Team USA General Manager Brian Burke
makes no secret about the kind of hockey he wants to see the Americans play in Vancouver this February.
"If you look at the course of a hockey game, there are jobs that a player is called upon to perform and some of them aren't glamorous," Burke said at the summer orientation camp. "You know, winning a key faceoff in your own end, killing a penalty or blocking a shot at a key time. These are things that we are going to need to be successful.
"My assessment hasn't changed. We can't take the 23 best players. We have to take the 23 players that can perform specific tasks at high levels -- even if that is a grunt task or a blue-collar task."
As the American GM for this exercise, I agree wholeheartedly with Burke. The United States simply can't field an All-Star team that can compete with the Russians or the Canadians in a short tournament. If the Americans are to be successful, it will have to be with a hard-working, team-first approach.
And that is the team that I believe I have built, a team that features a fair dose of offensive skill, but one that also will be above average in other aspects of the game.
I also have taken Burke at his word that players not at the Olympic orientation camp will be able to play their way onto the team. In fact, I have three players from outside the summer pool of 34 on the American team as we sit three months away from the start of the Olympics.
Tim Thomas, Boston
-- The reigning Vezina Trophy winner entered the season as the favorite to claim the No. 1 job for the Americans, but his grasp on that position is slipping with his early-season troubles.
Ryan Miller, Buffalo
-- Perhaps fueled by his Olympic snub four years ago, Miller is making a strong case to be the No. 1 after his red-hot month of October.
Craig Anderson, Colorado
-- Yes, Jonathan Quick
was the third goalie invited to orientation camp, but Anderson has been better this fall -- by a long shot. His save percentage in the past four seasons is better than .925 -- that's hard to beat. And at 28, he still is young enough to be a viable understudy.
Brian Rafalski, Detroit
-- Rafalski brings experience, a champion's mentality and power-play acumen to the table. That's a pretty in-demand trifecta of talents for any team. He's a lock.
Paul Martin, New Jersey
-- A busted forearm was not in Martin's plans as he prepared for the Olympics, but he should be back by mid-December and the injury should have little effect on his game, which is predicated on his skating ability and positioning.
Erik Johnson, St. Louis
-- Apparently he has shaken off any rust from last season's catastrophic knee injury and once again is a dominant player for the Blues. But can he do enough to make this team? He'll have to be better in certain areas as his power-play chops aren't in demand on a roster loaded with potential man-advantage quarterbacks.
Jack Johnson, Los Angeles
-- This youngster can do everything a defenseman needs to do. He hits, he's not afraid to tee it up from the point, he kills penalties, works the power play and logs copious amounts of ice time. There'll be no problem fitting him into the rotation.
Ryan Suter, Nashville
-- Forget the Olympic pedigree -- his father and uncle wore the American sweater in Olympic competition -- Suter is among the most-solid all-round young defensemen in the game.
Ryan Whitney, Anaheim
-- No defenseman on the American team sees more ice time than Whitney, who is playing more than 26 minutes a game and has developed into one of the Ducks' primary penalty killers, although that unit has struggled so far this season.
Alex Goligoski, Pittsburgh
-- This team is going to struggle for offense and Goligoski -- who was not invited to orientation camp -- can provide it from the back end, both with the man advantage and at even strength. But Goligoski is not a one-trick pony; look at the numbers. He kills penalties for the Penguins and is not afraid to block a shot.
Chris Drury, New York Rangers
-- A proven winner at every level, Drury will be an integral part of this team. He has struggled offensively this season, but does too much well to be excluded. He may be the perfect third-line center in this tournament if he is able to shake off his latest concussion.
Patrick Kane, Chicago
-- One of the most dynamic offensive players in the game today. If he is not the top-line right wing, it will be a shocker.
Phil Kessel, Toronto
-- We all know how much Burke loves Kessel; look at the package of assets he gave the Bruins this fall for his rights. A slow start is to be expected as Kessel comes back from offseason shoulder surgery, but unless he completely flames out, Kessel not only will be on the team, but play a key role.
Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey
-- A defensively reliable left wing that kills penalties but still has some offensive instincts. Like Drury, he might be the prototypical third-liner in a tournament like this because of his diverse skill set.
Zach Parise, New Jersey
-- Perhaps the most consistent goal scorer among American forwards. Parise on the left and Kane on the right side on the same line will be a handful for even the best defensemen in the world.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles
-- In a tournament dominated by skill, you need a few players that are willing to get their nose dirty. Nobody gets their nose dirtier than Brown, who will go to the front of the net and work the corners. But Brown is far from a grinder as he brings goal-scoring skill to complement his grit.
Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago
-- The choice to carry seven defensemen instead of eight opens a spot for Byfuglien, a power forward that is more than conversant with the skill set necessary to play defense. He could play on the blue line during an injury crunch or he can serve as a body-banging power forward. That's a nice luxury to have.
Ryan Kesler, Vancouver
-- One of the lesser-known names on the team, Kesler is a player that quietly does everything a team needs. He is a top faceoff man, he'll block shots, he plays relentless defense, can skate with the best players in the League and has been one of Vancouver's best power-play performers.
Paul Stastny, Colorado
-- A heady center, Stastny has the ability to play with a variety of forwards. But if he can not make this team as a top-two center, his options may well be limited. So far, he has done enough to do just that.
Scott Gomez, Montreal
-- Gomez has experience going for him. He is one of just five players in the orientation pool this summer that has Olympic experience. That can't be discounted on what will be a young and untried team. It would help, however, if Gomez recaptured the form that marked his inclusion on the 2006 Olympic team.
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim
-- A natural finisher, Ryan scored 31 goals in just 64 NHL games last season. Now imagine him with a top-line center on Team USA's second line -- makes for a pretty pleasant image for Team USA supporters, eh?
Tim Connolly, Buffalo
-- Not on the orientation list, Connolly is making a solid push to be on the U.S. team come Jan. 1 -- if he can stay healthy. The big center hasn't played a full season since 2002-03, but he was a point-a-game player in a 48-game run last season and has been on a similar pace so far this season. If he makes it to late December without getting dinged, he would be an excellent option to give the Americans some size in the middle.
Joe Pavelski, San Jose
-- Pavelski was a hot topic of conversation at orientation camp in the summer after a 25-goal season with the Sharks in 2008-09. But a pretty significant injury put Pavelski back in the shadows. But not with us. We love the energy and skill he brings to the table, as evidenced by his strong return to the lineup.
There you have it -- my Team USA. It certainly is a little different from what Burke might be considering right now, but I think it is a team that can be medal-competitive in Vancouver.
It is very strong in skill-specific players, although it admittedly does lack some size, which would not please Burke or coach Ron Wilson very much. There also are some questions about the goaltending, as none of the three candidates has yet to play in a Stanley Cup Final game.
And, there still are plenty of players out there that could change the makeup of the team. We still have our eyes on Quick in goal and absolutely would love to find room for Tim Gleason
and Ron Hainsey
on defense. We're also partial to Mike Komisarek
, but don't see how he makes this team with his current form, although Burke and Wilson love what he brings to the table. Up front, Brian Gionta
, David Booth
and Ryan Malone
still have shots to upset the apple cart.
We'll see you again in mid-December with a final update before the real GMs pick Team USA on Jan. 1 during the broadcast of the 2010 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic from Fenway Park in Boston (NBC, CBC, 1 p.m. ET).
Shawn P. Roarke is the Managing Editor of NHL.com and has been covering the United States national team program for NHL.com since 2000.