Team USA’s initial roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey dropped on Wednesday, and there were some expected names: Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Jonathan Quick among them.
Then there was one really unexpected name: Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings.
“We clearly felt Abdelkader should be in the first group,” said GM Dean Lombardi.
Phil Kessel, one of the most lethal goal-scorers in the NHL? Didn’t make the cut. Ditto Bobby Ryan. Ditto David Backes, who has played on the last two Olympic teams.
There are 33 active American forwards with more points than Abdelkader in their careers.
So what landed him on this team?
“You only have so many spots. In terms of what Justin has done … every player brings something to the table. The critical thing for us is going to be the mix. Looking at Justin Abdelkader, this is a kid that’s gotten better. He’s very difficult to play against. And he’s only going to get better,” said GM Dean Lombardi.
“You can say, ‘why did you leave Bobby Ryan off?’ or ‘why did you leave Justin Faulk off?’ Well, you only have so many slots right now that you were prepared to go to.”
Here’s what Abdelkader brings to the team: He’s a left-handed shot, which brings a little balance to the forward group. He’s shown an ability to play with both grinders and elite offensive talent, as he’s hung with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit.
“I'd say that I am pretty surprised Abdelkader made the prelims over a guy like Phil Kessel. When you think about the coach, who is John Tortorella mind you, it starts to make more sense. Torts is a guy that likes the Justin Abdelkader type guys. I think it's great that Abby made it, but also find it a bit humorous. Team USA isn't likely to be a top contender in the tournament, but you never know. There are still more players to be announced.”
Perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway here: It’s a Tortorella team, and he’s a Tortorella type of player. For goodness sake, he was once suspended for a hit in international play. Do you know how hard that is to do?
“John’s a smart guy. He has an M.O., but he’s smart enough to adjust to his personnel. The style has to reflect what’s most important: That players know their identify and accept their role,” said Lombardi.
“I have an idea what John is thinking. But I don’t think Alexander the Great gave away his plans when he was at Gaugamela.”
Keep in mind that Alexander the Great entered Gaugamela severely outnumbered.
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