Commentary

Breaking down 2010 U.S. team

Updated: January 2, 2010, 6:13 PM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- GM Brian Burke and the rest of the Team USA staff announced the 2010 Olympic roster Friday, the youngest American squad (average age is 26.5 years) since the NHL began sending players in 1998. Here is our breakdown of the selections and omissions:

Forwards

David Backes, St. Louis Blues
Burnside: Backes' point totals are well off his pace from last season, when he had 31 goals (he has just nine through 40 games this season), but he's a Burke guy and has elevated his play of late. If he chips in some goals in Vancouver, it'll be a bonus.

LeBrun: Backes got off to a slow start, but has played much better over the last month. He's the kind of big body in the bottom-six forward group that Burke had his eyes set on from the beginning.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
Burnside: Brown is another U.S. forward who has struggled to match last season's totals with nine goals in the first half, but the Kings' captain will be asked to do more than score in Vancouver. He was another lock to make this team.

LeBrun: If there's concern about the lack of leadership or character among the younger players for this team, there certainly isn't when it comes to Brown. The 25-year-old forward is a gritty performer who will be counted on to dig in when the going gets tough in Vancouver.

Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers
Burnside: One of a couple of surprises on the U.S. roster, Callahan has 10 points in his past 10 games and has been much better than earlier in the season. Burke pointed out that Callahan has the ability to kill penalties, play in a checking role, as well as provide offense.

LeBrun: A terrific second half last season, including a gutsy performance in the first round of the playoffs, really opened up the eyes of Team USA's management team. Callahan's play has been more inconsistent this season, but Burke believes the body of work over the past 17 months suggests the kind of ingredients he wants in his bottom-six forward group.

Chris Drury, New York Rangers
Burnside: You have to look beyond the stats -- five goals -- to understand Drury's selection to the Olympic team. Burke simply said he was named because he is Chris Drury, and that speaks to his history as a winner, clutch performer and leader. There's a good chance he will be team captain.

LeBrun: It's been a season to forget for Drury and his team in New York. But from the beginning, Team USA had him pegged as the leader it would build this team around. Burke went as far as to say Friday that Drury was consulted on the makeup of the team.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Burnside: Kane has put a difficult offseason behind him and helped the Chicago Blackhawks to the top of the NHL standings. There will be enormous pressure on Kane to produce offense in Vancouver, but there is nothing to suggest he won't answer the bell as he leads all U.S. players with 45 points.

LeBrun: Goals may be hard to come by in Vancouver, and Kane will be heavily counted on to produce. Arguably the most naturally offensively gifted player on the team.

Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks
Burnside: A lock to make this team given his evolution as a top two-way player with the Vancouver Canucks.

LeBrun: Figure Kessler to center the checking line with Backes and Ryan Malone. Talk about a gritty, two-way trio that other teams won't like playing against.

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs
Burnside: The U.S. will need Kessel to get back into the groove in Vancouver as his production has fallen off a bit in Toronto. Still, he's a great raw scorer who can put the puck in the net from anywhere.

LeBrun: Kessel seems to have hit a bit of a wall lately with the Leafs after roaring out of the gates upon his return Nov. 3. But once he got healthy, his place was never in doubt on Team USA given his natural goal-scoring ability.

Jamie Langenbrunner, New Jersey Devils
Burnside: The Canadian team features a number of teammate combos, and the American team will have a couple of top New Jersey Devils to work with in Langenbrunner and Zach Parise. Langenbrunner is another candidate to wear the "C."

LeBrun: Look for Langenbrunner to perhaps skate alongside Devils linemate Parise, giving the U.S. a rare opportunity at instant chemistry on this team.

Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning
Burnside: Malone got off to a great start and his 19 goals are tied for the most of any U.S. player. Great hands, tough and a fine penalty killer, Malone will play a big role in any medal hopes the Americans have.

LeBrun: Malone is the type of big power forward the U.S. will need to show some muscle when Team Canada tries to push the smaller Americans around.

Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils
Burnside: The best player on the U.S. roster. Will likely play with Langenbrunner and perhaps Paul Stastny as the team's top offensive trio.

LeBrun: Team USA's No. 1 forward, Parise does it all. He is an offensive machine and his defensive awareness is out of this world. The closest thing to an NHL superstar for Team USA.

Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
Burnside: It's believed the final decision came down to Scott Gomez and Pavelski, and the talented young center's strong play of late tipped the scales in his favor. We picture him on a line with Kane and Bobby Ryan.

LeBrun: He was heavily scouted by Team USA's management team over the past few months and he never disappointed. A clever, two-way player with underrated offensive skill. He's also a terrific faceoff man.

Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Burnside: Oodles of potential, but there has been some up and down with Ryan. Still, he is evolving into a talented power forward and Burke wanted his team to be big and physical. Ryan brings size (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) and a nose for the net. The question is how he responds to the pressure after a disappointing postseason last spring.

LeBrun: It may surprise many to know Ryan was not a lock to make this squad; the management team went back and forth on him. I think they made the right choice. His size is a rare commodity on this team, and his 19 goals and 34 points should not be ignored.

Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche
Burnside: A no-brainer for Burke and the U.S. Olympic brain trust. Stastny, son of Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, is the team's No. 1 center.

LeBrun: He is of Slovak descent and was born in Quebec City, but thank goodness for Team USA he was also raised in St. Louis and chose to play internationally for the Americans. The point-a-game star is Team USA's No. 1 center and will key the power play.

Defense

Erik Johnson, St. Louis Blues
Burnside: There was no question the former No. 1 draft pick would be on this team, but what will his level of play be going into Vancouver? The hulking defenseman was a healthy scratch recently and he may have hit a mental wall after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

LeBrun: His combination of size and skill had Burke drooling at the mouth for 17 months since being named Team USA GM. He's the kind of all-around stud on the back end that Burke loves on his teams, even if he has struggled of late.

Jack Johnson, Los Angeles Kings
Burnside: It's true Johnson's play has been up and down for the L.A. Kings (he's minus-11), but he was a virtual lock after he cut his teeth with the U.S. team at the World Championships this past spring. He is a high-risk, high-reward type of defenseman, both offensively and physically.

LeBrun: Personally, I think there's some real risk here. Johnson is a riverboat gambler, and while I know the Kings have reeled him in a bit this season, he can be turnover-prone at times, and you can't afford those mistakes on the big Olympic stage. I know he's super talented and can be a home-run-type player, but there may be a price to pay.

Mike Komisarek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Burnside: Burke acknowledged Komisarek got off to a rough start this season after signing with Burke's Toronto Maple Leafs. Still, Komisarek has settled down and will be counted on to be a leader along the blue line who will have to be physical and disciplined if the Americans are going to stay in the hunt for a medal.

LeBrun: Given that the hockey tournament will be played on the smaller NHL ice, there was never any question the hard-hitting Komisarek would make this team. He'll put some guy through the boards and bring some much-needed leadership.

Paul Martin, New Jersey Devils
Burnside: A risky pick as Martin has been sidelined since breaking his forearm blocking a shot on Oct. 24 and suffering a setback in his recovery that required a second surgery. Burke said he has spoken to New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello and it's believed Martin will withdraw from the team if he's not 100 percent at the time of the Olympics. If he's healthy, he's the Americans' top all-around defenseman. If he's not, it will leave a huge hole along the blue line.

LeBrun: Smart move here by Burke. Martin is the best U.S.-born defenseman in the NHL. Period. You have to name him and hope he can recover on time.

Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh Penguins
Burnside: Tough as nails, Orpik was a huge part of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Cup win last season and will be asked to play top minutes against opposing countries' top offensive players. A warrior through and through.

LeBrun: His clutch play in the Cup finals in June cemented his spot on this team. Another important leader on this young squad.

