Team USA Defense Preview


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By Mike Meyer

Staff Writer

 

Dustin Byfuglien

Age: 31

Height: 6’5”

Weight: 260 lbs

Shoots: Right

Team: Winnipeg Jets

 

Known for his physical style, bruising hits, and two-way ability, Byfuglien is a multipurpose player that the United States are glad to have on their side of the play. Though drafted as a defensemen in 2003, Dustin has been known to play both Forward and Defense throughout his career. Should Head Coach, John Torteralla choose to use Byfuglien as a forward in the offensive zone from time to time, he should be all to comfortable standing in front from his time in Chicago.

 

Over the last 2 seasons with the Jets, Byfuglien has played 150 games while amassing 98 points on the backend. Though a ‘friendly’ tournament, don’t be surprised to see the big-bodied defenseman build upon his 3.05 shots per game and 2.7 hits per game average from the 2015-16 season. The 2010 Stanley Cup Champion and 4x NHL All-Star should be quickly noticeable by fans as he will likely look to use his size and stature to guard the defensive zone.

 

John Carlson

Age: 26

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 218 lbs

Shoots: Right

Team: Washington Capitals

 

As the youngest player amongst this defensive corps, John Carlson may be looked at in a different light for the tournament. Though many would say that experience comes with age, Carlson certainly does not have much to prove. The former 27th overall draft pick from 2008 can already boast several awards from London Knights of the OHL including: MVP award, Best Defensemen, Rookie of the Year, Playoff Performer of the Year. And that was only from playing one year on the team. Carlson as well can add World Junior Championships All-Star Team, Calder Cup Champion, and 2 points (1 goal and 1 assist) throughout 6 Olympic Games. All of this done by the time that he was just barely over 24 years old.

 

The defenseman has amassed 53 goals and 228 points in 454 total NHL career games for the Washington Capitals (39 in 56 games last season) and certainly made a name for himself (at the very least) as a legitimate Top 4 NHL Defensemen. Look for Carlson to be one of the higher notes on the backend that could certainly push Dustin Byfuglien for a spot in the Top 2, as well as for time on special teams.

 

Erik Johnson

Age: 28

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 231 lbs

Shoots: Right

Team: Colorado Avalanche

 

The former 2006, 1st overall draft pick is certainly not shy when it comes to playing for the United States in international play. Since 2007, Johnson has played in 4 international tournaments: 1 World Junior (Bronze medal, Best Defenseman Award, and lead the tournament with 10 points in 7 games), 2 World Championships (5th place and Bronze medal) and 1 Olympic Games (Silver Medal). While being drafted 1st overall by the St. Louis Blues, Johnson was slated to be an elite defenseman and one of the next ‘big things’ on the blue line. Unfortunately, plans to do always go according to plan. Breaking down his numbers, Johnson can be viewed as one of the more riskier choices on the backend. His career -43 rating is downright alarming (-19 during his 2015-16 season) and has only finished on the positive side twice out of his nine years in the NHL. While Johnson can certainly put the puck on net with his blazing shot, he has a mediocre career average of converting at 5.3% of the time. Whereas he put 175 shots on net this past season (converted 6.3%), it seems that he could stand to take his time when shooting or look for better options during the play.

 

Though the NHL has not given him the best of results, internationally, Johnson has proven to be a useful source. In the 2010 Olympics, he managed 1 goal in 6 games,  a +3 rating, and only 4 penalty minutes. In the 2012-13 season during the World Championships, he managed 4 points (2 goals and 2 assists) in 10 games, a +5 overall rating, and 20 penalty minutes. Though International play is when he seems to do better, throughout the tournament Johnson will need support from his line mates and his goaltender to help him out defensively.

 

Jack Johnson

Age: 29

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 238 lbs

Shoots: Left

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

 

Mr. “Captain America”. Or so he was known as in Columbus. Dating back to the U17 tournament in 2004, Jack Johnson has suited up in the Red White and Blue a whopping 74 times. Let’s go over that again… 74 times Jack Johnson has patrolled the blue line and represented the United States. Between 2004-2013, Jack has put on the United States colors and emblem at least once per calendar year minus 2008. At the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, however, Johnson could very well be at the games for the United States, but once again sitting out.

