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U.S. Olympic Team's biggest issue could be at center

by Corey Masisak /

It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.

For the United States, the goal in Sochi is simple: Improve by one goal. That's how close the Americans were to claiming gold four years ago in Vancouver, losing the final in overtime to Canada.

The United States has not medaled at a Winter Olympics held outside North America since 1972, and never has won gold on foreign soil. The strength of the team is clear -- goaltending -- but choosing which elite netminder to play could be tricky. The weakness -- depth of elite talent at forward -- also is apparent.

Projected rosters for each of the three writers look very similar, with the core of the American team evident. Fifteen forwards earned a mention for 13 spots, and 11 were unanimous choices. The final three spots were split between T.J. Oshie, Jason Pominville, Paul Stastny and Derek Stepan.

Stastny and Stepan are two potential centers for the United States, along with Ryan Kesler, David Backes and Joe Pavelski. All are defensively responsible and competent offensively, but it is a position where the Americans are lacking compared to Russia and Canada (and probably Sweden). There is a nice blend of skill and size available on the wings (Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan and James van Riemsdyk were unanimous choices).

There were five defensemen who made all three rosters: John Carlson, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter and Keith Yandle. The other two spots were split. Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik earned two votes, and Justin Faulk and Dustin Byfuglien received one each. This group isn't likely to be big on snarl, but skating and puck-moving will be a premium on the big ice.

It is worth noting that none of the rosters include Jack Johnson or Erik Johnson, two staples of the American blue line in recent international play. It would be surprising if both are left off the team, Jack Johnson especially.

In goal, Ryan Miller seems like a good bet to return to the American roster, but he needs a great start to the 2013-14 NHL season to be considered for the No. 1 job. Jonathan Quick probably is the favorite to start, but Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider and Craig Anderson could be in the discussion.

The Americans rode a strong effort from Miller and a collection of skilled skaters with plenty of grit to a spot in the gold-medal game. Nashville Predators general manager David Poile is the GM for the Americans this time around, replacing Brian Burke, and the roster is expected to look a little different. Will the United States find the right mix to succeed on the international ice surface?

Here are the projected rosters for the United States:

Projected United States Olympic roster
Corey Masisak Shawn Roarke
Dan Rosen
David Backes David Backes David Backes
Dustin Brown Dustin Brown Dustin Brown
Ryan Callahan Ryan Callahan Ryan Callahan
Patrick Kane Patrick Kane Patrick Kane
Ryan Kesler Ryan Kesler Ryan Kesler
Phil Kessel Phil Kessel Phil Kessel
T.J. Oshie T.J. Oshie Max Pacioretty
Max Pacioretty Max Pacioretty Zach Parise
Zach Parise Zach Parise Joe Pavelski
Joe Pavelski Joe Pavelski Jason Pominville
Bobby Ryan Bobby Ryan Bobby Ryan
Derek Stepan Paul Stastny Derek Stepan
James van Riemsdyk James van Riemsdyk James van Riemsdyk
John Carlson John Carlson Dustin Byfuglien
Justin Faulk Paul Martin John Carlson
Ryan McDonagh Ryan McDonagh Paul Martin
Brooks Orpik Brooks Orpik Ryan McDonagh
Kevin Shattenkirk Kevin Shattenkirk Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Suter Ryan Suter Ryan Suter
Keith Yandle Keith Yandle Keith Yandle
Jimmy Howard Ryan Miller Jimmy Howard
Ryan Miller Jonathan Quick Ryan Miller
Jonathan Quick Cory Schneider Jonathan Quick

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