Brian Rafalski, Detroit Red Wings
Burnside: Rafalski finished tied for third among all NHL defensemen in points last season, but has just 15 points in 2009-10. Still, he will be counted on to bring veteran experience, as well as help the power play.

LeBrun: The body of work certainly saved Rafalski since his season hasn't been that impressive. Still, he has routinely shown poise under pressure in big games during his career and his first pass is rarely the wrong one.

Ryan Suter, Nashville Predators
Burnside: A given for this team, Suter has evolved into a top-flight NHL defenseman. He comes from strong Olympic blood lines as his father, Bob, was on the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team and his uncle, Gary Suter, won a silver medal with the U.S. in 2002.

LeBrun: He's overshadowed by teammate Shea Weber in Nashville, but Suter has developed into a stud in his own right. He's a dependable player who can be used in any situation.

Goaltenders

Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres: Burnside: As of Friday, Miller was second in the NHL in save percentage, third in goals-against average and would be the U.S. starter if the Olympics started today. Although the decision will be coach Ron Wilson's, Burke noted the Olympic schedule would allow for a team to just go with one goaltender. If that's the route the Americans take, it will almost certainly be Miller.

LeBrun: If the Vezina Trophy was handed out today, Miller would win it. He's the obvious candidate to start most of the games in Vancouver as of right now and Team USA's best threat in the one-game knockout medal round to upset Canada, Russia or Sweden.

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins
Burnside: Maybe it was the expectations after winning the Vezina Trophy last season, but, whatever the reason, Thomas struggled out of the gate. He has improved markedly in recent days (as in Friday, when he stole the Winter Classic against Philadelphia) and gives the Americans as good a 1-2 punch as any country in the tournament.

LeBrun: He's really come on since a slow start and punctuated his Team USA nomination Friday with a monstrous performance in the Winter Classic. He can get back in the debate for the starting job if he keeps this up.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Burnside: Although he won't likely see any action, Quick is full value for his selection to this team, as Burke believed he had been more consistent than Colorado netminder Craig Anderson.

LeBrun: He's going to Vancouver as a spectator unless there's an injury, so the point here is to give a very talented youngster the Olympic experience in case NHL players go to Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

Notable omissions

Forwards
Burnside: Burke acknowledged that Montreal center and former Olympian Scott Gomez was a difficult name to leave off the team. He has struggled somewhat in Montreal and lost his place to Pavelski. Of the veteran U.S. forwards, Bill Guerin is having a great season in Pittsburgh with 28 points (eighth among U.S. scorers) and should be on the radar if there's an injury up front.

LeBrun: Burke confirmed to ESPN.com that Paul Gaustad of the Sabres was among the other forwards given a serious look. He's a big, hulking forward who is dynamite at killing penalties and winning faceoffs. Should any of the checking forwards go down with injury, he could be a replacement, as could a player like T.J. Oshie. The Blues forward was at the orientation camp in August and remains on the Team USA radar in case of injury. And let's not forget veteran center Mike Modano, the lone representative of the 1996 World Cup team era at the camp. He was bandied about by the management team, but his season hasn't been terribly impressive.

Defense
Burnside: Ryan Whitney of the Anaheim Ducks is second among all American defensemen with 22 points and is a big body. Ron Hainsey of the Atlanta Thrashers could be a candidate to replace Martin, if he can't go, because of his skating and puck-handling skills.

LeBrun: I would have put Stanley Cup champion Rob Scuderi on this team. He's a terrific shutdown D-man, and the U.S. could have used one more of this sort on this team. Andy Greene of the Devils doesn't get much mention, but he actually leads all U.S.-born defensemen in scoring in the NHL.

Goaltending
Burnside: Outside of Anderson, there really wasn't any U.S. goaltender on the radar.

LeBrun: Anderson deserves a better fate; his performance in the opening three months of the season is the biggest reason for Colorado's surprising run. But as explained above, Team USA went with the younger Quick to give him the experience he may need for 2014.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.