One thing that the folks at USA Hockey do after a tournament like this is get together at some point in the not so distant future and take a look back at the World Juniors. What went right? What went wrong? Who played great? Who couldn’t hack it? How was our game plan? What can we learn from this? All these questions and tons more will be asked and answered over and over by folks like Jim Johannson and Tim Taylor. Men much, much smarter than I. However, I felt it necessary, seeing as I opened this blog with player evaluations, to end the tournament with some individual player reviews of my own.
I’ve kind of judged each player in two parts. How they played throughout the tournament and then how they played against Canada. Unfortunately, that’s bad news for the defensemen, because I thought they were pretty bad in that game. The fact of the matter is, when you lose a game of that much importance in that fashion, in a way it shows you who some of what these players are really are. The warts show when you play a team that out-plays you in every facet of the game. So I’ve kept that in mind, while not making it the only thing I look at. Outside of the Canada game, this group was very good, top to bottom.
As a group, this defensive unit took just six minutes in penalties. That’s incredible to me. They also allowed just 169 shots in six games, the second fewest shots allowed in the tournament (Finland had the least 167). To put that in perspective, the Russian team that won gold allowed 262 shots on net. So for the majority of this tournament, Team USA was awful stingy. I also think each of these defensemen had the great ability to make a good first pass out of the zone. It allowed the forwards to press harder on offense and transition better through the neutral zone. Being a defenseman also gets a little easier when you have Jack Campbell in net. Still, I think these guys had a pretty solid tournament. That’s my brief thoughts on the group as a whole, but now its time to take a look at each guy on his own.
So here they are, here are your Team USA defensemen in alphabetical order:
Brian Dumoulin — 6 GP, 0-2–2, 0 PIM, +4 — I was extremely excited to see Dumoulin in this tournament. I thought he had all of the right tools that would help him be successful. I don’t think he had a bad tournament. His plus-4 rating was tops among defensemen. If I had one complaint, which I have for every single defensemen, he could have been more physical. So often, the U.S. wasn’t the most physical team on the ice and with guys as big as Brian Dumoulin, that shouldn’t happen. Perhaps he’s still learning to use his body a bit, or had trouble adjusting to the speed, but I wanted to see him make life awful for forwards. On the positive side, he showed some really great offensive instincts. He did show the great ability to get the puck up ice. His first pass was usually really good and he helped make Chris Kreider’s dagger goal happen against Sweden. The bronze-medal game was one of this best, which is good to see, because Sweden’s forward group was incredibly skilled and guys like Dumoulin shut them down.
Justin Faulk — 6 GP, 1-3–4, 0 PIM, +2 — I thought Faulk was brilliant in this tournament. The thing that makes him special is the way he can protect the puck in his own zone. He’s so strong, that it’s hard to knock him down and even harder to lift his stick. He made a few moves throughout the tournament in his own zone that only he could make. They looked dangerous, but they worked. That made him stand out. He also had a very solid effort offensively, with four points. His power-play goal to start the tournament was a lazer beam. He will be a key piece of Team USA’s D corps next year. The one thing about Faulk for next year, is I think he very easily could be signed by Carolina after this year. I don’t know that they will, as I was informed by Carolyn Christians (@HMof2) over at Canes Country, they don’t rush defensemen. I think he’s good enough to make an exception, but I think Team USA would be happy to have him back next year. Side note: Of all the defensemen against Canada, he was the least bad, I thought.
Derek Forbort — 6 GP, 0-0–0, 0 PIM, E — Forbort is really hard to evaluate in this tournament. He’s a big body, but is not in the least bit physical. It’s not his game and I think everyone knew that coming in. There were instances throughout the tournament where his decision-making was suspect, particularly with passes and clearing attempts out of the defensive zone. Forbort usually has some offensive ability, but the tournament pace never really allowed him to jump up into the plays too much, which is fine, because I think he’s better defensively. There were times that he looked like the seventh defenseman on this team, though. Particularly against Canada, it showed that the game was maybe a little too hard for him. Forbort can usually make the game look easy. Crisp passing, fluid skating, great defensive stick. He’s just so easy going on the ice. Maybe too easy going. Still, there’s a lot of learning for him to do and he’s got a great place to do it in the University of North Dakota. He’ll be back next year and I am certain he’ll be better. Very talented young hockey player.
