Team USA’s promotion for the 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics began this past week, and with Denver’s Troy Terry and Boston University’s Jordan Greenway representing the men’s hockey team alongside Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato at a press conference on Monday, reality has begun to sink in that NHL players won’t be participating in the Olympics this year, and the American roster will need to be filled out some other way.
And just for the record, I’m fine with that. Like most people, I too would like to see a best-on-best international tournament(and the World Cup of Hockey doesn’t count when the NHL’s MVP isn’t eligible to play for his own country), but I also acknowledge that attaching itself to the mess that is the Olympics is one of the absolute worst ways to do that. The NHL was asked to make a lot of sacrifices for no real gain, so I can’t blame them for walking away. Though knowing it was the right decision doesn’t necessarily lessen the involuntary twinge of disappointment I feel any time I see some of the potential candidates to be selected for this team, knowing who else could have been there.
Because this is a new thing, nobody really knows what Team USA’s Olympic roster is going to look like. In his Monday press conference, Tony Granato said USA Hockey has identified a list of about 100 players they’ll be looking at for the Olympics. In terms of a breakdown, Granato speculated anywhere from 10 to 17 players playing in the Europe, and 10 to 12 college kids on the final roster.
I’m not sure what the right answer is in terms of roster balance. I think there are a lot more kids in the NCAA that could be under NHL contract if they had chosen to than there are in Europe. But USA Hockey also values, perhaps correctly in this case, experience and maturity. Granato’s hypothesis of close to a 50/50 mix seems like it could be the smartest strategy.
So which NCAA players have the best chance of being picked for the Olympics? Here are my best guesses, ranked in order of likelihood of being picked.
And just to note, USA Hockey has said they won’t be picking players that also played in the World Juniors for the Olympics, so I’m not including anyone from the ‘98 and younger age groups here.
- Troy Terry, Forward, Denver
2. Jordan Greenway, Forward, Boston University
After a breakout season last year, Greenway is a lock for this team. He has the size and physical ability to dominate in tough areas of the ice. He chose to come back to Boston University for one more season, but could easily be competing for an NHL roster spot right now.
3. Daniel Brickley, Defenseman, Minnesota State
Options are fairly slim for defensemen at the college level, but Brickley seems to be close to a lock. He’s a top potential NHL free agent target and would have signed an NHL contract last summer had he not wanted to finish his final year of school and graduate this spring. He represented USA Hockey at last spring’s men’s world championships, which was good experience for the upcoming Olympics.
4. Adam Gaudette, Forward, Northeastern
Gaudette had a breakout season last year, scoring 26 goals and 26 assists for Northeastern. He’s a good-sized center with great versatility, which makes him a really high-end NHL prospect. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t picked.
5. Dylan Gambrell, Forward, Denver
Along with Terry and Henrik Borgstrom(who would have to be under serious consideration for Team Finland, I would imagine), Gambrell was one of the key pieces to Denver’s incredible success last year. Gambrell is an explosive skater capable of playing an effective two-way game.
6. Ryan Donato, Forward, Harvard
The Bruins draft pick scored over 20 goals and averaged over a point per game as a sophomore for Harvard last season, but opted to return for his junior year. He’s a smart player and has some experience with USA Hockey, playing for the 2016 World Juniors team.
7. Shane Gersich, Forward, North Dakota
Gersich was overshadowed by the duo of Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser last year, though Gersich finished as the team’s leading scorer(albeit because both Jost and Boeser missed games due to injury). But established himself as a good collegiate scorer last season, and after opting not to sign with Washington over the summer, he’s primed for a breakout year in which he become’s one of college hockey’s top forwards.
8. Brian Pinho, Forward, Providence
Pinho has developed at a steady rate over the course of his career at Providence, improving both as a scorer and as an all-zone player. Now as a senior, he should be one of the most solid overall players in college hockey.
9. Tyler Sheehy, Forward, Minnesota
Sheehy isn’t the fastest skater, but his ability to get himself into the right position, and skill when he gets the puck on his stick make him one of the most effective scorers in college hockey.
10. Casey Fitzgerald, Defenseman, Boston College
Fitzgerald has been a bit inconsistent over the course of his career at Boston College, but brings a lot of positives, including smooth skating and the ability to handle the puck. There’s a familiarity with USA Hockey too, since he’s a graduate of the NTDP and won a gold medal at the World Juniors last season.
11. Kyle Hayton, Goalie, Wisconsin
Hayton lacks prototypical pro size, which is likely what has kept him in college hockey to his senior year, considering he has put up great stats in his first three seasons. He’ll be playing for Tony Granato at Wisconsin this season after a graduate transfer, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to impress.
12. Dennis Gilbert, Defenseman, Notre Dame
Gilbert has good size and smooth skating. A third round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, he has developed into a top pairing defenseman for Notre Dame. He keeps the game simple, making clean first passes and using his speed to be excellent in puck retrieval situations.
13. Mason Jobst, Forward, Ohio State
Jobst is a player that doesn’t receive nearly the credit or attention that he deserves. At 5’8”, he’s not much of a pro prospect, but he scored over 50 points last season as a sophomore. He’s a talented playmaker that will make his linemates around him better.
14. Chase Priskie, Defenseman, Quinnipiac
Priskie is an elite skater that has grown a lot in his two years at Quinnipiac. He’s become more developed physically and become more comfortable with the puck on his stick as a power play quarterback for the Bobcats.
15. Michael Bitzer, Goalie Bemidji State
This might be an either/or with Hayton, but Bitzer has been outstanding in his three years at Bemidji State despite facing a very heavy workload. He’s one of the most consistent goalies in college hockey.
16. Erik Foley, Forward, Providence
Foley is a veteran of last year’s World Juniors team and plays the type of heavy, fast two-way defensive game that USA Hockey prizes on their lower lines. He could fill a role on this team.
17. Jimmy Schuldt, Defenseman, St. Cloud State
Schuldt has drawn significant interest as an NHL free agent each of the past two summers, because he’s a smart, reliable player that can contribute offensively with a booming shot from the point.
18. Austin Poganski, Forward, North Dakota
Poganski passed on signing with the St. Louis Blues this summer to return to North Dakota. He’s a big, hard-working power forward that could provide some muscle and motor to the US line-up.
19. CJ Suess, Forward, Minnesota State
There was significant belief that Suess would sign with the Winnipeg Jets last spring, but he opted to return to Mankato for his final year of eligibility. Suess is an excellent skater with some offensive flash. If he gets off to a fast start this season, he could put himself on the radar for the Olympic team.
20. Jordan Gross, Defenseman, Notre Dame
Though his versatility is a bit limited, Gross is one of the best puck-moving offensive defensemen in the NCAA. If Team USA needs a defenseman that can distribute the puck on the power play, Gross could be a very good fit.
F-Karson Kuhlman, Minnesota Duluth
F-Rem Pitlick, Minnesota
F-Kiefer Sherwood, Miami
D-Will Borgen, St. Cloud State
G-Hayden Hawkey, Providence