By Ben Raby
With the Olympic torch lit, and the 2012 London Games well underway, CSNWashington.com is already looking ahead to the 2014 Sochi Games.
NHL player participation in the next Winter Olympics is still pending approval from the Board of Governors in the next CBA, but assuming that the best players in the world will be made available to the worlds biggest stage, the United States should be in the mix for another podium finish.
In the days ahead CSNWashington.com will examine USA Hockeys 2014 Mens Olympic roster position by position in a four part series.
In Part One on Thursday we handicapped USA Hockeys goaltending options for 2014. In Part Two on Saturday we examined the blueliners who may represent the U.S. in Sochi. Today in Part Three, we look at the forwards.
DUSTIN BROWN (Los Angeles Kings): The second American to captain a Stanley Cup champion (and first since Derian Hatcher in 1999), Brown has emerged as one of the NHLs best leaders and two-way forwards.
Brown has also finished in the top three in the NHL in hits in each of the past six seasons and despite his physical play, the 27-year-old has remarkably has not missed a single game in each of the last four years. Brown has played in 266 consecutive games- the sixth longest active streak in the League.
Brown was an assistant captain at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and should be in the running to the wear the C in Sochi.
Brown has represented USA Hockey at seven international events including four World Championships (2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009).
RYAN CALLAHAN (New York Rangers): The Rochester, NY native grew up in a working class neighborhood and prides himself on playing a blue collar game in the NHL. Callahans 271 hits were fifth most in the League last season and his 88 blocked shots were third most among forwards.
Callahans efforts earned him his third straight Extra Effort Award given annually to the Ranger who goes beyond the call of duty.
The Rangers captain also finished with a career-high 29 goals and 54 points while captaining the Rangers to their first Eastern Conference regular-season title in 18 years.
Callahan, 27, last played for USA Hockey at the 2005 World Junior Championships.
PATRICK KANE (Chicago Blackhawks): No American has ever been taken first overall in the NHL Entry Draft and won both a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Kane could become the first in 2014.
The 23-year-old already has five full NHL seasons under his belt, but his 66 points in 82 games last year were a career-low, while his 23 goals last season were his lowest total since he scored 21 times as a rookie.
Kane has represented USA Hockey at four international events including the 2010 Vancouver Games.
PHIL KESSEL (Toronto Maple Leafs): Kessel finished with career-highs and led all Americans with 37 goals and 82 points last season despite his playing without a true No.1 center with the Maple Leafs.
The 24-year-old has had difficulty living up the lofty expectations in Toronto (the fact that Toronto gave up two first-round picks to acquire him doesnt help), but Kessels hot start last season (he led the League in scoring through October) was as big a reason as any that the Leafs still found themselves in a playoff position in February.
Kessel has represented USA Hockey at eight international events including the 2010 Vancouver Games.
MAX PACIORETTY (Montreal Canadiens): Less than a year after a vicious hit from Bostons Zdeno Chara left Pacioretty with a broken vertebra and severe concussion, the 23-year-old finished with career-highs of 33 goals and 65 points in 2011-12.
His comeback last year was recognized at seasons end when he won the Bill Masterton Trophy which is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies perseverance and dedication to the game of hockey.
Pacioretty has represented USA Hockey at two international events including the 2012 World Championships where he led the U.S. with 12 points in eight games.
ZACH PARISE (Minnesota Wild): Parise struck gold this summer when he signed a 13-year 98 million deal with the Wild, but the Minneapolis, MN, native remains in search of his first career Olympic gold medal.
Parise was among the most coveted free agents this summer and could emerge as the Americans No.1 center at the Sochi Games. The 28-year-old has developed into one of the best two-way centers in the game and he has scored at least 30 goals in each of his last five full seasons.
Parise has represented USA Hockey at seven international events including the 2010 Vancouver Games.
JOE PAVELSKI (San Jose Sharks): If Parise is in fact USAs No.1 center, Pavelski could be the man in the middle on the Americans second line.
Pavelski, 28, led the Sharks last season with a career-high 31 goals and was famously nicknamed a Swiss Army Knife due to his versatility by U.S. general manager Brian Burke in 2010.
