With Olympic participation reportedly included in the NHL and NHLPA's modified collective bargaining agreement, it's time for hockey fans to begin to think about what the tournament may look like.
Following a look at Team Canada, our series continues with Team USA and how the country shapes up for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The Americans have finished in the top four - including a pair of silver medals - in three of the previous four Olympics involving NHL players. With a young and potent roster for 2022, Team USA has an incredible chance to capture gold for the first time since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.
Head coach: Mike Sullivan
Sullivan served as an assistant coach for Team USA at both the 2006 Olympics in Turin and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and deserves the opportunity to take the lead role behind the bench. The Massachusetts native has led the Pittsburgh Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups since the last time NHL players were permitted at the Olympics in 2014, and has a ton of experience keeping a star-studded roster in order.
Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill will also be a strong candidate after receiving the job for the Americans at the 2019 world championships, but Sullivan's experience and winning pedigree makes him a tough option to overlook.
|Matthew Tkachuk (24)||Auston Matthews (24)||Patrick Kane (33)|
|Johnny Gaudreau (28)||Jack Eichel (25)||Brock Boeser (25)|
|Kyle Connor (25)||Dylan Larkin (25)||Blake Wheeler (35)|
|Jake Guentzel (27)||J.T. Miller (28)||Alex DeBrincat (24)|
(All ages as of February 2022)
Extras: Vincent Trocheck (28), Jack Hughes (20)
The Americans' loaded forward group has only two players with prior Olympic experience, which is a testament to the nation's recent wave of dynamic young talent. Finding the net shouldn't be a problem for Team USA, as the lineup boasts nine players who've recorded at least one 30-goal campaign, with five of them accomplishing that milestone before turning 22.
Reuniting U.S. NTDP teammates Matthews and Tkachuk on the top line alongside Kane is a scary proposition, and having a passing wizard like Gaudreau with a sniper like Boeser flank Eichel presents a second trio that will cause matchup headaches for most countries.
Yes, Wheeler will be 35, but his leadership is invaluable and the team would benefit from keeping a few veterans around. He's also a rare talent who's peaked in his 30s and has a ton of experience playing alongside Jets teammate Connor. Wheelers' advanced hockey savvy combined with Larkin's speed and Connor's elite scoring ability is an intriguing combination. Finally, the team's fourth line features a pair of recent 40-goal scorers and the versatile J.T. Miller, who can play up the middle and adds a needed element of grit.
It's hard to project how the long layoff between the NHL's shutdown in March and the start of the 2020-21 campaign will impact Jack Hughes' developmental arc. That said, he should have at least one more full season of pro hockey under his belt by the time the Olympics roll around, and we like his chances of earning a role on the team, even if it's as an extra.
As for the omissions, the talent on the wing presents a tough reality for aging players like T.J. Oshie, Max Pacioretty, and Phil Kessel. If management elects to keep a mix of older talent in the fold, one of these veterans could still get the call.
Just missed the cut: Clayton Keller, Chris Kreider, Brady Tkachuk, Pacioretty, Oshie
|Torey Krug (30)||John Carlson (32)|
|Zach Werenski (24)||Seth Jones (27)|
|Quinn Hughes (22)||Jaccob Slavin (27)|
Extras: Charlie McAvoy (24), Jacob Trouba (28)
Team USA boasts an incredibly skilled and balanced defense corps that may be the best in the tournament on paper. Every member of the blue line is a strong skater with plenty of offensive upside that will only be augmented by the larger international ice surface.
The veteran combo of Carlson and Krug would provide the club with an experienced top unit capable of dominating at both ends of the ice, while the Columbus Blue Jackets' dominant duo of Werenski and Jones have the added benefit of chemistry. Slavin is an elite two-way talent who would also serve as an invaluable penalty killer, and pairing him with Hughes could unlock the latter's dynamic skating game and allow him to be aggressive.
McAvoy is already too good to overlook for this team, and he'll only be more developed in two years. Though he's listed as an extra here, the 6-foot blue-liner would be more of a regular as Team USA is afforded the luxury of having seven defensemen they can plug and play throughout the tournament.
Just missed the cut: Adam Fox, Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Ryan McDonagh
|Connor Hellebuyck (28)|
|John Gibson (28)|
Extra: Ben Bishop (35)
Team USA has enjoyed a strong cast in net over the last several decades, and that trend will continue in 2022 with a trio of reliable options. It's hard to deny Hellebuyck the starting role after the body of work he's established over the past few campaigns, but Anaheim Ducks puck-stopper John Gibson will certainly present a challenge for the job.
Hellebuyck is the reason the defensively depleted Winnipeg Jets managed to stay competitive this season. His brilliance made up for the club's last-place ranking in several possession stats including expected goals for percentage and share of high-danger scoring chances. The Michigan native also ranks sixth in goals saved above average at five-on-five since the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
Gibson represented team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but hasn't suited up for Team USA since 2013 when he earned a bronze medal at the world championship and a gold at the world juniors.
Just missed the cut: Thatcher Demko