When Team USA named their Olympic squad they made a great decision when they chose to select James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel given their play this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kessel’s selection to the team wasn’t very surprising. If anybody had to list five American players they believed were automatics to make the squad, chances are Kessel would likely be on that list. However, selecting van Riemsdyk was a gutsier pick given some of the names left off the Olympic team such as Bobby Ryan. Although van Riemsdyk might not be as big of a name as Ryan, he certainly deserved to make the team.
In a two-week tournament like the Olympics, one of the most important factors for any team will be chemistry on the ice. It doesn’t matter how good each individual player is on a team; if that roster can’t come together as a unit then their chances of success are slim at best. By selecting Kessel and van Riemsdyk, Team USA has immediately made sure one of their top lines will have instant chemistry.
Since van Riemsdyk was traded to Toronto he’s done nothing but form one of the best duos in hockey with his linemate Kessel. The pair of American wingers have formed a line with Tyler Bozak that has easily been Toronto’s best for the past year. Both players are great skaters who possess impressive shooting abilities. Although both might be great shooters, the duo is also extremely unselfish as they routinely want to set each other up for scoring opportunities.
Through 42 games this season, Kessel has recorded 20 goals and 18 assists while in 40 games for van Riemsdyk he’s recorded 15 goals and 15 assists. Kessel appears destined for the fifth 30-goal season of his career while van Riemsdyk is on pace for setting a new career-high in goals and points. His previous career-highs were 21 goals and 40 points in 75 games during the 2010-11 season, and given that van Riemsdyk still has half a season to play, it’s likely he’ll surpass those totals this season.
Team USA certainly remembers how Team Canada’s best line in 2010 featured three San Jose Sharks. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley were all crucial in Canada’s success of capturing the gold medal in Vancouver, and it was largely due to their chemistry from playing together in San Jose. Having seen the success of selecting NHL teammates could provide, it was a no brainer for Team USA to take van Riemsdyk to play with Kessel. Kessel will be one of Team USA’s most important players and just like how Canada is debating whether or not to take Chris Kunitz to play with Sidney Crosby, Team USA understands the importance of their best players playing well. There’s no denying the best way to get the best players to play well would be to take the players they play well with.
By selecting two quality wingers who have a proven chemistry together, Team USA has set themselves up for what could be their best line. All that is left now is to decide who plays between the pair of Maple Leafs.