If the U.S. National Junior Team has any hopes of playing for gold, it will need what every team needs, solid goaltending and reliable defense.
While the defensive corps was thinned out by the NHL and injury, the group brought in is still very capable of getting the job done. This is where the depth will have to show. There are a few guys that would have been out of the mix had Justin Faulk and Seth Jones been available, so they’ll have to prove they can handle the responsibility. Neither of those two players are easily replaced, but if the void is at least mostly filled, the U.S. is in good hands.
The goaltending has been a point of strength for all levels of USA Hockey for at least the last three years. Gone are the days of having so much talent up front and so little in net. Team USA has two bona fide elites between the pipes and that could be the big difference.
A complete player-by-player breakdown is after the jump:
Jack Campbell — Port Huron, Mich. — Campbell returns for his third World Junior Championship. He’ll likely leave with a handful of U.S. goaltending records and he’s already the most decorated World Junior netminder in USA Hockey history with two medals. When Campbell is locked in, he’s as good as they come. He’s taken his game to another level in each of the last two World Junior Championships and relishes the big games and the pressure. Few players give USA Hockey as much confidence and Jack Campbell.
John Gibson — Pittsburgh, Pa. — Team USA has to be just thrilled to have two goaltenders like Campbell and Gibson. He was the best goalie at the 2011 World Under-18s. Gibson has tremendous size, he’s athletic, but also positionally sound. He’s such a steady guy back there and never seems to get rattled. That’s exactly what you hope for in a tournament of this importance. If Campbell stumbles at all, Gibson is more than capable of stepping in and being a gold-medal caliber goaltender.
Adam Clendening — Niagara Falls, N.Y. — Smooth is one way to describe Adam Clendening. He has soft hands, good vision and can confidently move the puck. He will be Team USA’s smallest defenseman, but probably its most offensively gifted. You’ll likely see him on the power play at various points. Clendening barely missed the cut last year, but now has a chance to play a key role. He’s a two-time gold medalist at the U18 World Championship and has shone bright on the international stage.
Derek Forbort — Duluth, Minn. — As this big defenseman continues to develop, he could be something special at the next level. He’s still on that development track and may be coming along slower than most top prospects, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Forbort is a big kid who can skate extremely well. He has a great defensive stick and fairly good instincts. He’s not the most physical guy for his size, but he uses his body well positionally and sometimes that’s better than the big hit. He should see a fair amount of ice as one of only two returning defensemen.
Kevin Gravel — Kingsford, Mich. — Gravel seemed like a long shot to make the team when the camp roster was announced. With players like Seth Jones and Derek Forbort, it seemed the U.S. would be set on big, smooth defensemen. When Jones went down, the door opened a little wider for Gravel and he took it. He has tremendous size and has been a stalwart defensively for St. Cloud State. No matter his role with Team USA, he can be dependable in most situations.
Stephen Johns — Wampum, Pa. — I regrettably left Johns off my projected roster against my better judgment. When the big defenseman is on his game, he’s a beast. He hits everything, skates hard and truly enjoys the physical aspects of the game (a little too much sometimes). He’ll have to limit mistakes and make good reads instead of always trying to hammer his opponent into the next province. Still, Johns offers a very strong, difficult-to-play-against game. He’s going to be a key player in those tight, physical battles.
Jon Merrill — Brighton, Mich. — For my money, Merrill is the most talented of Team USA’s defensive corps. He led last year’s blue line in points at the WJC and was practically all-world the rest of his college season. Despite the fact that he missed the first half of this year due to suspension at the University of Michigan, all reports regarding Merrill from camp were glowing. One source told me he was the best defenseman in camp. Having not played yet this season, Merrill should be hungry to get on the ice and play his game. When he’s at his best, he’s elite.
Jarred Tinordi — Millersville, Md. — Tinordi immediately stands out for his 6-foot-7, 215-pound frame, but stick around and watch him play and you’ll notice a heady defenseman that can easily be relied on in all situations.. Tinordi is physical when he needs to be, but knows when to reign it in. He’s got a ridiculous reach and gets his stick in lanes well. He also offers great leadership qualities and likely wears a letter for this team, perhaps the C. He captained the U18s to gold in 2010 in Belarus. He’s respected by teammates and coaches for what he does on and off the ice.
Jacob Trouba — Rochester, Mich. — The youngest player on the U.S. National Junior Team may end up being remembered as one of the better players to come off this squad a few years down the road. A likley top-10 selection at this year’s NHL Entry Draft, Trouba has all of the tools of a future star. He skates well, plays with an edge and possesses an NHL-ready shot. I spoke with Tim Taylor (more of our conversation later today), who said that Trouba has shown great improvement over the last year and made a great case for himself in camp. He might be eased into the tournament a bit, but if he continues on this trend, Trouba may end up playing a more significant role as the World Juniors goes on.
Team USA has great size on the back end and some really solid skaters. They’ve weathered the storm of losing out on two defensemen right before the tournament with a solid group. There will be a lot riding on their shoulders when it comes down to the big games. The U.S. can feel fairly confident in its defense and goaltending.
Coming up next, a look at all 13 of Team USA’s forwards.