 

Likely due to his performance in the 2013-14 season, Johnson was considered to be “snubbed” from the 2014 Sochi Olympics and could see himself this year skating as an extra during these Games. A blue-collar player, Jack Johnson is a skating definition of grind it out, North-South American Hockey. Though blue-collar is always nice to have, statistically his point production and ability to compete at a higher level also comes in to question. Over the last 2 seasons, Johnson has played 139 games for the Blue Jackets and has accounted for 14 goals and 40 points (0.29 PPG) and a -19 overall rating. Though an always reliable option and ready to play skater, the United States may already have their blue-collar skaters in Ryan McDonagh and Matt Niksanan, which could force Jack out of the starting lineup this year.

 

Ryan McDonagh

Age: 27

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 213 lbs

Shoots: Left

Team: New York Rangers

 

Ryan McDonagh is the classic two-way defenseman that every team needs. Career 127 points in 390 games. +114 rating (+26 during 2015-16). A 6.4% career shooting percentage (8.0% during 2015-16 season). Career  23:21 average TOI.

 

Sure the former 2007, 12th overall draft pick is not the flashiest of players on the scoresheet, but he doesn’t need to be. When it comes to it, the Ranges Captain can help keep the puck out of the defensive zone, feed crisp passes to the forwards, and occasionally chip in on a goal. Unfortunately, time and performance is worrisome since a suffered late season concussion last season from Philadelphia Flyers Wayne Simmonds. While averaging only 20:41 TOI during 3 games in the playoffs, McDonagh registered zero points in 3 games played, only 3 shots on net, and was an overall -1 rating. Statistically speaking, Ryan McDonagh was a shell of himself on the ice. Though there is the worry, should his recovery and offseason training be going well, there should be no reason not to expect the 2015-16 All-Star to be at his best for the tournament.

 

Matt Niskanen

Age: 29

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 204 lbs

Shoots: Right

Team: Washington Capitals

 

Drafted 28th overall in 2005 by Dallas Stars. He has a career 655 games played under his belt between Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington. With 44 career goals and 230 total points (.35 PPG player). Though the 2013-14 season spiked his average where he scored 46 points in 81 games where he averaged .57 PPG. Has seen point totals drop slightly below average where he has seen around 31.5 points over the last 2 seasons with Washington. The good and impressive news though is that his points are mostly coming off of EV Strength time. Something that the United States will need against some of the bigger clubs in the tournament who may not take as many penalties.

 

So what does this mean for Team USA? Matt doesn’t shoot a lot and so this shouldn’t come as a big surprise during the tournament. He only took 150 total shots last season in 82 games, while sporting a lower than career average 3.3% conversion rate (4.4% career). In 2009, he did see time in the World Championship Games. In 9 games played, Matt was able to lock up 3 points (1 goal and 2 assists). ‘Nisk’ is another American that likes to play the body, block shots and grind out the puck from the defensive zone. He certainly won’t be the flashiest of player, but look for him to get good look at the penalty kill for the United States and 3rdpairing minutes. While the United States may not be able to match talent for talent with some of the other clubs, the roster build with Niskanen can certainly look to prevent them from putting the puck in the back of the net.

 

 

Ryan Suter

Age: 31

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 202 lbs

Shoots: Left

Team: Minnesota Wild

 

Between Junior and Senior levels, Ryan Suter has played 77 international games for the United States. He has registered 9 goals and 44 total points. He has certainly proven well to his family legacy as a Suter. Achieved 3 Gold medals (2004 World Juniors, 2002 IIHF World U18, World U-17), 1 Silver Medal (Olympics 2010 Vancouver, where he also served as an Alt Captain). A two-time NHL All-star, 2013 THN Bobby Orr Award (Best Defenseman) and 2013 Norris Trophy Finalist (NHL Best Defenseman). His resume speaks for itself. What more is there to say about this future Hall of Famer and shoo-in for this spot?

 

Always known as more of a ‘set up’ man. Suter in his most recent Olympic Games (2014) played 6 games for the US and notched 3 assists. Suter will likely be used as an excellent go to man on the blue line and log big minutes for the United States in all situations. Coming off a 51 point season, he should be considered a threat any time that he is on the ice.

 

 

 

 

Projected Pairings

(L) Suter    (R) Byf

(L) McD      (R)Carlson

(R) Nisk      (R) E Johnson

 

Res: (L) J Johnson

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