USA Hockey may not be sending its best players to the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, but we still received a glimpse of American hockey’s bright future during the 2018 NHL All-Star Game over the weekend. From Brock Boeser’s flowing locks to Johnny Gaudreau’s dizzying handles, there’s a lot to look forward to.
Boeser, Gaudreau, Auston Matthews, and Jack Eichel were among the most impressive players on the star-studded ice in Tampa. The four Americans can’t play together in the red, white, and blue anytime soon with the NHL’s absence from the Olympics, but this weekend felt like a reminder of what could be built by Team USA in the coming years.
Boeser started and ended the weekend as one of the breakout stars. The Canucks rookie won the Accuracy Shooting event in the Skills Competition, then earned all-star game MVP honors the next day by scoring a pair of goals for the victorious Team Pacific. For his troubles, he walked away with $337,500 in bonuses and a car, which is pretty good for a couple days’ work.
Gaudreau, Matthews, and Eichel were similarly electric during the festivities. Gaudreau won the Puck Control Relay with possibly the smoothest hands in the league. Matthews and Eichel were exceptional as a duo in the 3-on-3 tournament, each scoring a goal for Team Atlantic.
Imagine those four as the core of a stacked Team USA for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which the NHL is still entertaining as a possibility. And consider all of the other young American talent that could be ready to surround them at that time.
At forward, the Americans have Dylan Larkin, Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Matthew Tkachuk, Alex DeBrincat, and Kyle Connor all in the NHL at age 21 or younger. There’s also top Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt, who dominated the 2018 World Juniors, and 16-year-old Jack Hughes, who is widely considered the top candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.
On defense, there’s Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Charlie McAvoy, Jacob Trouba, Noah Hanifin, Will Butcher, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Jaccob Slavin all under age 24. Top goaltenders John Gibson (should’ve been an all-star) and Connor Hellebuyck (was an all-star) are both 24 years old.
Is that enough to topple teams from Canada, Sweden, etc.? Hard to say, but these are pieces that could push Team USA to be its best ever in the future, even better than the 2010 Olympic team that won silver in Vancouver. And while it’s disappointing that we won’t get to see what these guys could do together in Pyeongchang, there should be excitement over the direction of American hockey and the quality of players being produced.
We may not know the next time Team USA will have its full NHL player pool available for a major tournament, but one thing was made readily apparent in Tampa over the weekend: The stars to build around have already arrived.