Two years ago, Team USA got to the Gold Medal Game in the Olympics with names like Kane, Malone and Rafalski. This year, none of those players are still competing for the Stanley Cup. But that shouldn’t be indicative of the future of American hockey. This season’s NHL playoffs are showcasing some of the good, young, Americans, some of who will be named to the 2014 US Olympic team in Sochi (provided, of course, if the NHL allows to send their players). Many American players are stepping up for their NHL teams.
Dustin Brown has been one such player. One of three American captains left in the playoffs, Brown has led his Kings to only their second ever conference final. He currently ranks third in points and should pass the top two (Giroux and Briere) if he keeps his pace up. His hit on Henrik Sedin in game three of the first round was a game changer and later scored one of his three playoff game winners in a 1-0 victory. For a player who hadn’t done much in his first two playoff appearances and was held off of the scoresheet in the 2010 Olympics, it’s a welcome sight for those waiting for him to breakout.
His Kings teammate Jonathan Quick didn’t get into an Olympic game in Vancouver, but looks to be the man in net in 2014. Quick’s stellar season has shot him to become not only America’s best goalie, but one of the best in the NHL as well. He singlehandedly put the Kings into the playoffs and as their offense woke up, the team transformed into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Zach Parise was a big part of the 2010 Olympic team (4 goals, 8 points) and has been a big part why the New Jersey Devils are one round away from the Stanley Cup Final. He’s scored 4 goals and 8 points so far this playoff as team captain.
The Rangers have a contingent of Americans on their roster, of which only captain Ryan Callahan went to the Olympics two years ago. Callahan only had one assist but would figure to be a big piece of the next team USA. Derek Stepan is among the playoff point leaders (1 goal, 7 assists), while rookie sensation Chris Kreider is making his mark on the NHL just one month after playing for Boston College. Even Brian Boyle has gotten into the action, scoring three playoff goals.
Brian Rafalski is retired now, and someone will have to fill his spot on defense. The Coyotes’ young blueliner Keith Yandle is a prime candidate. He’s been a horse for Phoenix, helping them to their first ever conference final. Despite not having a goal in the playoffs, Yandle’s hit the 10 goal mark in three straight seasons and has been a weapon on the powerplay (53 PPP the last three years).
With the breakouts of players (Brown, Callahan, Quick) added to the continued success of others (Parise), this playoffs have been an American showcase. Even with some roster turnover from a 2010 silver medal winning team, the 2014 version could be one of the favorites for gold.