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Team USA WCOH Spotlight: The Defensemen

by Andy Brown / Columbus Blue Jackets


If you haven't yet heard, the World Cup of Hockey makes its return in September after a 12-year absence. Team USA will hold its pre-tournament training camp (and exhibition game against Canada on Sept. 9) in Columbus at Nationwide Arena, and to get you properly prepared, we're breaking down the American roster.

Next up: the defense.

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella leads Team USA into this World Cup, featuring a group of American-born players who can do a little bit of everything. To get you up to speed on who you can expect to see lacing it up for the stars and stripes, we’re going to break down the roster by position. Today, we’ll focus on the defensemen.

Jack Johnson | Columbus Blue Jackets

One of two familiar faces Blue Jackets fans will see on the ice when Team USA is in town (along with Brandon Dubinsky), Johnson will be representing his country at the highest level for the third time in his professional career. The former No. 3 overall pick played for the United States in both the Winter Olympics and IIHF World Championship, and is set to start his sixth season with the Blue Jackets this fall.

Dustin Byfuglien | Winnipeg Jets

A five-time All-Star, Byfuglien has enjoyed a solid career as a two-way defenseman despite spending some time as a forward, as well. In 2015-16, he finished fifth in goals and eighth in points among all defensemen in the NHL. But beyond his scoring and defending abilities, he is known for being a strong physical presence, perhaps most notably his leveling of Ottawa’s Mark Stone this past March. Fans and opposing players alike should be on the lookout for Byfluglien whenever he's on the ice, and watch for his booming shot on the power play.

John Carlson | Washington Capitals

Though he dealt with a foot injury last season, Carlson has been a workhorse for Washington throughout his career, playing in all 82 games in four of the past six seasons. And historically, he has made all that time on the ice count; in 2014-15, Carlson had a breakout campaign with 55 points, and did so while frequently being matched up against opponents’ best players. Assuming he is back to full health, Carlson could be a huge weapon for the Americans in all situations.

Ryan McDonagh | New York Rangers

McDonagh has basically lived on the All-Star team ever since he began his now six-year NHL career, making it in every season other than his first. He has also registered a positive plus/minus rating in every season to date while averaging in the neighborhood of 32 points per year. During the Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, McDonagh put up 17 points in 25 games, though New York fell in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.

Ryan Suter | Minnesota Wild

Like Carlson, Suter is a workhorse in his own right, frequently finishing near or at the top of the NHL's time on ice leaderboard (he averaged 28:36 in 2015-16, good for second place only behind Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson). Suter has made the All-Star team in seven straight seasons, and logged a career high in points with 51 this past season for the Wild. His already-strong international resume will get a boost with this World Cup of Hockey appearance, and his steady presence will make him a go-to guy for Tortorella.

Matt Niskanen | Washington Capitals

Niskanen is also not one to take nights off; he’s played in all but one game over the last three seasons combined with the Pittsburgh Penguins and now with Carlson and the Capitals. Included in that was his breakout 2013-14 All-Star campaign with the Penguins, when he racked up career highs in shots attempted with 354, and points with 46, along with finishing sixth in the NHL with a +33 rating.

Erik Johnson | Colorado Avalanche

Injuries have been an obstacle at times in the 2006 No. 1 overall pick’s career thus far, but when he’s been healthy and a regular fixture in the lineup, he has been a solid defenseman. He was not part of the U.S. Olympic team in 2014, but did represent Team USA at the 2013 IIHF World Championship in Sweden and Finland, where the Americans took home a bronze medal.

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