USA Hockey: The Next Generation


USA Hockey recently announced a new braintrust of NHL GMs to oversee the selection of international teams. Don Waddell (Atlanta), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh), Brian Burke (Anaheim), and David Poile (Nashville) all come into the picture at a very interesting transitionary phase. Waddell oversaw the Torino team that failed to do much of anything, but it wasn’t really his fault — with a batch of aging veterans and players that wouldn’t make the cut on some other international squads, Team USA was caught in no-man’s land. Now with Vancouver 2010 looming upon us, these guys are moving towards the next generation of USA Hockey’s mainstays. It’s a little different from the swagger of Roenick and Modano to say the least. Here’s a quick overview of where USA Hockey’s been and is going.

The Past
Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk, and Doug Weight are still reasonably effective. Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte are on their last legs, while Chris Chelios will probably be playing until he’s got a walker with skate blades on it. The less-than-dynamic duo of Mike Dunham and Robert Esche didn’t really cut it after the Mike Richter era, and the glories of the 96 World Cup/98 Chair Tossing Championship are just about wiped away.

The Present
Now let’s make one thing clear — none of these players are bad, per se. I don’t think you’ll find a single NHL GM who wouldn’t take them on their team. But compared to Russia or Canada, most of the best American players in their prime are, well, first line NHLers but second line international team forwards. Chris Drury, Erik Cole, Brian Rolston, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez are nothing to sneeze at while David Legwand and Zach Parise have to prove that they’re finally fulfilling their potential — still, compared to the forward riches of other countries, it’s a bit underwhelming. Are Jason Blake and Chris Clark one-year wonders? Maybe not, but even their respectable point totals this season wouldn’t earn them a sniff at Team Canada.

On defense, you’ve got Brian Rafalski and Jordan Leopold (when healthy) still chewing up minutes while John-Michael Liles is coming into his own and the overlooked Tom Preissing is a ridiculous +30 out in Ottawa. Solid, but not spectacular, right? In the pipes, however, Team USA is strong with Rick Dipietro and Ryan Miller providing tandem that’s going to be tough to beat. So when looking ahead, USA’s strength is from the goal out — and considering the way single-elimination tournaments go, that’s a good place to be.

The Future
Miller and Dipietro will anchor Team USA for the next decade or so in net, and they’ll have a very strong defense in front of them. Matt Carle‘s already one of the Sharks’ top defenseman and the former Hobey Baker award winner hopes to be the second coming of Brian Leetch — smooth skating, passing vision, and a natural instinct. Carle will be joined by Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson, two extremely talented blueliners who bring size and grit to their game (and have already irritated Canadian fans with their sandpaper-esque play during the World Junior Championships). Ryan Suter, already getting plenty of playing time in Nashville, has shown flashes of being a top-flight defenseman as well.

Up front, the charge will be led by Phil Kessel, who is off to a slow start in his NHL career but has overcome the adversity of testicular cancer. From there, the depth is hit and miss; Robbie Schremp may turn into a 70-80 point NHL player but it’s no sure thing. Bobby Ryan is highly touted and could be Team USA’s premier power forward. Other players, such as Patrick O’Sullivan, Peter Mueller, T.J. Oshie, and Kyle Okposo are in the pipeline; however, the bottom line is that the Americans don’t have any homerun prospects a la Sidney Crosby. Kessel is the closest thing (at least in terms of hype) but he hasn’t made the immediate impact many observers were hoping for.

The bottom line is that Team USA’s future is built from the net out. With a blueline that should be one of the strongest in international competition and NHL-proven goaltending, Team USA should recover from the rather embarrassing showing at Torino. The question will be up front; Waddell, Poile, Burke, and Shero will have to hope that Drury, Rolston, and Cole will still be scoring effectively and their fingers will be crossed that Kessel, Ryan, Schremp, et al will have reached their potential.

Still, defense and goaltending win championships and USA Hockey’s got a bright future in that department. And if they need some offense, well, maybe they can steal Anze Kopitar — I hear Slovenia doesn’t have a very good international hockey team.


7 Responses to “USA Hockey: The Next Generation”

  1. 1 Michael

    Wow. This is one fantastic post. Thank you for coming up with all the featured new blood in USA Hockey.

    Consider this your thunderous standing ovation!

  2. 2 Anonymous

    Nice article Mike. But calling Matt Carle one of the Sharks best defensemen? Maybe someday, but he’s still got a lot of work to do before you can call him that.

  3. 3 Anonymous

    We all know Canadas going to sweep the olympics for the next 12 years or so. We just have too much talent to lose anymore, get Stevie Y to lead Team Canada and it’s a lock for gold.

  4. 4 Mike Chen

    Anonymous 1: As a Sharks season ticket holder, I see Carle every game. Right now, when Carle is on, he’s probably their best dman (1st third of the season). When he’s off, he’s a deer in the headlights. So you’re right, that probably wasn’t the right label for him at this time (though honestly, I’d take him over Gorges, Murray, Davison, even Hannan at this point — just my opinion).

    Anonymous 2: Your centers for the 2010 games will probably be Crosby, Staal, Thornton, Lecavalier with Richards and Marleau moving to wing. That’s pretty hard to compete with.

  5. 5 Anonymous

    Great article but I think Team Usa defese will be led by the Penguins Ryan Whitney. At 24 he is well on his way to becoming a star.

  6. 6 Rich

    What about Mike Komisarek?? He is a very solid defensman and is a big hitter, the US should not overlook him and don’t forget Chris Higgins…if the US wants any hope of winning look to Montreal for some help

  7. 7 Rob Matic

    Looking at the future of team USA, there’s a small forward burning up the OHL right now named Pat Kane. He needs to work on his defensive game but this kid looks far better than Schremp did at the same age

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