When the U.S. Men's National team announced their roster at the Winter Classic on New Years Day, there were more than a few surprises in regards to players that were left off of the team.
Coming into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the United States has a deeper pool of talent than any point in its history, which made this years' selection process easily the most difficult since NHL players became a fixture of the games in 1998.
The evolution of the team building saga was covered in an excellent piece by ESPN.com hockey aficionado Scott Burnside, who did an excellent job chronicling the details of how the selection process went down over the last couple of months.
At the end of the day members of the 2010 squad (forward Bobby Ryan, and defenseman Jack Johnson being the most notable) were passed over for younger and potentially more talented players that have the abilities necessary to bring the U.S. its first hockey gold since 1980.
Johnson and Ryan have legitimate gripes for being being dropped by the the USA Hockey brass, which was spearheaded by Nashville Predators GM Dave Poile. That said they certainly weren't the only players who had a strong case to represent the stars and stripes in what will easily be the deepest Olympic Hockey pool of all time.
From this writers' perspective, one such player was the Boston Bruins own Torey Krug. So far this season, the young offensive minded defenseman is a leading contender for the Calder Trophy (Krug was called up in last years' playoffs), and has continued to add an exciting dimension to Claude Julien's defense-first system.
Currently, Krug is tied for fourth among all NHL defenseman and 8th among all rookie skaters with eight goals. Half of those goals have come on the man-advantage, where Krug has become a staple for a resurgent Boston unit that has gone from having the league's fifth worst powerplay (14.8 %) last season to having the NHL's fifth best (21.6).
When it was all said and done the U.S. brain trust settled, on Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild), Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh Penguins), Cam Fowler (Anaheim Ducks), John Carlson (Washington Capitals), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh Penguins), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues) and Justin Falk (Carolina Hurricanes).
The first five are especially hard to argue given that (with the exception of Martin) all of those players can contribute on the offensive end, in addition to being outstanding in defensive zone. The trouble with the group really comes with the next three d-men.
Orpik has tons of questions about whether or not his game will translate onto the bigger ice surface. Yes, he was a member of the 2010 team, but the fact that he is also recovering from a serious concussion (from Shawn Thornton), could make him way too much of a liability.
As for Shattenkirk and Faulk, the big red flag is their experience.
Of the two, the Blues blue liner is the better option, but his track record in the playoffs leaves a little something to be desired. In 15 career playoff games over the last two seasons, Shattenkirk has only posted four points (1 G, 3 A), and recorded a disappointing -4. What's more, the Greenwich native wasn't even tasked with matching up with the opponents best forwards (that assignment went to Jay Bouwmesster and Alex Pietrangelo).
Faulk's pedigree is even more worrisome. Three seasons into his career the 21 year-old has yet to taste postseason action, and it is unknown how he will react to what is essentially a playoff type atmosphere. Despite his outstanding skating ability, Faulk's willingness to take chances in the offensive zone makes him somewhat of a defensive liability.
As for Krug, well, he comes with concerns of his own, chief among them being his size (he's listed at 5'9 and 180 lbs.). The Michigan State product has also has played far less NHL games (44) than his fellow countrymen.
Now, for the positives. On top of having an outstanding 2013-2014 regular season, Krug has shown he knows how to elevate his level of play when it matters most. In the Bruins journey to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, the Livonia, Michigan-native had 6 points (4 G, 2 A) in 15 games.
What was even more encouraging, was that Krug jumped right into an injury depleted lineup and was able to instantly mesh with seasoned veterans with whom he had very little experience playing with. On the surface, many might see Krug's aggressiveness as a liability akin to those of Shattenkirk or Faulk.
The difference is that the undrafted free-agent, has had to earn his playing time. Shattenkirk and Faulk were first-round draft picks that we required to provide big minutes early in their careers. Krug on the other hand, had to prove to one of the best defensive coaches in the NHL that he was worth keeping in the lineup.
The United States' top two defenseman (Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh) are far and away the teams best talents' on the blueline, and will likely average around 30 exhausting minutes a game covering the opponents best players.
Would Krug be expected to make major contributions? Absolutely not.
Would Krug's offensive specialties, dynamic skating ability, and knack for coming up clutch in big moments be able to help a U.S. team that needed a spark? Absolutely yes.
Baring multiple injures, there is no way that Krug finds a way onto this years' team, but given his potential upside compared to the three bottom defenseman that were selected, it's a shame that the he wasn't given a chance to make an impact now.Tags: Bobby Ryan, Boston, Boston Bruins, Brooks Orpik, Cam Fowler, Claude Julien, Dave Poile, Hockey, Jack Johnson, John Carlson, NHL, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, Torey Krug