NEW YORK – The NHL season is about to start, and for a number of young Americans, securing or strengthening a foothold on a club roster isn’t the lone attainable achievement on the radar. Some of them think farther ahead. Like Sochi 2014.
To a man, each of the emerging members of Team USA included on the Men’s Orientation Camp Roster say their sole focus at the moment is simply making their NHL roster or help it better its efforts of a year ago.
They’re hesitant to tell reporters just how badly they want to wear the Stars and Stripes in 2014.
But, if you talk to Team USA Head Coach Dan Bylsma or the management group spearheaded by General Manager David Poile, youth could be served when the final roster is submitted for Sochi.
"We've got some young guys on this roster and they shouldn't think they're just here to observe the older guys," said Bylsma. "They're talented players and I don't think you've ever seen a group of 48 like this that is such a deep and talented pool."
Consider Jacob Trouba, the 19 year-old University of Michigan product drafted ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2012.
Trouba is yet to skate a shift in the NHL for the Jets, but was a major contributor for the Americans as they captured gold at the 2013 World Junior Championships and solid force for the senior team that won bronze at the World Championships.
"I think we've earned being here, but, I still have a lot to prove, I haven't played an NHL game yet, I haven't even made an NHL roster yet," Trouba explained. "Those are my goals, but obviously it would be great to be on this team."
Though young, Trouba possesses exactly management needs in a defender on bigger ice: smooth skating, two-way play and speed.
When asked about the litany of fresh-faced players at orientation camp, Poile expressed passion about the newest wave of American talent.
"I'm really excited that we took the philosophy of inviting a lot of these young players. I can clearly see the present for USA Hockey and I can clearly see the future," exclaimed Poile.
"Is it time for guys like goalie John Gibson, Seth Jones or Trouba? I don't know. Maybe we'll know more in mid-November. We've got them here, they know what we think of them, are they part of the present? We'll see."
Like Trouba, a similar story is forming for the much-publicized Seth Jones, selected fourth overall by David Poile, who is also the General Manager for the Nashville Predators.
Born in October 1994, Jones is the youngest inclusion on the preliminary 48-man roster (Ryan Miller, born in July 1980 is the oldest for those keeping record).
Many experts believe Jones will skate for Nashville on opening night, October 3 against the St. Louis Blues, despite the Predators having a long history of developing top picks with their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.
"We're not just looking for a guy to have a great game or two, but a great career. He's a very mature player, but he'd say to me that he's got to make the Predators first before he makes the Olympic team," said Poile.
"He's not going to make it from the Winterhawks," Poile added.
Like Trouba, Jones experienced tremendous success at the youth levels of North American and international hockey, was a top-ten draft pick, a two-way defenseman and at the same time both is simply trying to get his first NHL shift under his belt.
Breaking through in the NHL might consume them at the moment, but if they’re paying attention to what coaching and management is saying, roster spots in Sochi aren’t unattainable.
The stakes are a little higher for Alex Galchenyuk in Montreal, who is ready to improve on his strong rookie campaign a season ago.
Playing wing for the "Bleu-Blanc-Rouge" last season, Galchenyuk was a Calder Trophy consideration with nine goals and 18 assists in 48 games, attracting the attention of Team USA management.
He’s another 1994 birth, teaming with Jones and Trouba to defeat Sweden last year in Ufa. More importantly, his game-tying and game-winning shootout goals were vital in securing bronze at the World Championships.
At 6’3”, Galchenyuk is a powerful, speedy skater with the perfect disposition for the bigger ice. He’s also a natural center, which could play to his advantage because unlike Canada, which is extremely deep at the position, it appears to be Team USA’s weakest.
"I'd like to say this young guy is just here for the experience, but the talent and skill that he plays with, his quick hands and his offensive ability but the tenacity and how he plays is unique."
For Galchenyuk, an increased role in Montreal weighs heavy in this preseason, but the reality of representing Team USA in his parents' Russia beckons.
Those three are just a few considerations in an exhaustive list of skilled young Americans.
There are others such as Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad of the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks - the latter of which was a Calder Trophy finalist a year ago.
Leddy and Saad, along with guys like Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues and James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs are prime examples of the ever-increasing base of American talent in the NHL.
"This is the deepest roster and pool of talent we've ever had to choose from," Poile remarked. "We told the guys, the veterans and the young guys, this might be the hardest team you've ever had to make."
By IIHF.com staff