Team USA has several top scorers, three excellent goalies, one of the game's best penalty-killers and defensemen accustomed to playing big minutes against top opponents.
However, its biggest advantage may be not having to face Team Canada in a potential semifinal game because they're in the same group for the World Cup of Hockey 2016, which will be played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17-Oct.1. That greatly increases Team USA's chances of making the best-of-3 final series, assuming it's not upset by Team Czech Republic and/or Team Europe in the round-robin.
With opponents likely to focus on shutting down 2015-16 NHL scoring leader Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), there could be room for Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks) to dominate offensively.
Pavelski's numbers over the past three NHL seasons show just how dangerous he can be:
- His 116 goals are second behind Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals), who has 154.
- His 227 points are tied with Nicklas Backstrom (Capitals) for sixth.
- His 47 power-play goals are second to Ovechkin, who has 68, and his 90 power-play points rank fifth.
- His plus-60 rating is tied with Team USA teammate Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers) and Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning) for ninth.
- The Sharks have out-attempted opponents 3,794 to 2,961 with Pavelski on the ice, for a plus-833 SAT that ranks ninth.
- Pavelski has won 55.7 percent of his faceoffs; that's 13th among the 182 players who took 500 or more draws.
- With 10 shootout goals in 29 attempts, Pavelski is one of 24 NHL players with at least 10 goals in the tiebreaker.
Shorthanded shut down
With heavy hitters like David Backes (Boston Bruins), Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets), Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg Jets) and Justin Abdelkader (Detroit Red Wings), it's clear that Team USA is prepared to play a physical game. If so, a premium penalty-killer like Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks) is of great value.
Since acquiring Kesler in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks on June 27, 2014, the Ducks rank fourth in the League with an 84.2 penalty-killing percentage. In the two seasons prior to his arrival, the Ducks were 17th at 81.9 percent.
In his NHL career, Kesler has spent 2,117:35 minutes killing penalties. That's third among active forwards behind Jay McClement of the Carolina Hurricanes (2,422:12) and Boyd Gordon of the Philadelphia Flyers (2,155:15).
One of the keys to Kesler's penalty-killing success is his skill in the faceoff circle. Last season, Kesler's 58.5 winning percentage was second in the NHL to Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks (58.6 percent) among players with more than 75 draws.
Piling on the minutes
Defenseman Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild) can handle all the minutes coach John Tortorella sends his way.
During the past three seasons, Suter leads the NHL with a total of 6,944:06 minutes played. Only Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (6,830:49) and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings (6:680:43) are within 10 percent of that total.
Suter has averaged 29:01 minutes per game; that's 4.5 percent more than Karlsson, who is second with 27:46.
Two pillars of strength
With all of the incredible talent in this tournament, it serves Team USA well to have two defensemen with experience facing top competition, McDonagh and Erik Johnson (Colorado Avalanche).
There is an estimate of each player's average level of competition based on the details contained in NHL game files about how much time each player has spent against every other player, down to the second.
Last season, Johnson ranked third among defensemen in quality of competition metrics, and McDonagh was seventh. Going back two more seasons, they were second and 15th in 2014-15 and 14th and 17th in 2013-14, respectively (source: Behind the Net).
McDonagh lined up for 2,226 faceoffs in the defensive zone over the past five seasons, fifth in the NHL. Despite facing top competition in the defensive zone, McDonagh's plus-26 rating last season was tied with Milan Lucic (Kings; now with Edmonton Oilers) for ninth in the League, and his plus-114 over the past six seasons ranks seventh.
The puck stops here
The list of finalists for the 2016 Vezina Trophy included Ben Bishop (Lightning) and Jonathan Quick (Kings), but Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils) may have the best stats of the three Team USA goalies.
Over the past three seasons, Schneider's .924 save percentage bests Bishop's .922 and Quick's .917, and ranks third among the 55 goalies to play at least 50 NHL games. Schneider also ranks third in terms of his quality start percentage of 62.7, which tops Bishop's 59.3 percent and Quick's 53.2 percent (source: Hockey-Reference.com).
So why doesn't Schneider get the recognition he deserves? The problem has been the number of goals his teams score when he plays. Schneider's average goal support of 2.08 goals per game ranks next-to-last in the League; Bishop ranks sixth with 3.06, and Quick is 31st with 2.69 (source: Hockey Abstract 2016 Update).
Given the offense Team USA is likely to generate, it should be safe selecting Schneider as its No. 1 goalie.
by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent