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How USA Hockey constructed the 2018 Olympic men's team without NHL players

A lack of NHL players won’t stop the Americans from sending an intriguing team to Pyeongchang.

100 Days Out Celebration - Team USA Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The men’s hockey team representing the United States at the 2018 Winter Olympics will be a lot different than the one that finished fourth in Sochi four years ago. Without the NHL’s participation in the event, the likes of Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, and Jonathan Quick are out. In their place are a bunch of guys you’ve probably never heard of.

USA Hockey had to turn to colleges, European leagues, and the AHL in order to fill out its 23-man roster for Pyeongchang. The group, which was announced during the Winter Classic on Monday, features only a few players with significant NHL experience. Some of them have never played at that level before.

However, part of what’s already been cool about the 2018 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team is knowing what a unique opportunity this is for the players. Many of them never dreamed of playing in an Olympics with the NHL in the way. It was always going to be something out of reach.

So this is already a dream come true for a lot of these guys, even before getting a chance to actually play for anything. Now that we know who will be represented the United States, here’s a closer look at the roster.

15-year NHL veteran Brian Gionta is team captain

If there’s one player on the U.S. roster that fans have heard of, it will likely be the team captain. Gionta retired from the NHL last spring after 15 seasons with the Sabres, Canadiens, and Devils. At his peak, he had seven straight 20-goal seasons, including a career-year of 48 goals and 89 points with New Jersey in 2005-06.

Even during the last few NHL seasons, Gionta was still productive with between 33-40 points per season with Buffalo. In his last year, he recorded 15 goals and 35 points in 82 games. So he’s still in playing shape, and will be the experienced leader for an otherwise unseasoned team.

Players come from seven different leagues

Over the past couple decades, USA Hockey got all its Olympic players from one league: the NHL. Without that option, management turned to a wide variety of sources, plucking players from leagues around the world to piece together a roster for Pyeongchang.

The 2018 roster includes players from seven different sources:

  • AHL
  • NCAA
  • NLA, Switzerland’s top league
  • DEL, Germany’s top league
  • KHL, Russia’s top league
  • SHL, Sweden’s top league
  • DEL2, Germany’s second-tier league

Breaking that down in terms of numbers, both the KHL and NLA lead the way with five players each. There are four players from college hockey, three each from the SHL and AHL, and one each from the DEL and DEL2. There’s also one player, Gionta, who isn’t currently signed to a professional team.

15 players have NHL experience

Gionta leads the way with over 1,000 games played in the NHL, but 14 other players on the roster have appeared in at least one NHL game.

Defenseman James Wisniewski played 552 games for six different teams and had a pair of 50-point seasons. Center Jim Slater played 584 games with the Jets/Thrashers. Forward Mark Arcobello played for five different teams over three years, including a 31-point season with the Oilers in 2014-15. Defenseman Matt Gilroy played 225 games with the Rangers, Lightning, Panthers, and Senators from 2009-14.

So it’s not like this roster is completely absent of players with meaningful NHL experience. Gionta and Wisniewski even had lengthy stretches where they were key players for their respective teams.

Chris Bourque, Bobby Butler, Chad Kolarik, John McCarthy, Brian O’Neill, Jonathon Blum, Ryan Stoa, Chad Billins, Bobby Sanguinetti, and Noah Welch also played for NHL teams in the past.

Three players were NHL first-round picks

This group doesn’t exactly have the star-studded draft pedigree you’d expect from an American Olympic team, but most of them were NHL draft picks. Eight of them went in the second round or higher, including three first-round picks.

Here’s the breakdown.

First round: Jim Slater, Jonathon Blum, Bobby Sanguinetti

Second round: Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway, Ryan Stoa, Noah Welch

Third round: Brian Gionta

Fourth round: Will Borgen

Fifth round: Troy Terry, James Wisniewski

Sixth round: n/a

Seventh round: Chad Kolarik, John McCarthy, Garrett Roe

Undrafted: Mark Arcobello, Bobby Butler, Broc Little, Brian O’Neill, Chad Billins, Matt Gilroy, Ryan Gunderson, Ryan Zapolski

Sanguinetti was the highest draft pick at 21st overall for the Rangers in 2006. Slater was the 30th overall pick by the Thrashers in 2002, and Blum was the 23rd overall pick by the Predators in 2007. That’s one defenseman that Nashville couldn’t develop into a star.

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