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U.S. Olympic men's squad will still have an NHL flavor; Thur's Buzz

January 26, 2022, 4:55 PM ET [9 Comments]
Auston Matthews. Patrick Kane. John Gibson. Connor Hellebuyck. Dylan Larkin. Seth Jones. Adam Fox. Ryan McDonagh. Zach Werenski. Kyle Connor. Johnny Gaudreau. Matthew and Brady Tkachuk.

With that kind of talent available to them, Team USA Officials were excited about America’s chances of earning a medal when the plan was to send NHL players to the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

That planning stopped when the NHL decided not to allow its players to compete at the Olympics because of COVID-19 issues. But Team USA will still have an NHL flavor thanks to the selection committee's decision to primarily fill their new Olympic roster with college players. Those college players are all NHL prospects, including first round draft picks Jake Sanderson (Ottawa Senators), Brendan Brisson (Vegas Golden Knights) and Matty Beniers (Seattle Kraken).

It won’t be all college players representing the USA when it starts the tournament February 10 with a game against China. Some players from the American Hockey League and European teams are also on the U.S. squad.

Here are players to watch for the Americans:

Goalie Strauss Mann (Skelleftea, Sweden): The former Michigan goalie is 10-5 with 1.87 goals-against in his first season in the Swedish League. The expectation is he will sign with an NHL team this offseason. He’s only 23. The best guess is he will end up as USA’s No. 1 goalie at the Olympics, although it would be a mistake to rule out Boston University goalie Drew Commesso. He is a Chicago Blackhawks’ second-round pick.

Defenseman: Jake Sanderson (North Dakota). He was the No. 5 pick in the 2020 draft and seems ready to step into the NHL after he completes his sophomore season at North Dakota. He is a strong two-way defenseman who has posted six goals and 16 assists for 22 points in 19 games. Sanderson plays a hard-nosed game. He is the son of Geoff Sanderson who used his blazing speed to net 345 goals in a career that includes stops with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers.

Forward Brian O’Neill (Jokerit, KHL): The former Yale player is in his seventh season of being one of the most consistent scorers in the Kontinental Hockey League. He is a regular among the league’s scoring leaders. O’Neill, 33, is the only player on the roster who played on USA’s 2018 Olympic team. He had a goal and three assists in five games. You might remember O’Neill playing 22 games for the New Jersey Devils in 2015-16. A gifted playmaker, O’Neill has 42 points in 41 games for Jokerit this season.

Forward Matty Beniers (Michigan): It made sense that Seattle Kraken general manager Ron Francis drafted Beniers with the No. 2 pick in last summer’s draft. Scouts say Beniers plays the classic two-way center game like Francis did for so many seasons in the NHL. Beniers grew up watching Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, another premium two-way center. At Michigan this season, Beniers has 32 points and is +22 in 27 games.

Forward Ken Agostino (Torpedo, KHL): Former NHL player Agostino ranks eighth in the KHL this season with 20 goals scored in 46 games. Agostino, 29, played a total of 88 NHL games wit the Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Forward Brendan Brisson (Michigan): The son of high-profile NHL player agent Pat Brisson, Brendan has 16 goals and 31 points in 27 games for the Wolverines. The younger Brisson grew up in California where he developed an elite-level one timer and a lightning-quick shot release. The expectation is he will sign after this Michigan season.
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