The collection of NHL executives tasked with selecting the United States roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics still has several key players dealing with injuries, so being confident in the health of the group announced at the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1 might require a leap of faith.
A silver lining might come from the difficulty of hammering out the final 25 names. There is depth at each position, and likely to be several players left off the roster who feel they deserve to be there. Should any injured player named not be ready for the trip to Sochi, there will be quality replacement options available.
It does appear as though the bulk of the United States roster has taken shape over the past couple of months, with only a couple of spots up front, on defense and likely one place among the goaltenders that will lead to some tough final decisions in the coming days.
Here's a look at three NHL.com projected lineups:
|Zach Parise||Ryan Kesler||Patrick Kane|
|James van Riemsdyk||Derek Stepan||Phil Kessel|
|Dustin Brown||David Backes||Ryan Callahan|
|Max Pacioretty||Joe Pavelski||Bobby Ryan|
|T.J. Oshie||Paul Stastny|
WHAT'S CHANGED: T.J. Oshie is the only new name from the projection last month, and he was on the edge of inclusion then. Alex Galchenyuk has had a similar season, but one reason for taking him (his prowess in the shootout) has not worked out in 2013-14. He's actually struggled in the one-on-one format.
The top four centers are pretty interchangeable. David Backes could be the No. 1 guy, but the idea of placing him between Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan to form a dream line for those who love rugged, skilled forwards is too tempting to pass up.
|Ryan Suter||Kevin Shattenkirk|
|Keith Yandle||Ryan McDonagh|
|Cam Fowler||John Carlson|
|Erik Johnson||Paul Martin|
WHAT'S CHANGED: Cam Fowler is the new name in the group, replacing rookie Seth Jones. Fowler has taken on a more significant role with injuries to other Anaheim Ducks defensemen and flourished, while Jones has seen his ice time reduced at times. General manager David Poile told reporters of a conversation he had with Brian Rafalski where the former NHL defenseman told him the lefty-righty partnership is not as big a deal on the international ice surface, so don't be surprised if the Americans try a lefty-lefty or righty-righty pair at some point.
|Jonathan Quick||Ryan Miller||Cory Schneider|
WHAT'S CHANGED: Jonathan Quick has missed time with an injury, but is expected back soon. Thatshould give him plenty of time to prove he deserves to the No. 1 guy in Sochi. Ryan Miller continues to play well, and Schneider has pulled ahead of the other guys who were at summer orientation camp.
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Paul Stastny will likely make the club as insurance at center, but Brandon Dubinsky has had a nice season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and could be an interesting choice. Blake Wheeler is another guy who is either going to be one of the last guys on the team or one of the toughest omissions.
Whether to trust Dustin Byfuglien is the biggest question with the defense corps. Justin Faulk and Brooks Orpik (if the selection committee believes he'll be back in time from a concussion) could also be in the mix. Jimmy Howard and Craig Anderson probably haven't played well enough to make the final cut in goal, but Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning has made a nice case for inclusion.
|Shawn Roarke -- NHL.com Director, Editorial
||Dan Rosen -- NHL.com Senior Writer|
|Zach Parise -- Ryan Kesler -- Phil Kessel
James van Riemsdyk -- David Backes -- Patrick Kane
Dustin Brown -- Joe Pavelski -- Bobby Ryan
Max Pacioretty -- Paul Stastny -- T.J. Oshie
Derek Stepan -- Blake Wheeler
|Zach Parise -- Joe Pavelski -- Patrick Kane
James van Riemsdyk -- David Backes -- Phil Kessel
Max Pacioretty -- Ryan Kesler -- Bobby Ryan
Dustin Brown -- Derek Stepan -- T.J. Oshie
Ryan Callahan -- Blake Wheeler
|Ryan Suter -- John Carlson
Ryan McDonagh -- Kevin Shattenkirk
Paul Martin -- Brooks Orpik
Keith Yandle -- Justin Faulk
|Ryan Suter -- Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan McDonagh -- Paul Martin
Keith Yandle -- Erik Johnson
Cam Fowler -- John Carlson