With the NHL once again not allowing its players to compete in the Winter Olympics, the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team won't house nearly as much star power as it would if NHLers were competing. Still, there are a number of key players to keep an eye on when the men's competition begins in February. Many of them are young up-and-comers, and others are former NHL players hoping to prove that they still belong in the top hockey league in the world.
Matty Beniers, C
Beniers is likely the odds-on favorite to become a household name at the Olympics. He was drafted No. 2 overall by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and has already earned some acclaim after helping the U.S. win gold at the 2021 World Junior Championship. At just 19 years old, he's the youngest player named to the Olympic roster.
The Hingham, Massachusetts native has been a dominant force at the collegiate level. At the University of Michigan, Beniers has registered 24 goals and 54 total points in 48 games as a Wolverine. He's been particularly strong this season, logging 14 goals and 30 points in just 24 contests.
Named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team last season, Beniers is known for his strong two-way play. He may not light up the scoreboard at the Olympics, but he will certainly be heavily involved in all facets of the game.
Brendan Brisson, C
Brisson, like Beniers, is in his second season at the University of Michigan, and he's showing serious potential as a high-end scorer in the collegiate ranks. Through 25 games this season, the 20-year-old leads the Wolverines with 15 goals and is tied with Beniers for a team-leading 30 points. He also leads the team with 81 shots on goal.
Prior to committing to the University of Michigan, Brisson tore it up for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. He was named the USHL Rookie of the Year in 2020 after logging 24 goals and 59 points in just 45 games.
The California-born center was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he's done nothing but solidify his status as one of the Golden Knights' top prospects.
Jake Sanderson, D
Sanderson is one of the younger players on the team at 19 years old, but he still figures to play a significant role as one of the squad's top defensemen.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound defender is considered one of the top defensive prospects in hockey. He was drafted fifth overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and judging by his play at the University of North Dakota, he'll be a key cog on the Senators' blue line for quite a while. He's averaging over a point per game as a defenseman with the Fighting Hawks, and he's doing it against some stiff competition too. The Fighting Hawks play in one of the most competitive conferences in college hockey (NCHC), yet Sanderson has done nothing but flourish.
Sanderson was named captain of the U.S. team at this year's World Junior Championship, but the competition was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. He may have lost the opportunity to defend his gold medal from last year's World Juniors, but getting the chance to compete for an Olympic gold is one heck of a consolation prize.
Nick Shore, C
Six players on the U.S. men's team have NHL experience, and Shore is one of them. The 29-year-old Colorado native played 299 NHL games from 2015 to 2020, logging 18 goals and 59 points during that span. He spent parts of four seasons playing for the Los Angeles Kings before later suiting up for the Senators, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets.
More recently, Shore has been playing for HC Sibir Novosibirsk of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League — widely regarded as the second-best hockey league in the world behind the NHL. Through 49 KHL games this season, Shore has logged 10 goals and 26 points.
Kenny Agostino, LW
Agostino, like Shore, also has NHL experience, but has recently been playing hockey overseas in Russia. Now playing for the KHL's Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Agostino ranks 14th in the league with an impressive 40 points in 46 games.
A native of New Jersey, Agostino spent parts of six seasons in the NHL and suited up for six different clubs — the Flames, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Maple Leafs. He appeared in 86 NHL games, logging eight goals and 30 points in those appearances.
Brock Faber, D
Like Sanderson and Beniers, Faber is another teenager looking to make a name for himself at this year's Games.
Faber, who just turned 19 in August, isn't quite as well-rounded a blueliner as Sanderson, but his smooth skating will make him an asset for the U.S. on the back end. The Maple Grove, Minnesota native has been strong for the University of Minnesota this season, logging a pair of goals and 11 total points in 20 games thus far. He also served as an alternate captain for the U.S. at the World Junior Championship until its cancellation.
Faber was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Steven Kampfer, D
Kampfer is one of the elder statesmen on the roster at 33 years old, but he also has a fair amount of NHL experience under his belt. The Ann Arbor native spent parts of nine seasons with NHL clubs and most recently played for the Bruins, dressing for 20 games during the 2020-21 season. Kampfer has played for four different NHL teams, including the Bruins, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers. He has 15 goals and 39 points in 231 NHL games.
After not signing an NHL contract to start the 2021-22 season, Kampfer joined the KHL's Ak Bars Kazan, where he is one of the league's top-scoring defensemen with 30 points through 46 games.
Drew Commesso, G
Commesso is the youngest goalie on the roster, but he may also have the highest upside. The 19-year-old was selected in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks — the second goalie taken off the board — and has seen a lot of action as Boston University's primary backstop. He has played 20 games for the Terriers this season, earning a 9-7-3 record along with a 2.59 goals against average and .909 save percentage.
It is unclear if Commesso will serve as the No. 1 goalie for the U.S. when the Olympics begin — Strauss Mann and Pat Nagle are both far more experienced, and Mann has been dominant while playing in the Swedish Hockey League. Still, Commesso could end up being an intriguing story if he earns time in the crease.
Noah Cates, LW
At 22 years old, Cates is actually one of the more experienced players on the U.S. roster given the amount of teenagers headed overseas. Cates, a senior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, is serving as the team's captain for the second straight year. The Stillwater, Minnesota native has registered six goals and 14 points through 22 games for the Bulldogs this season.
Cates was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers and in 2019 represented the U.S. at the World Junior Championship, logging a goal and three points in seven games.
Brian O'Neill, RW
O'Neill is the only player from PyeongChang returning to this year's Olympic team. The 33-year-old native of Yardley, Pennsylvania registered a goal and four points in five games in at the 2018 Olympics, which ranked third on the team behind Ryan Donato and Troy Terry.
O'Neill has been playing for Jokerit of the KHL since 2016 and has become one of the league's more consistent point producers. This season, the 5-foot-9, 172-pound winger has logged nine goals and 42 points in 41 games.