2018 Winter Olympics: With no NHL stars, here's who'll suit up for Team USA

The NHL steering clear of the 2018 Winter Olympics might not be as concerning to hockey fans -- and players -- as commissioner Gary Bettman saying it's "hard to envision" the NHL ever returning to overseas Winter Games.

But America might beg to differ once Team USA takes the ice in PyeongChang in February.

That's because, in a men's ice hockey tournament that may or may not feature Russia, the U.S. will be devoid of its top talent for matchups in South Korea's Gangneung Hockey Centre. Among the bigger names barred from participation thanks to the NHL's repeated -- and publicly chided -- decision to sacrifice Olympics competition for an uninterrupted 2017-18 season are:

  • Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
  • Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
  • Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
  • Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks
  • Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
  • Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
  • T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

Who, then, is suiting up for Team USA? Here's a look at some notables from the men's ice hockey squad, largely projected from America's Deutschland Cup roster:

F Brian Gionta: Team USA coach Tony Granato told USA Today this week that America actually boasts plenty of players "who could play in the NHL," and the 38-year-old Gionta, a winger and potential captain, is probably the best example. That's because he did play in the NHL, for 15 years. He'll be 39 by the time the Olympics get underway, so you can see the disparity between relying on him and, say, an Auston Matthews, but Gionta is just a year removed from scoring 15 goals with the Sabres. He logged four straight seasons of at least 33 points to close his NHL career, which included stops in Montreal and New Jersey.

F Ryan Malone: Two months after earning a professional tryout with the Minnesota Wild, the former Team USA silver medalist gives the roster some polarizing potential. A six-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL who went from reputed Penguins rookie to Tampa Bay Lightning standout to New York Rangers castoff, he last suited up in the American Hockey League amid substance abuse issues and will be 38 for the Olympics, which he first intended to attend as a scout, not a player.

ryan-malone.jpg
Ryan Malone's NHL career ran the gamut. USATSI

F Brian O'Neill: His name hardly made waves in the NHL, where he played just 22 games for the New Jersey Devils after coming out of the Los Angeles Kings system, but the 29-year-old found his groove in the Kontinental Hockey League and represents one of Team USA's top scoring threats. A Yale University standout before dominating AHL competition from 2011-2015, O'Neill scored 16 goals in 56 games for Jokerit in the KHL in 2016-17, and he's up to 23 points through 27 games in 2017-18.

F Mark Arcobello: Another Yale product, he opened the Deutschland Cup as America's No. 1 center and brings limited experience from five different NHL teams. Now a leading points scorer for SC Bern in Switzerland's National League, the 29-year-old lit up AHL scoreboards as a prospect for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs, totaling 39 goals between 2011-2013 and logging a career-best 25 in just 49 games in 2015-16. He never played more than 36 games in the NHL, though, making stops in Arizona, Nashville and Pittsburgh.

D Matt Gilroy: A projected top blue-liner for Team USA, he spent parts of six seasons in the NHL starting in 2009-10 and now plays alongside O'Neill in the KHL. A 38-point campaign with the Spartak Moscow in 2016-17 was a career best for the former undrafted defenseman. He spent time with the Rangers, Lightning, Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers over the years.

D Matt Donovan: Younger than most of the veteran players with NHL ties on Team USA's anticipated roster, he was originally drafted by the New York Islanders in 2008 but struggled to permanently escape the AHL ranks. A University of Denver product, the 27-year-old Donovan appeared in 52 games for the Isles in 2013-14, but he never topped that total afterward, returning to the AHL and then moving to the Swedish Hockey League.

G Ryan Zapolski: The lead candidate to man the net, he's another alum of Jokerit in the KHL, having played overseas since 2013. Before his stint in Europe, the former Mercyhurst College grad was named Rookie of the Year, Goaltender of the Year and Most Valuable Player for his net-minding in the ECHL, a New Jersey-based minor league.

As SB Nation notes, the true silver lining of Team USA's ice hockey roster isn't necessarily in the slivers of NHL experience but rather the potential for NCAA prospects to join the group:

Those potential prospects include Boston University's Jordan Greenway, a Wild prospect, and Denver's Troy Terry, a Ducks prospect. Terry might be familiar to you after starring for the Americans at the 2017 World Juniors, where the team won gold.

Ultimately, Team USA will finalize a 25-man roster that can be comprised of "college players, American Hockey Leaguers, and Americans playing professionally in Europe."

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