Twenty years after the NHL began releasing players to compete in the Olympics, countries will once again have to construct their teams without relying on the best of the best.
Team USA head coach Tony Granato expects to compete for a medal no matter the makeup of his roster. Given that the USA Hockey brass hired a college coach to run the team, and given where a good chunk of the USA’s talent outside the NHL lies, it’s not unthinkable that the team that takes the ice in PyeongChang will have a significant NCAA presence.
Using NCAA players in key roles is a concept USA Hockey has been test-driving at the World Championships over the last several years, possibly in preparation for such an occasion as this. It’s a theory supported by comments from USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johannson.
“We have taken college players to the world championships and they have played totally fine for us,” he told USA Today in July.
Granato will be joined by two such players — Troy Terry and Jordan Greenway — at the upcoming Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah, in September. Nothing is set in stone yet, of course, but given that they’re the only players attending with Granato (thus far), it’s reasonable to treat the two as locks, or as close as one can get right now.
Let’s take a look at those players, along with a few others who could make the cut, in something resembling a descending order of likelihood.
Troy Terry (University of Denver)
Terry is one of USA Hockey’s darlings after his performance at the 2017 World Junior Championships. He also is attending the Team USA Media Summit in September. It’s not a stretch to assume he’s a lock unless he just really screws things up for himself before then.
In addition to WJC gold, Terry also won a national championship with the University of Denver Pioneers, for whom he was named best offensive forward. A former member of the National Team Development Program, Terry is a highly skilled player who can shift from center to wing, and whose offensive talent and confidence with the puck seem to be growing each year.
Jordan Greenway (Boston University)
Greenway didn’t have the star moment Terry did at the 2017 WJCs, but he was a force for the team nonetheless. He’s attending that Media Summit alongside Terry and Granato, and was one of the NCAA players most visibly discussed as a potential member of Team USA this summer. At this point, barring significant injury, it would be a shock if Greenway wasn’t in PyeongChang in February.
With a size that evokes old-school enforcers, Greenway is an imposing presence on the ice — but he brings far more than the physical. He was a dominant player with the BU Terriers last season, improving his play in most areas, including creating space for his teammates and doubling his goal total from his freshman year.
Ryan Donato (Harvard University)
Mentioned as a possibility for the team by many (though not currently listed as attending the summit), Donato will be a junior at Harvard this fall. At development camp this summer, he looked ready to potentially turn pro, but the lure of continuing his college career was too strong to ignore — especially as, this year, it comes with the chance of representing the USA at the Olympics.
Another thing Johannson noted is that Team USA wants college players who are versatile, able to fill a variety of roles. Donato plays both center and wing, making him flexible in terms of where he lands in the lineup.
Jake Oettinger (Boston University)
This pick is much more of a reach than others, but Team USA is going to have to dig deep to find a good goaltending trio. If Oettinger (or perhaps USA teammate and NCAA rival Joe Woll) puts on an impressive show at this year’s World Junior Championships in Buffalo, it could tip the scales in his favor for that third goalie spot.
Trent Frederic (University of Wisconsin)
Like Oettinger, Frederic is something of a reach. However, he’s also a known quantity to both Granato and USA Hockey. He currently plays for Granato at the University of Wisconsin, and spent his two seasons before joining the Badgers with the USNTDP.
Frederic was Wisconsin’s first-line center during the latter half of last season and showed he can play a strong two-way game, but he’s also got experience as a shutdown-style player. He’s an unlikely option, but if he has a strong first half, he could be a dark horse contender.