USA hockey 2014: 5 players to watch before the Sochi Games

Martin Rose

As we get closer to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, every Wednesday we'll have five players to watch who could change Team USA's fate at the upcoming games.

Every Olympic year we see players who were locks for their teams in the summer fall off and sit either on the bubble, or on the outside looking in. Conversely, players who weren't expected to make it play beyond expectations and push themselves into the conversation. Each week, we'll be taking a look at five players whose situations are in flux.

Ryan Miller

The MVP of the Vancouver Olympics isn't someone who you would think isn't a lock for the team, but coming into the 2013-14 season he was considered to be behind Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, and possibly Cory Schneider as well. With Quick injured, and Howard faltering, eyes are back on Miller for Team USA's starting job. It's not like Miller is back in the conversation just due to the play of others though, he's been fantastic.

Miller is playing on likely the worst team in the NHL, and he's put up a very solid .919 save percentage in 18 games. That number isn't among the league leaders, but Miller is also playing behind a horrible defensive group, including a bunch of rookies and young players, and facing almost 38 shots per game. He wouldn't have to do that for Team USA. Don't be surprised if Miller is the starting goaltender for Team USA in February.

Alex Galchenyuk

Invited to Team USA's orientation camp as a long shot candidate for the 13th forward job, Galchenyuk's dynamic offensive ability has led David Poile to comment that he's still very much on Team USA's radar. He's currently in the middle of about 20 forwards who are vying to make the team, but he's managed to get the most accomplished in limited minutes, which is likely what Team USA wants in a 13th forward.

Galchenyuk also has the ability to play center, and although he isn't currently doing that, he's been shifted into a tough minutes role with Lars Eller, and should he keep producing, he may lock his spot up soon.

Seth Jones

Already dubbed "Seth Jones, American hero" by many American hockey fans, Jones has not only begun his career in tough minutes with Shea Weber, but excelled. He's also captured the hopes of American hockey fans, symbolizing the newfound growth in the USA Hockey program.

Jones has taken a bit of a dip in his play since his stellar start, but there seems to be an inclination that the Team USA big wigs want him on the team. Two of his three goals coming against Canadian teams looks good on his application as well.

Dustin Brown

You wouldn't have found many people two months ago that would believe Dustin Brown wouldn't be on Team USA, but his play so far this year has been lackluster enough to put him on the bubble. With just 4 goals in 25 games this season, and 1 in his last 10, Brown is treading the line.

The upside for Brown is that if he makes the team, he won't be brought in as a goalscorer, but as an agitator and a checker, both things he's very good at. Brown has become known as the best diver in the NHL, and as much as diving is looked down upon by fans, if you can get away with it, it brings value to a team.

Jack Johnson

A perennial lock for every Team USA roster since he was a teenager, Johnson may finally be on the outside looking in, something that should have happened a long time ago. Johnson is having a brutal start to the season, with just 5 points in 24 games, but the bigger issue for him has always been defensive play, and he's been on the ice for 33 goals against already in this young season.

The major obstacle for Johnson though, is that America's defensive depth is far more impressive now than it was in 2010. It's very difficult to argue that Johnson should make the team over players like Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk, Dustin Byfuglien, Paul Martin (recently injured), John Carlson, Matt Carle, Seth Jones, Andy Greene, Justin Faulk, and more.

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