The World Championships of Ice Hockey Start in just about 10 days in Scandinavia as of this writing. This event has never been hugely popular in the United States, and top tier America players have tended to avoid it. In the Past 3 Tournaments they finished 7th last year, 8th in 2011, and 13th in 2010 out or the 16 teams competing. However they had a respectable 2009 tournament finishing 4th overall, losing in the Bronze medal Game to Sweden.
So what was different that year? For Starters it was the last big international tournament before the Olympic Teams were selected. And the top tier talent decided to give it a go since it was their last opportunity to get into the good graces of the selection committee. Which has often looked at service to the National teams as an important criteria in selecting players to tournaments like the Olympics. So when their teams missed the playoffs; soon to be selected 2010 Olympians David Backes, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, Joe Pavelski, and Ryan Suter got on the plane and headed out to play. As well as some other bubble players who were hoping to make that Olympic team like T. J. Oshie and Lee Stempniak.
On early projections of who will be invited to the 2013 Sochi Olympics (provided the NHL shuts down and releases its players to play) There only seem to be a handful that are solid locks to be part of that team. Phil Kessel, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Callahan and Patrick Kane are pretty much locks up front. With Ryan Suter pretty much a lock on the blue line. While some other players are close to being assured a roster spot, It would be hard to say that a player who starts next season off like Erik Johnson has this season, with no goals, 4 assists and a -3 through 30 games before injury would still assure them of that roster spot.
In Keeping with past rules of 20 skaters and 3 goalies; My Projections for the Olympic Team are these(projections are in no particular Order or potential line combination):
Olympic Team projections
Outside looking in
James van Riemsdyk
Ryan Suter Keith Yandle
Brooks Orpik Nick Leddy
Matt Niskanen Dustin Byfuglien
Paul Martin (injured)
Outside Looking in:
Cam Fowler Joe Corvo
Kevin Shattenkirk Jack Johnson
Erik Johnson John Carlson
Zach Bogosian Ryan McDonagh
And The Goalies
Outside looking in
*I allow that some players can jump back up and take a spot with a great start, but as of now players like Chris Krieder and Jake Gardiner who has been up and down in the minors all season do not warrant a spot at this juncture, and Colin Wilson who just had surgery are not on this list
So here we are 10 days before the tournament starts, with teams starting to be officially eliminated from the NHL playoffs, the picture of possible invitees to the World Championships is becoming clearer. Based on current teams playoff rankings. These are potential invitees to the US World Championship roster
Blake Wheeler: had a very good year, he may sign up to help his chances on a very crowded Right wing for the US, In these Tournaments players generally play out of position to show some versatility and get the most Talent onto the roster
Lee Stempniak: Lee also had a very good year, and would probably like to avoid the fate of 2010 by being a bubble player who did go to this tournament before the last Olympic games. He also is on the RW side, but would probably play any wing to help his chances. May use this as a chance to show he can play the other wing
Erik Cole: Erik had a forgettable season and would probably like to do anything to help him forget it. While he is a left winger, and the US limited with options there, he would still be wise to entertain a spot on this team in case he either comes out slow from the gate again or they decide to play a rightwinger out of position there.
Ryan Malone: another LW from the 2010 olympic team who had a dreadful season. While fortunate by the weakness of depth on his wing, he may do well to go with players like Stempniak ready to take the first spot open
Paul Stastny: A extremely talented player, but he did not have the most solid year on a team that had some offensive difficulties and there is some depth at center in the US talent Pool
Peter Mueller: While is chances of playing on the Olympic Team are close to nil, he is playing out a 1 year contract in Florida, after some Post Concussion problems ended his time in Colorado. He is looking for a multi-year contract and may want to play with some more talented players in the World Championships to help him get a contract and some stability after 3 teams in the past 4 years. If he can regain the form of his rookie seasons 54 point campaign he may be lining his ducks up for a 2018 spot
David Legwand: Had a steady but unspectacular season. He is definitely on the outside looking in for the 2014 Olympic Team. Yet he may be out to prove something and to keep his name on the bubble in case an injury opens the door for a replacement.
Tim Gleason, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Keith Yandle, Erik Johnson, Joe Corvo: Outside of Brooks Orpik , Ryan Suter,and probably Keith Yandle the Blueline for the Olympics is in doubt, a bunch of average to above average players, Many of their teams though are in position to be in the playoffs, so while they are keeping their names in the spotlight in the Stanley Cup playoffs, These few have an opportunity to stay in the minds of the selection committee.
Jimmy Howard, and Ryan Miller: With Jonathan Quick possibly the #1 for the US Olympic Team, there will be lots of discussion as to who is second in line to step up and take the reins in case of an injury or a cold start to the 13-14 season for last years Stanley Cup winner. And with Cory Schnieder and Craig Anderson in the playoffs, Watch for one of the two to step up to lead this years team.
Ben Bishop: Would be the heir apparent if both Howard and Miller say No, or if Howard sneaks into the playoffsand Miller declines
Rick Dipietro: May be looking to prove he can still play. And with all teams attracting better quality players due to it being an Olympic year, Rick may want to prove he can still play with the big boys. He is probably going to be a buyout cap casualty so he may be looking to impress someone else in the NHL or perhaps overseas. I cannot envision him going as better than a 2 a most likely the 3, but it may be a needed stepping stone to play in an exhibition game and/or a preliminary game
While this is a glance inside the US team, all teams have some better talent looking to get the attention of the Olympic team committee. Until the rosters are officially announced, it is not realistic to guess on a medal finish or not.