Johnny Gaudreau is the second-leading American scorer in the NHL this season. Only Patrick Kane has more points.
Seth Jones is one of the country’s brightest stars on defense, and was in the mix to make the 2014 Olympic team in Sochi.
Pittsburgh native Brandon Saad, who only turned 23 in October, has already won two Stanley Cups.
Jack Eichel, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015, is considered a generational talent.
You would think, at the very least, those four players would’ve been considered for USA Hockey’s 16-man preliminary World Cup roster, which was released on Wednesday. But Gaudreau, Jones, Saad and Eichel weren’t, because they were beholden to Team North America — a.k.a the “Youngstars” — comprised of the top 23-and-under players from the U.S. and Canada.
“No sense really thinking about it, because it’s beyond your control,” Team USA GM Dean Lombardi said via conference call. “Once you get the rules, what good does it do to fret about it? It is what it is. That said, going forward here, we got some tough choices to make. We have our hands full with the talent we have.”
Lombardi, of course, was the same GM that earlier lobbied for an exception — “let us pick one or two guys, like Eichel,” he told ESPN — before getting shot down by World Cup organizers.
It’s clear his affinity for the younger group hasn’t waned.
“I think on the other side of the coin, you look at that group, it looks like it could be end up being a pretty imposing generation,” he explained. “It’s actually good in a sense, because it highlights a generational facet that’s coming forward — and looks pretty potent.”
Of the 16 players named to Team North America, it’s hard to say which Americans would’ve challenged for a spot on the full senior team. Goalies John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck would’ve had a near-impossible time usurping one of Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider or Ben Bishop.
On defense, it’s fair to suggest Jones was worthy of consideration. Aside from having an ace up his sleeve — he plays for USA head coach John Tortorella in Columbus — he’s also received a ton of ice time since being dealt from the Preds to the Jackets and has responded well, racking up 12 points in his last 23 games.
Up front, Gaudreau and Saad (who also plays for Torts) almost certainly would’ve been in the mix. And depending on what transpires from here until September, Eichel, Dylan Larkin and J.T. Miller could’ve also played their way into consideration, if they weren’t in consideration already.
“You can’t even go there,” Tortorella lamented. “There’s no sense of trying to whet your appetite with that, because it’s a rule. [But] that young group there? I think that’s going to be a dangerous team. And moving forward, what are they in another four years? It’s scary.”
Both Tortorella and Lombardi are right, of course. It’s pointless to think about what could’ve been, because hypotheticals are just that — hyoptheticals.
Still, Lombardi couldn’t help but dream of one.
“I think I’d put it in another context,” he said. “I’d like to be GM of this team in four years, when those kids come through.”