He does a whole bunch of different things well, Burke said. You can use him in every conceivable manpower situation. You can use him on the power play. You can use him short. You can use him 4-on-3. You can use him 3-on-4. He works hard and has a high hockey IQ.
Pavelski last represented USA Hockey at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
BOBBY RYAN (Anaheim Ducks): Despite his teaming with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim to form one of the Leagues top trios, Bobby Ryans days with the Ducks appear numbered.
After trade rumors followed him throughout the season, Ryan acknowledged at seasons end that a change of scenery may be in his best interest.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder has emerged as one of the NHLs elite power forwards with great hands and foot speed. Ryans numbers speak for themselves with four straight 30-goal seasons.
Ryan last represented USA Hockey at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
DAVID BACKES (St. Louis Blues): Like Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan, Backes is another American captain who plays a hard-nosed game that cant always be measured in numbers.
That said, his 24 goals were tops on a St. Louis team that won the Central Division for the first time in 12 years and his 54 points were tied for the team lead with fellow American T.J. Oshie. Backes was also a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, awarded annually to the Leagues top defensive forward.
Backes has represented USA Hockey at four international events including the 2010 Vancouver Games.
RYAN KESLER (Vancouver Canucks): The only thing keeping Kesler from being a lock for the 2014 Sochi Games is his health.
After scoring a career-high 41 goals and winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2010-11, the 27-year-old missed the start of last year after offseason hip surgery. The versatile two-way center is also expected to miss the start of the 2012-13 campaign as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
Kesler has represented USA Hockey at five international events, including the 2010 Vancouver Games.
JASON POMINVILLE (Buffalo Sabres): The Sabres captain has registered six straight 20-goal seasons while missing only nine games over those six years. He was also Buffalos leading scorer last season with 30 goals and 73 points while taking only six minor penalties.
Pominville was named to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game and has represented USA Hockey once before at the 2008 World Championships.
PAUL STASTNY (Colorado Avalanche): Colorados No.1 center has seen his offensive numbers drop in each of the past two seasons, but at 26-years-old his best hockey may still be coming.
Despite his Slovak roots from his father Peter and despite his having been born in Quebec City, Paul has chosen to the represent the U.S. when playing internationally.
The playmaking center with a strong hockey IQ has represented USA Hockey at three international events including the 2010 Vancouver Games.
IN THE MIX:
ERIK COLE (Montreal Canadiens): Montreals leading goal-scorer in 2011-12 partnered with Max Pacioretty to become the first American teammates to record 30 goals in the same season since Jason Pominville and Chris Drury did so with the Buffalo Sabres in 2006-07.
KYLE OKPOSO (New York Islanders): Okposo finished with a career-high 24 goals last season playing primarily with John Tavares and Matt Moulson on New Yorks No.1 line. With P.A. Parenteau having signed with Colorado, Okposo could see more scoring opportunities next year as well.
Okposo has represented USA Hockey at five international events including the 2009 and 2010 World Championships.
T.J. OSHIE (St. Louis Blues): In his fourth NHL season, Oshie had career-highs last year with 19 goals and 52 points (tied for the Blues team lead).
Oshie has represented USA Hockey at three international events including the 2009 and 2010 World Championships.
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK (Toronto Maple Leafs): A broken foot limited the 23-year-old to 43 games last season but the former Flyers winger will have ample opportunity to rebound next year in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs acquired Van Riemsdyk with plans of converting him into the teams No.1 center where he would likely be flanked by Joffrey Lupol and potential U.S. teammate Phil Kessel.
David Booth (Vancouver Canucks), Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Brian Gionta (Montreal Canadiens), Chris Kreider (New York Rangers), Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay Lightning), Craig Smith (Nashville Predators), Drew Stafford (Buffalo Sabres), Derek Stepan (New York Rangers), R.J. Umberger (Columbus Blue Jackets), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets).
Which forwards do you think will represent the United States at the 2014 Sochi Games? Share your comments below. Check back on CSNWashington.com in the days to come for Part Four of our series on USA Hockeys 2014 Mens Olympic Team.