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2016 World Cup of Hockey: Team USA preview

With most teams built around skill, Team USA is designed to grind those squads down, and hope to be the last one standing.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 15 Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

The United States are always considered a darkhorse in international tournaments.

Given the format of the World Cup of Hockey, it’s hard to pick a favourite. Team USA finds itself in Group A along with Canada, Europe, and the Czech Republic. With only the top two teams in the group moving on to the semi-finals, there is a very small margin of error. This is reflected in the makeup of Team USA, which had a plethora of options in terms of player selection, and opted for a mixture of high-end skill, responsible two-way forwards, and shutdown defensemen along with possibly the best trio of goaltenders in the tournament.

Roster

Goaltenders
Player League Current Team
Ben Bishop NHL Tampa Bay Lightning
Jonathan Quick NHL Los Angeles Kings
Cory Schneider NHL New Jersey Devils
Defencemen
Player League Current Team
Dustin Byfuglien NHL Winnipeg Jets
John Carlson NHL Washington Capitals
Erik Johnson NHL Colorado Avalanche
Jack Johnson NHL Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan McDonagh NHL New York Rangers
Matt Niskanen NHL Washington Capitals
Ryan Suter NHL Minnesota Wild
Forwards
Player League Current Team
Justin Abdelkader NHL Detroit Red Wings
David Backes NHL Boston Bruins
Brandon Dubinsky NHL Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrick Kane NHL Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Kesler NHL Anaheim Ducks
T.J. Oshie NHL Washington Capitals
Max Pacioretty NHL Montreal Canadiens
Kyle Palmieri NHL New Jersey Devils
Zach Parise NHL Minnesota Wild
Joe Pavelski NHL San Jose Sharks
Derek Stepan NHL New York Rangers
James van Riemsdyk NHL Toronto Maple Leafs
Blake Wheeler NHL Winnipeg Jets

Strengths

Team USA is skilled, responsible, and hard to play against. This analysis seems somewhat generic, but in this case it’s accurate in describing the mix the squad is hoping will get the job done and win them their first major international tournament since they beat Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and co. in the 1996 World Cup.

Looking at the other teams in this tournament, it seems like a mix of talent, toughness, and character is what every team is looking to achieve. Success will be a product of all of these parts, and which team is the first to find harmony the quickest With just three games in the preliminary round means half the teams in the tournament being cut just as things are getting underway.

Do the United States have a collection of players that will gel quickly enough?

Starting from the forwards, Hart Trophy-winner Patrick Kane stands out as the offensive cog, with Joe Pavelski or David Backes likely to centre him when the tournament officially kicks off. Max Pacioretty, who had seen time opposite Kane in the first tune-up game, probably finds himself on the second line with T.J. Oshie for company.

There are a a number of scoring options and some high-speed players, like Derek Stepan and Blake Wheeler, to deal with as well. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Kesler round out the forward corps, providing a dimension of tougness that will factor in grinding down the opposition and rebuffing offensive pressure.

The team also has solid goaltending, with three of the best goalies in the league to choose for the starting role. All three of Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop, and Cory Schneider provide an option should any one of them drop the ball.

Weaknesses

In comparison to the big dogs at this tournament, the United States may be exploited on the offensive support it can draw from its defence.

Led by two of the most highly regarded shutdown players in the league in Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh, as far as stopping the opposition goes, Team USA is solidly built. But when it comes to contributing offensively in a short tournament, in which every slight advantage can make a big difference, the American defensive unit is not as explosive as might be needed to overcome the best.

Collectively, the group of seven defencemen selected to the team scored 18 power-play goals in 2015-16, compared to Team Canada whose blue-liners scored 35. This removes a dimension of potential attack from Team USA’s arsenal, putting more pressure on the forwards to score goals both five-on-five and on the man advantage.

X-Factor

Team USA is structured for its players to have purposeful and specific roles. The forwards are built to score and/or tire out the opposition in the offensive zone while being relatively responsible and capable in their own end. The defence is built to defend and grind down the opposition. The goalies are among the very best in the league at stopping pucks. This is a machine where each part has a specific purpose, and if all parts fire at complete efficiency and cohesion, this will be a machine that is difficult to stop.

While other teams may boast a higher capacity of creative talent, the Americans will have to depend on each player filling their assigned role perfectly.

Like some of the other teams at this tournament, Team USA is stacked with leadership, with multiple NHL captains and alternate captains. If this mix of role-playing and leadership can come together right out of the gate, there is strong potential for the Americans to do some damage.

With only two of four teams in the group proceeding to the knockout stage, they will have their work cut out for them, but if they do make it through the knockout stage whoever they play in the semi-finals better look out, because it will mean Team USA is firing on all cylinders, and playing to the full potential of the team’s design.