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One of many U.S. Olympic roster projections

12.30.13 at 9:00 am ET
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Ryan Miller should once again be the starting goalie for Team USA. (AP)

Ryan Miller should once again be the starting goalie for Team USA. (AP)

The U.S. Olympic roster will be announced Wednesday at the Winter Classic, which means it’s time for everyone to make their roster projections. Mine is below. It’s worth noting that this isn’t necessarily who I think will make the team, but rather who I think should make it. It’s also worth noting that the roster announced Wednesday could end up changing due to injuries. Team USA will take 25 players to Sochi, and the assumption is that the breakdown will be 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies.

Forwards
Zach PariseRyan Kesler – Patrick Kane
James van Riemsdyk – Joe Pavelski – Phil Kessel
Max Pacioretty – David Backes – Bobby Ryan
Dustin Brown – Paul Stastny – T.J. Oshie
Jason Pominville, Ryan Callahan/Derek Stepan

The top three centers are pretty much interchangeable — all three can score, all three play defense and all three are strong on faceoffs. Parise and Kane are as good as it gets on the wing (although it’s worth mentioning that Parise is currently battling a foot injury). Kessel and van Riemsdyk already play together in Toronto, so it makes sense to keep them together here.

Pacioretty and Ryan give you a very good third scoring line. Brown has struggled this season, but I still like him as a fourth-liner. He and Oshie would be a bruising tandem. Stastny gets the nod over Stepan because he’s better on faceoffs and he’s been playing better recently.

Ideally, I’d use one extra forward spot on a scorer (Pominville) and one on a grinder (Callahan). But if Callahan isn’t ready — he’s recovering from an MCL sprain — I’ll take a fifth center in Stepan.

The toughest omissions for me were Kyle Okposo and Brandon Dubinsky. Okposo is fifth among Americans in points this year, but I trust the scorers above a little bit more. Dubinsky is a very good two-way forward who could certainly play a role on this team, but I like Brown, Oshie, Callahan and even Stepan a little more. Same goes for Blake Wheeler. Brandon Saad and Alex Galchenyuk would be sexy picks, but the U.S. has better, more experienced scorers.

Defense
Ryan Suter – Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan McDonagh – Justin Faulk
Keith Yandle – Erik Johnson
Cam Fowler, Paul Martin/John Carlson

This is a mobile group with a lot of strong all-around players, which should translate well to the Olympic-sized sheet. Suter and McDonagh are the anchors — both should see lots of minutes. Shattenkirk and Yandle are the most offensive-minded, and both would be valuable assets on the power play.

Faulk and Fowler are young (21 and 22, respectively), but both are having very good seasons while playing top-pairing minutes against opponents’ best lines. Johnson is doing the same in Colorado, and he also brings Olympic experience.

If Martin is 100 percent — he’s recovering from a fractured tibia — I want him on the team and probably playing somewhere in the top six. And if he’s on the team, you could make the case for Brooks Orpik as well since the two have played together in Pittsburgh. In the end, though, I’d rather have the guys above instead of Orpik. If Martin isn’t ready, I’ll gladly take Carlson, another young, mobile defenseman having a strong season.

Jack Johnson and Dustin Byfuglien are probably the most notable omissions. Johnson has a ton of international experience and played well in the 2010 Olympics, but I just don’t think he’s one of the eight best American defensemen right now. Byfuglien is having a great season in Winnipeg, but count me among those who wouldn’t trust his defense on the big sheet. Seth Jones needs a little more seasoning, and Torey Krug needs to get better in his own end. Andy Greene deserves more consideration than he’s getting.

Goalie
Ryan Miller
Jonathan Quick
Ben Bishop

Miller seems pretty much locked in as the starter at this point. He was great in the 2010 Olympics, and he’s having a very good season playing behind a terrible Buffalo team. Quick is still recovering from a groin injury and he hasn’t been great this season even when he was healthy, but as long as he’s ready to go, his excellent playoff record is more than enough to land him the backup job.

The third goalie spot is interesting. Most prognosticators have been saying Cory Schneider or Jimmy Howard (and a report Sunday afternoon indicated it would be Howard), but I would take Bishop. He has the best numbers of any American netminder this season, and if the U.S. has to resort to its third option for some reason, I’d rather have a guy who’s been playing great than one who’s been struggling, which is what Schneider and Howard have been doing this year.

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