Sunday, July 20, 2008

USA All the Way?: A Look Ahead at the Future of USA Hockey

Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Brian Leetch, and Mike Richter. All of these names were the headliners of the USA Hockey team in almost every international competition in the 1990s and early 2000s. But with a few retirements and age catching up to these guys (despite the fact Chelios refuses to accept it) the old guard of USA hockey is vanishing into the annals of hockey history.
Who is going to replace these guys? Many of these names were stars in the league and have great NHL careers to their credit meaning it will certainly be tough to replace them in the coming years. While players who were considered young the last few times such as Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Mike Knuble, Ryan Miller, Brian Rafalski, and Brian Gionta were the future they are now the present and the 'veterans' of the USA Hockey teams. So who is the future?
Lets start in the crease. With Miller and DiPietro the two big names in the goal crease, it may not seem like they will need to be replaced anytime soon. But you never know what is going to happen. Jeremy Smith is a Nashville Predators prospect who is certainly a consideration when it comes to down the road. Thomas McCollum is another name to look at. He was ranked by some as the top goalie in this past year's NHL draft. Jimmy Howard, currently a prospect in the Detroit Red Wings farm system will definitely get a look someday. 
Having a lesser name in goal isn't all that terrible considering the defense of the United States is very stacked. Young up and comers such as Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson are two of the big names coming up on the blue line for the United States. Both of them are top 3 picks in the NHL Draft. Both of them are getting NHL experience right now with the St. Louis Blues for Erik and the Los Angeles Kings for Jack. 
Zach Bogosian, who was drafted this year by Atlanta, will certainly play a huge part in the development of the USA blue line when he is ready.
Matt Niskanen had a breakout year for Dallas as a rookie this past year and certainly is making a case to be a future member of the USA Hockey program.  
They join Keith Ballard, Jordan Leopold, John Michael-Liles , and Paul Martin who are now anchors on the blue line. Players to look forward to on the blue line are Bobby Sanguinetti, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Chris Summers. 
However, the future of USA Hockey lies in the forward position. Joining the likes of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury in the forward trenches are guys that have already made their mark in the NHL and elsewhere. 
Patrick Kane was the top pick at the 2007 draft and made a huge impact this year for the Chicago Blackhawks as he won the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year in the NHL. Not bad for a kid who is small. 
Peter Mueller had a spectacular rookie year in the NHL as he helped lead the Coyotes offense on the first line. While he is a center, his sniper abilities are letting the Coyotes put him on the wing, making him a versatile player being able to play the wing or the center position.
Zach Parise has been around the NHL with the New Jersey Devils for a few years but he is certainly going to be an integral part to the USA offense of the future. His goal scoring has increased every year in the NHL with the last two seasons being 30+ seasons. Look for him on USA teams for a long time.
Phil Kessel had a great college career and is really starting to turn into a great forward up in Boston. His speed is unbelievable and his shootout abilities have already made him renowned on the NHL stage. Once considered a number 1 pick in the draft, Kessel fell down to the Bruins who hope he turns into something special. USA Hockey does as well. 
James vanRiemsdyk or 'JVR' is currently up at New Hampshire (with Ridgefield favorite Tyler Scott, another USA goalie destined to stardom...) and developing with the Flyers. He is turning into a very big power forward that has speed and skill. He dominated the 2008 World Juniors leading the entire tournament despite the fact USA didn't medal. 
Lesser known guys that will certainly make an impact include Brandon Dubinsky (NYR), TJ Oshie (STL), Dustin Brown and Patrick O'Sullivan (both LAK), Blake Geoffrion (NSH), Kyle Okposo (NYI), Max Pacioretty (MTL), Tyler Ruegsegger (TOR), Justin Abdelkader (DET), and David Booth (FLA). These are some of the forward names that are up and coming with many other that I haven't even mentioned. 
Will these guys win a gold medal some day? It is definitely a possibility. However, the caliber of teams they will play are unbelievable. Canada has won the World Junior Championships 4 times in a row showing how potent and dangerous their future is. The last team other than Canada to win the event was the United States in 2004. 
European teams are hard to judge because their teams not only include NHL players but also guys from the elite leagues in Europe where there are many great players. The perennial European powerhouses like Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia always pose a threat and have great future players coming with other young players already making their marks on the international stage.
But for USA Hockey fans, times are exciting as ever with so many great young players coming in. Not only is it the quality shown by these guys but also the quantity as this great sport seems to be spreading all across the country and players are coming out of every place imaginable, other than the usual USA powerhouses of Minnesota, Michigan, and Massachusetts. 
USA as a gold medalist in 2010? It will be tough but it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility. 
What do you think about USA Hockey's future? 

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Joe said...

Good write up. I have high hopes for US hockey. Forgot Komisarek and Higgins who will both probably get consideration though.

Gootzman said...

Ur right...those are two really good players. Tom Gilbert of the Oilers is another guy to consider.