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What would Team USA look like if the NHL was participating in the Olympics?

With the Americans going 1-2 in the preliminary round, one can’t help but wonder “what if?”

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 15
Team USA at the Sochi Winter Games
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After going 1-2 during the preliminary round, Team USA must prepare for an elimination game early next week if they hope to stay in contention for the medal rounds. Their one win came against Slovakia, a game that saw Bruins prospect Ryan Donato explode for two goals and help lead the Americans to victory.

While the win certainly helped the Americans gain some ground in Group B, the preliminary round did not go so well for Team USA. They began the tournament by blowing a two-goal lead over Slovenia, which led to a devastating 3-2 overtime loss. They followed up the win over Slovakia with a 4-0 loss to the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who dominated the entire game.

No matter who they play in the elimination round, it is not going to be easy for Team USA to stay afloat with the roster it has. With the NHL not participating, Team USA is composed of college players and professionals not in the NHL. The mix has not worked out so well for Team USA thus far.

The four college players (Will Borgen, Jordan Greenway, Troy Terry, and Donato) were really the only players who could keep up with the Olympic Athletes from Russia. And in all honesty, the four of them have been Team USA’s best players, in my eyes at least.

The rest of the players on Team USA have different stories. Some did not work out in the NHL and are now playing overseas, some are on AHL-only contracts, or you could be like Brian Gionta and not be on any team this season.

While I don’t necessarily think that all these players are bad (which I don’t), I do not think this is the best roster Team USA could have assembled for this tournament. The team is undersized for the most part and is not fast enough to keep up with the other squads. Unfortunately, Team USA lost a lot of firepower when the NHL announced it was not sending its players to Pyeongchang.

So now, here is the million dollar question: What would Team USA have looked like if the NHL was participating in the Olympics this year? Let’s take a look.

Forwards:

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks, C: Pavelski represented Team USA at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics and is one of the most consistent players in the league. He also had a pretty decent showing during the 2014 games, with a goal and four assists. He would be a lock to make the team.

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres, C: Eichel is one of the best players in the league and he’s only 21-years-old. The Sabres may not be a good team, but Eichel is a thrill to watch. It would have been awesome to see him don the United States sweater this year. Hopefully he gets to do it in 2022.

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs, C: Matthews is one of the most dominant players in the league and he is only in his second season. The 20-year-old has played a big role in the resurgence of the Maple Leafs and would have been a big piece of Team USA this year.

Paul Stastny, St. Louis Blues, C: You might be wondering why I’m picking Stastny as the fourth line center, but he can still serve a good purpose on an Olympic team. The 32-year-old can play center of left-wing, but he also plays a solid 200-foot game. I think he could do more for Team USA than other veterans such as Ryan Callahan or Ryan Kesler.

James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs, LW: van Riemsdyk has become one of the best left-wingers in the game and had a good showing during the 2014 Olympics. He too has helped the Maple Leafs get back to respectability and would be a good add for Team USA’s top-six.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames, LW: Gaudreau might be small, but he is one of the league’s best players; he’s currently second in league scoring with 68 points. Gaudreau’s speed and scoring ability would make him a lock to make Team USA.

Anders Lee, New York Islanders, LW: Lee is big, fast, and he can score. He would certainly add a decent amount of physicality to the roster and still be a good asset to Team USA with his offensive capabilities.

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens, LW: His future in Montreal might be in question right now, but Pacioretty is one of the best goal scorers in the game and would be a good add for Team USA’s bottom-six.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks, RW: Do I really need to explain why Kane would make the team? He’s one of the most electric players ever to step foot in the NHL and would 100% have made the team.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins, RW: After being snubbed from making Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, Kessel would absolutely make the 2018 roster. He put up five goals and eight points at Sochi in 2014 and is currently in the midst of arguably his best professional season.

Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets, RW: Wheeler is one of the more underrated players in the league, in my mind at least. He can consistently put up 60-70 points each season and is a big reason why the Jets are currently tied for first in the Central Division.

Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings, RW: The Red Wings might have dropped off over the last few years but Larkin continues to impress with his tremendous speed and offensive talent. He could play on any line and still be a threat to score.

T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals, RW: Everyone remembers Oshie’s historic shootout performance against Russia in 2014, so who’s to say he won’t be able to do it again? Oh, and he is also one of the better wingers in the league.

On the bubble: Nick Bjugstad, Tyler Johnson, Zach Parise

Defensemen:

Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks, D: Fowler has become one of the best defenseman in the NHL and logs heavy minutes for the Ducks. He suited up for Team USA in 2014 and was snubbed from the World Cup roster in 2016.

John Carlson, Washington Capitals, D: Carlson is one of the top blueliners in the league and had two solid showings for Team USA in 2014 and 2016, which warrants another nod to wear the United States sweater.

Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild, D: Suter can play some big minutes when needed and can handle any defensive task. He would be a good veteran to have on the back end after playing in the two previous Winter Olympic tournaments.

Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes, D: Faulk has never really gotten recognition he deserves but is one of the better offensive defenseman in the league. He could work the power-play or play bottom-pairing minutes. He’s useful in several different areas.

Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers, D: McDonagh is a workhorse defenseman and would be a tremendous asset on Team USA. He’s the No. 1 guy on the Rangers’ blueline, but would probably be the fourth or fifth guy on Team USA because of how deep the D-core is.

Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets, D: Jones has really refined his game since joining the Blue Jackets during the 2015-2016 season and has represented the United States at several World Junior and World Championship tournaments.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins, D: McAvoy stepped into the 2017 postseason right out of college and looked like a seasoned veteran. He’s continued to impress this season, as he logs heavy minutes alongside Zdeno Chara night after night. He could be a big piece on Team USA with his knack for shining in big games.

On the bubble: Kevin Shattenkirk, Torey Krug, Nick Leddy

Goaltenders:

Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils, G: Schneider is one of the league’s best goaltenders and has really shined since taking over the starting job during the 2014-2015 season. He only appeared in one game for Team USA at the World Cup in 2016, but he definitely would have challenged for the starting job at Pyeongchang.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings, G: Quick has the ability to completely take over games, which would bode well for Team USA, especially if he gets hot. He might not have been the starter this year, but one could certainly make the case for him to be.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks, G: Gibson is one of the best young goaltenders in the league and has played very well since taking over the starting job last season. Whether he would have been the backup or third-string goalie is unknown, but he’s deserving of some recognition.

On the bubble: Ben Bishop, Connor Hellebuyck.

Possible lines and D-pairs:

James van Riemsdyk - Joe Pavelski - Phil Kessel

Johnny Gaudreau - Jack Eichel - Patrick Kane

Anders Lee - Auston Matthews - Blake Wheeler

Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - Dylan Larkin

T.J. Oshie

Cam Fowler - John Carlson

Ryan Suter - Justin Faulk

Ryan McDonagh - Seth Jones

Charlie McAvoy

Corey Schneider

Jonathan Quick

John Gibson

Team USA may or may not have looked similar to this lineup if the NHL was participating, but the team definitely would have matched up better against the Olympic Athletes from Russia, and probably would have put up more than two goals on both Slovenia and Slovakia.

As I mentioned earlier, the four college players on the team look like Team USA’s best players. Since the NHL wasn’t going to play, USA Hockey should have just assembled a team of college players or junior players, because the mix of veteran professionals and young NCAA players doesn’t seem to be working.

With that said, this tournament would have been a lot more fun if the NHL was in attendance. Not only for Team USA’s sake, but for all the other teams. The best players in the world deserve to be in the Olympics, and the best players in the world happen to play in the National Hockey League.