Gaudreau (28), Jack Eichel (25), Brock Boeser (24)

The Americans’ second line looks like another first line. Gaudreau would be the “center” in terms of being his line’s primary puck-carrier, as is the case when he’s playing for the Flames, and he’d have two high-end finishers to feed.

FORWARD LINE 3: Kyle Connor (25), Dylan Larkin (25), Alex DeBrincat (24)

Next to Canada’s Huberdeau-McDavid-MacKinnon, Connor-Larkin-DeBrincat could be the Winter Games’ speediest line. Larkin is the defensive conscience.

FORWARD LINE 4: Max Pacioretty (33), J.T. Miler (28), Jake Guentzel (27)

Pacioretty’s intelligence and two-way sensibility make him playable on any line. Miller got to play a fair amount of center in Vancouver this season and originally broke into the league as one. Skilled scorer Guentzel may seem out of place on line 4 but, having spent lots of time on Sidney Crosby’s line in Pittsburgh, understands what it means to defend against the other team’s top forwards.

SPARE FORWARDS: Chris Kreider (30), Brady Tkachuk (22)

Kreider and Tkachuk are ready and waiting if the Americans need to switch to big-boy hockey and inject their lineup with size, skill and snarl.

Final cuts: Blake Wheeler, Anders Lee, T.J. Oshie, Bryan Rust

DEFENSE PAIR 1: Zach Werenski (24), Seth Jones (27)

Too easy. Werenski and Jones are elite two-way defenders who can play in all situations and happen to be NHL teammates and partners.

DEFENSE PAIR 2: Jaccob Slavin (27), John Carlson (32)

Slavin’s shutdown ability is top-tier, and his presence can allow the more offense-minded Carlson to push the play. This tandem has top-pair ability.

DEFENSE PAIR 3: Quinn Hughes (22), Charlie McAvoy (24)

Huge upside for the third pair. Who knows how good the magical puck-mover Hughes will be in another two years? McAvoy may not have hit the expected offensive ceiling so far, but he’s well-rounded and experienced for his age, capable of mixing it up physically.

SPARE DEFENSEMEN: Torey Krug (30), Jacob Trouba (27)

Krug or Trouba can plug a hole on any pair. If the Americans need more offense, Krug can slot in on the left. If they need more brawn, Trouba comes in on the right side.

Final cuts: Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, Jeff Petry, Keith Yandle, Cam Fowler, Adam Fox

STARTING GOALTENDER: Connor Hellebuyck (28)

Hellebuyck has usurped John Gibson for the unofficial crown of “Outstanding goalie who overcomes extremely difficult workload on his NHL team.” He’ll benefit greatly from having perhaps the tourney’s top D-corps in front of him.

BACKUP GOALTENDERS: John Gibson (28), Ben Bishop (35)

In terms of raw talent, Gibson is as good as any stopper in the world. Bishop is exiting his prime but has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence in Dallas. He’s at his best when regularly rested, however, so a short, condensed tournament might be tough on his big body.

Final cuts: None

ROSTER AT A GLANCE

Forwards

M. Tkachuk-Matthews-Kane
Gaudreau-Eichel-Boeser
Connor-Larkin-DeBrincat
Pacioretty-Miller-Guentzel

Spares: Kreider, B. Tkachuk

Defensemen

Werenski-Jones
Slavin-Carlson
Hughes-McAvoy

Spares: Krug, Trouba

Goalies

Hellebuyck-Gibson

Spare: Bishop

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