Nick Leddy — 6 GP, 0-3–3, 0 PIM, +1 — Leddy was another guy I was so excited to see play. I watched him as carefully as any of the defensemen, because this is a guy with NHL experience and has played in the AHL most of the year. The pace and the physicality should have been nothing for him. Positives: Leddy’s skating ability is second to none on the blue line. He posesses very good skill and is mostly poised with the puck on his stick. Negatives: Everything else. It pains me to say this, but of Team USA’s defensemen, Leddy was the most disappointing to me. He showed a lack of strength and toughness in key situations, particularly in front of the U.S. net. He looks best when the puck’s on his stick, but as a defenseman, that’s not necessarily priority one. For a guy that’s been a pro for half a year, it showed that he might not have learned enough yet. The tools are there, people. Offensively, he kind of reminds me of Duncan Keith. This guy has potential, loads of it. Until he hits the weights harder and works on that defensive awareness, he might be in Rockford for a while… or not. The Blackhawks do have
Nick Boynton Jassen Cullimore right now (multiple reports have Leddy being recalled after Cullimore was reassigned to Rockford).
Jon Merrill — 6 GP, 1-4–5, 0 PIM, -2 — This is another tough evaluation. Merrill showed so many signs of brilliance throughout this tournament. His hockey sense is off the charts, save for usually one ill-advised pass per game. His skating ability is fluid and his turns and edge work allow him to get away from trouble quickly. He was the one guy against Canada that I just thought: What the heck!? He wasn’t very good in that game and I know it wasn’t fear or anything like that. He just didn’t play well. It was very weird to see. That said, Merrill was named Team USA’s best defenseman at the tournament and I can’t argue. The fact that he finished a minus-2 is kind of surprising, considering the amount of offense he helped create and the way he played in games not including Canada. In the games against European teams, he was borderline incredible. Due to the fact that the Devils have such a lack of defensive depth, I think Merrill could actually be in the NHL next season (not knowing what kind of salary cap situation is going on). He plays a mature game and I think he will hope to have a shot at redemption against Canada, unless he’s in the red and black in New Jersey.
John Ramage — 6 GP, 0-0–0, 4 PIM, +2 — I think for most of this tournament, John Ramage was everything you wanted him to be and more. He was, by all accounts, a good captain. You can never, ever fault John Ramage for a lack of effort. I’ve never seen him get outworked and I didn’t see it during this tournament. He plays hard, smart hockey. I think he and Merrill struggled as a pair against Canada, but when the going got tough in that game, Ramage kept playing hard. I didn’t see any let down from him, despite the utter shock of how thoroughly outplayed the U.S. was. Ramage made some brilliant defensive plays throughout the tournament, especially that sliding break up of a 2-on-1 against Finland. He doesn’t have great foot speed, but he’s smart, he’s physical and he’s steady. I’m sure Ramage was crushed after the Canada game, but he and his team showed no signs of let down against Sweden. In games like that, you have to give some credit to the captain. He’ll have a few more years to sharpen at Wisconsin. I think he has a bright future.
Patrick Wey — 6 GP, 0-0–0, 2 PIM, -2 — Another tough guy to evaluate, because I think he saw the ice less than was planned. It looked like he and Forbort were in a constant battle for that seventh defenseman spot. I thought we’d see Wey in a more shut-down defensive role and we did, early in the tournament. There were times I thought he was a bit over-matched. It looked like the speed and flow of the game was tough for him to adjust to. Then there were other times where he looked just fine. It was really weird. I didn’t see a consistent thing that Wey did well or poorly. It was all very up and down. There were also multiple occasions where I thought Wey looked troubled in the offensive zone, particularly when the pressure was on near the offensive blue line. I think he’s a very good hockey player and certainly a tough kid. I know that another few years at BC will help him continue to round out his game and he’ll get that consistency. He’s another guy with tons of potential and he’s got a great place to continue to learn at Boston College.
There you have it, folks. Of the seven defensemen, Merrill, Faulk and Forbort will all be available for Team USA next year, barring injury or being in the NHL (which may not be all that realistic). I think the U.S. would be happy to have each back. The 1992 birth year is by far the deepest on the blue line, so it will be exciting to see how next year’s defensive corps shakes out.
Coming up later this afternoon: WJC Aftermath: Evaluating the Forwards.