U.S. hoping young players step up into Olympic spots

Tuesday, 07.23.2013 / 4:42 PM
Connor Mellas  - NHL.com Staff Writer

USA Hockey unveiled its Men's National Team Orientation Camp roster Monday, naming 48 players to the squad. Alongside seasoned NHL veterans Zach Parise, Ryan Miller, Patrick Kane and Jack Johnson were some younger, less experienced players, five of them under the age of 21.

David Poile, general manager of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team, said he has high hopes for the young players invited to camp.

"I want them to be part of this experience and we'll just see what happens," Poile said. "If they're not better than somebody right now, that's fine, we've got other guys. This is part of the whole USA philosophy in terms of certainly putting our focus on Sochi, but also looking a little bit to the future."

The most experienced under-21 player selected for the camp is Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound forward had 10 goals and 17 assists in 48 regular-season games, then had a goal and five assists in 23 postseason games, helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

"He fits into the young group that I mentioned earlier, but in some ways because of [the Blackhawks'] success winning the Stanley Cup and his role, he probably could be ahead of some of those younger guys," Poile said. "I'm not sure if this is his time or not, but he's certainly in the mix, and he's certainly going to be a big part of the future."

The youngest player invited to camp is 18-year-old defenseman Seth Jones, Nashville's first-round pick (No. 4) in the 2013 NHL Draft. Jones is one of many players on the camp roster already successful at the international level, winning gold at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, along with fellow camp invitees Jacob Trouba, Alex Galchenyuk and John Gibson.

For the four youngest players (18-year-old Jones, 19-year-old Trouba, 19-year-old Galchenyuk, and 20-year-old Gibson), experience playing and winning together on the 15-foot-wider international rink could help their chances for Sochi.

"You're looking for people that have had success," Poile said. "That's No. 1. The good thing about this is that I think there's 30 of the 48 players that we're inviting to camp that have won gold medals at some level of international hockey. So we've got guys that have played a lot internationally. Again, you always look at guys that have won, where they've won, who they played with, all those types of situations."

Gibson was the goaltender for the gold-winning WJC team in Ufa. In seven games, he had a 1.36 goals-against average and .955 save percentage, and was named the tournament's best goaltender and most valuable player.

"There is no question that John Gibson is going to be a really, really good goaltender in the National Hockey League," Poile said.

Of the four youngest players invited to orientation camp, only Galchenyuk has played in the NHL. However, Poile said he doesn't believe players without experience going into the 2013-14 season are out of contention for a roster spot.

"We are going to make our decision based on who's been playing best and who deserves to be on the team," Poile said. "That's why our scouting component with our committee and with our coaches, what we see in October, November and the first part of December, is going to be the most important aspect as to making our final decisions."

Galchenyuk had nine goals, 18 assists and a plus-14 rating in 48 regular-season games with the Montreal Canadiens last season. He added a goal and two assists in five Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"This is a guy that could get off to a great start with Montreal in October and November and he could be a legitimate candidate," Poile said.

"We're really not trying to make any decisions right now. We have to let the players do their thing. I mean, there's lot of guys who played on the 2010 team, based on their body of work, that they deserve to be on the 2014 team, and by all rights that's probably what's going to happen. But we do have a number of spots open, and the good news is we have a lot of quality players that are going to be vying for these few positions. I'd love to see one of these younger players emerge and capture a spot. That would be fabulous."

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