After looking at the top 5 goaltending options for Team USA yesterday, today we focus on the top 15 forwards that should be on the front office’s radar. For the initial scouting report, we’ve ranked them by what we saw as importance to the team. There will be considerable debate on this. Along with BLR staff writer and scouting guru Jim Gatlin, here are the top 15 American forwards.
1. Patrick Kane: Chicago Blackhawks
There’s no doubt he’s the best player on the team. Despite not scoring in the 2014 Olympic Tournament, Kaner is hands down the guy you must have on the team. His propensity to score big goals in clutch moments is what makes him a lock as #1 for November.
2. Joe Pavelski: San Jose Sharks
Pavelski was recently named the Captain of the San Jose Sharks. They respond by charging out of the gate with Pavelski netting 8 goals in 12 games. Leadership? Check. Goal scoring? Check.
3. Max Pacioretty – Montreal Canadiens
The University of Michigan grad is easily one of the top 5 Americans in the game. He can shoot, play solid two-way hockey, and provide clutch scoring. 7 goals in 14 games and a +8 gives credence to Montreal’s hot start. His leadership is another asset that could be a difference maker.
4. Blake Wheeler – Winnipeg Jets
A member of the 2014 team in Sochi, Wheeler has been nothing less than impressive in over a dozen games this season. 16 points in 14 games, two game winners, and logging close to 20 minutes a game. Wheeler is dependable and lethal when close to the net. A valuable commodity with a slew of all-world goalies minding the net for other countries. (Think Canada).
5. Zach Parise – Minnesota Wild
Parise was recently hurt, suffering a lower body injury as a result of a James Neal hit. The Minnesota alternate captain is nearly scoring a point per game, notching 7 goals in just 11 contests. His experience and leadership helps him round out our top 5.
6. Tyler Johnson: Tampa Bay Lightning
Johnson put the NHL on notice in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoff with 13 goals in 26 playoff games. He was a goal short of 30 in the regular season. Though he’s off to a slow start this season, Johnson should live up to his billing as a dangerous scoring threat soon.
7. Phil Kessel: Pittsburgh Penguins
Nothing like sharing a line with Sidney Crosby to help your confidence and stats. Since leaving the hell that is Toronto, Kessel has 4 goals in 12 games and looks like he doesn’t miss that hot dog stand at all.
8. Derek Stepan – New York Rangers
Stepan earns this spot because of the little things that he does–not to mention his craftwork in the playoffs. Remember, the US needs the guys that can show up in for the big moments. Stepan fits that profile well.
9. Ryan Callahan: Tampa Bay Lightning
Coming off a season where he tied his career high in points there is no reason to believe he wont be playing at a World Cup worthy level this season. Callahan has a nose for the puck and I want that on my team.
10. Bobby Ryan: Ottawa Senators
With four 30-goal seasons to his credit (although none since 2011-12), we know he can score. Likely one of the last guys left of the 2014 Olympic roster, he deserves a spot on this team. Team USA had trouble scoring against the elite teams in Sochi, Ryan has proven he can score.
11. Kyle Okposo: New York Islanders
He had a career high in points 2 seasons ago and scored 50 points in an injury plagued season last year. Okposo can make things happen and Team USA shouldn’t leave this kind of talent at home.
12. David Backes: St. Louis Blues
Size, size, and more size. He’s big, but he also knows how to play the game. 2014-15 was the second highest point total of his career and it’s likely that Backes will be in the middle of the 3rd or 4th line.
13. James Van Riemsdyk: Toronto Maple Leafs
Just missed the starting line up, but my bet is that he cracks the opening night roster come next September. We know JVR has the ability to score goals, but a -33 last season shows he doesn’t do much on the other end. Playing for Toronto doesn’t help that, though.
14. TJ Oshie: Washington Capitals
Oshie has only one 20 goal season to his credit. Sure he provided the best moment of the 2014 Olympics, but I don’t know that I give him a spot “in case we need him.”
15. Nick Foligno – Columbus Blue Jackets
If he repeats his 14-15 season, then Foligno is a lock to make this team. Right now, I need to see him do it again.
Keep an Eye On
Justin Abdelkader: Detroit Red Wings
Abdelkader started out hot, netting two goals in his first game. Abby added two more and an assist since, but his play–along with his mates–has stalled with the Red Wings inconsistency. Abdelkader would add a rugged net presence and grit up front for a USA team that features an array of goal scorers. It’s a long shot–but the US might want to keep an eye on him.
Paul Stastny: St. Louis Blues
Another center would be great for TEAM USA but he’s been a disappointment since the move to St. Louis. An injury already this year doesn’t help his case.
Ryan Kesler: Anaheim Ducks
How the mighty have fallen. Kesler isn’t what he used to be and his current -8 is a reflection of that. Once thought to be Team USA’s top center, he will struggle to make this team even with a solid season.
Finally, we know Dustin Brown isn’t on this list. Jim will have an article about why that is next week.