Kessel, Okposo, Johnson or someone else: Who should replace Callahan at World Cup?
Here’s a look at all the options for Team USA.
Ryan Callahan’s inclusion onto Team USA for the upcoming World Cup was a surprise to no one. He is valuable on the penalty kill, works hard every shift, will go down to block shots without a second thought and provides leadership. With his former coach John Tortorella behind the bench for the Americans, Callahan is the prototypical player that fits with the type of identity Tortorella would want.
So it’s quite the blow that Callahan won’t be making the trip to Toronto for the World Cup, which kicks off Sept. 17 with the preliminary round, because of a hip surgery that’s expected to keep him out until November.
With Callahan out, someone will replace him. Who will that someone be? Here are a few options.
Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins
Former NHLer Patrick O’Sullivan tells Raw Charge that Kessel "should’ve been on the team in the first place, so to me it’s a no-brainer." We agree on both counts: That Kessel should’ve been on the team from the start, so with an opening, he should be the replacement.
Whether fairly or not, Kessel’s character has been questioned and scrutinized intensely, and it didn’t help that he was getting dissected in Toronto; coming from an outsider, the media market there seems to relish the chance to destroy a player as a person with their words. Apparently, the truth, the gospel is that Team USA simply does not want Kessel wearing the red, white and blue, as reported by the Toronto Sun.
Look where Kessel is now. He was extremely productive in the playoffs, leading the team in scoring on his way to his first Stanley Cup, and he finished second behind Sidney Crosby for the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP.
The ironic part in all of this? No one has questioned Kessel’s character since he joined the Penguins.
Kessel unfortunately had hand surgery recently, and training camp for the World Cup begins the first week in September. Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that Kessel replacing Callahan is unlikely, considering the timeline of Worlds and when Kessel is expected to return.
Kyle Okposo, Buffalo Sabres
The former New York Islander has put up between 51 and 69 posts each of the last three seasons, and offensively, would be an upgrade over Callahan (although Callahan did put up 54 points two seasons ago).
"Okposo brings a wealth of offensive skill, toughness, and very few active American players have a higher points per game than him," Eyes on Isles writer Jennifer Lapka tells Raw Charge. O’Sullivan also gave his thumbs up for Okposo.
When compared to Kessel, perhaps Okposo is not as exciting — "he’ll never be the kind of forward that goes end to end, dangling through the opposition" — but we can still get behind a player who’s responsible on both ends of the ice and would contribute on the power play. Okposo’s 6-foot, 218-pound frame would also add more size to the forward group.
The Hockey News did point out the following potential knock against Okposo:
He’s appeared in 23 total World Championship games but has only five goals and 11 points. That’s not bad, but it’s the definition of average. However, Okposo hasn’t played with Team USA over the past four years, which have included three of his very best seasons.
If we’re not really considering the way Team USA bounced out of the Winter Olympics in Sochi — Ryan Suter said they "didn’t come out to play" — then we can overlook Okposo’s history on the international stage.
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
Yes, Johnson is a center. Yes, Callahan is a winger. Well, you know what? Team Canada has like ten thousand fifty million centers, they have for some time now, and they manage to win.
Despite injuries that hampered his overall game this past season, Johnson still produced a point per game in the playoffs. His tenacity, speed, offensive upside, especially on the power play, all while healthy after a restful offseason can’t be overlooked.
A Tortorella-coached team is a grinding team that wears opponents down. They’re not going to be able to accomplish that successfully in a one-and-done tournament. They’re going to need offensive help because Patrick Kane and Zach Parise can’t score all the goals. Johnson can be that help.
For the record, Joe Pavelski can move to wing, which is where he’s played for part of this season should Johnson be named to the team.
Dark horses: There’s Mr. Seven Years Alex Killorn, Kyle Palmieri, who put up 30 goals this season, and Bobby Ryan, who O’Sullivan says should be included on the team: "He's underrated defensively — very smart player not just a goal scorer," he said.
Who should replace Ryan Callahan at the World Cup?