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SI’s Allan Muir Answers Mail, and Picks Team USA 2010

SI’s Allan Muir is taken to task for dropping Joe Thornton from his Team Canada 2010 and chooses his Team USA 2010.

With its program in transition, the American roster is much more difficult to project. They’ll have the benefit of their deepest talent pool to date, but they’ll be relying heavily on youth as the old guard from the 1996 World Cup era finally is shuffled out. The ability of those youngsters to make the strides expected of them will determine not only whether they make the team, but whether the Americans will be a force at these Games.

Championships are built from the blueline back, and that’s where the strength of this team should lie. Brian Rafalski and Mike Komisarek are the surest bets, giving the team a power play ace and a punishing patrolman. Paul Martin and Jordan Leopold could form an effective second pairing, with Ryan Suter, Matt Niskanen and Ryan Whitney likely to round out the group. It’s a testament to the strength of the system that Mark Stuart, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson and Tom Gilbert are likely to be left at home, but any or all of them could earn a spot depending on their development between now and then.

The goaltending will come down to Ryan Miller and Rick DiPietro. DiPietro started four of six games in Torino, with a respectable 2.28 GAA, but he went 1-3. Look to Miller as the likely starter.

With two reliable vets at the front end, the final spot likely will go to a youngster…if one emerges as being worthy of the job. Jimmy Howard and Al Montoya have some promise, but will they be legitimate NHLers by then? Seems unlikely. If no one else steps forward, Tim Thomas could be a well-deserved call.

Depth isn’t a problem up front. At issue is who’ll be most ready for the task at hand. It’s safe to assume a top six of Paul Stastny, Patrick Kane, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Scott Gomez and Tim Connolly. They won’t be able to match the size or skill of Canada or Russia man for man, but there’s plenty of speed and grit.

The difference for the Americans, at least compared to previous squads, will be obvious in a bottom six that will feature far more élan than the usual collection of checkers and bangers. Look for Chris Drury, Chris Higgins, David Booth, Ryan Malone, Peter Mueller, Jason Pominville and R.J. Umberger to fill out the roster. Maybe not the most imposing group in the tournament, but the strength of the back end means they won’t have to be. Hustle and opportunism will define their success and this looks like a hungry, talented bunch.

If they take a three-man taxi squad as in 2006, look for Stuart to be joined by Brandon Dubinsky and Kyle Okposo.

Muir makes a good case for dropping Thornton but I can’t see the Canadian braintrust doing the same. His Team USA roster looks pretty good, especially if the younger guys develop into game-breakers in the next couple of years.