Starting Saturday, 45 American players will begin the process of competing for spots on the 22-man roster for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. The National Junior Evaluation Camp kicks off Aug. 4 in Lake Placid, N.Y., and has become a must-see event for prospects and/or World Junior junkies.
There’s not only the 45 Americans, there’s also full teams from Sweden and Finland, which both use the USA Hockey invitation as a bit of a World Junior camp of their own. Almost all of the attendees have been drafted by NHL teams, and there are several still draft eligible for 2013.
With so many elite prospects in action, playing some highly competitive games, it’s a pretty nice reprieve from a hockeyless summer.
Throughout the week leading up to the camp, I’ll have a few in-depth previews of the U.S. players that will be participating, but here’s a quick look at what you’ll want to watch for in general during the National Junior Evaluation Camp.
How You Can Watch
Before you find out what there is to watch, here’s the info on how you can watch.
The camp will run from Aug. 4-11 in Lake Placid, N.Y., at the historic Olympic Center. The games will be played on the same ice sheet that served as the stage for the Miracle on Ice.
Every game, including both of the U.S. intrasquad games will be streamed live on FASTHockey.com on a pay-per-view basis. Nine total games will air on FASTHockey, so if you’re planning on watching it all, it makes sense to buy all nine games at once so each is a little cheaper individually using FH’s game credit system.
The complete broadcast schedule is here.
If you’re really missing hockey right now, this is probably the best action you’ll see until (if?) the NHL starts back up.
This tryout camp is a step in the fairly long process of selecting the U.S. National Junior Team, but it’s a crucial one. The players invited to Lake Placid were pretty heavily scouted in the latter half of the 2011-12 season. The vast majority of players on the final roster for the 2013 World Juniors will come out of this camp, but there always seems to be a player or two that wasn’t invited that sneaks into the final 22.
A lot of the players here are pretty well known in terms of international competition, but it’s the guys who don’t have much of an international resume who have the most to gain at the camp.
Guys like Shayne Gostisbehere, Anthony Stolarz, Colin Blackwell and Logan Nelson are relatively unknown commodities in international hockey, which is different than playing Junior or college. Players with little or no international experience will have a close eye on them during the games against Sweden and Finland.
The camp also provides a key proving ground particularly for the 1993-born players that have quite a few 1994s to fend off for spots on the final team. The WJC is typically a 19-year-old’s tournament, but the U.S., particularly on defense, has a bevy of 18-year-olds that will be tough to keep off the squad. The 1993-born players are going to have to prove that year ahead in development is enough to put them past the youngsters.
In his first stint at the helm of a major national team for USA Hockey, this camp is going to be Housley’s first test as head coach. The camp kind of runs itself, as it’s been running for a long time, but each coach puts his own spin on things, especially in setting the intensity level.
There will also be cuts in the middle of camp. Many of the decisions are going to be made a bit by committee with GM Jim Johannson and director of player personnel Tim Taylor the strongest voices in the room, but Housley will likely have the final call.
The cuts they make could be a bit of an indication of what kind of team Housley is envisioning for Ufa in 2013, so it bears noting.
2012 First-Round Picks on Display
Each of the Americans selected in the first round at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft will be in camp competing, including Alex Galchenyuk (MTL, 3rd overall), Jacob Trouba (WPG, 9th), Jordan Schmaltz (STL, 25th), Henrik Samuelsson (PHX, 27th), Brady Skjei (NYR, 28th) and Stefan Matteau (NJD, 29th).
A lot of these guys’ newest fans got a look at them at the NHL development camps, but there’s a different level of competitiveness at the National Junior Evaluation Camp. So NHL fans will have a chance to see their newest draft picks in actual games, as the bouts with Finland and Sweden get quite feisty.
There are four goaltenders in camp including John Gibson who was No. 2 on the depth chart for Team USA last year. Gibson is a lock to make the club and appears impossible to unseat as the starter for the squad in Ufa.
What will be much more intriguing will be the battle to be his backup. Anthony Stolarz, Jon Gillies and Garrett Sparks were the other three invited to camp and none is an obvious choice, unlike last year when the goalie picture was abundantly clear. There’s also a pair of other goaltenders not in camp that may figure into the discussion later in Collin Olson and Connor Hellebuyck, who each could play significant minutes as freshmen for Ohio State and UMass-Lowell respectively.
Sweden and Finland
While keeping a close eye on Team USA, there should also be many big names on both the Sweden and Finland rosters. Since both countries use this event for World Junior prep as well, both often bring a good portion of their best players.
Finland is bringing many of their big guns to Lake Placid. First-rounders Teuvo Teravainen, Oli Maatta, and Joel Armia will be there, in addition to likely 2013 first-rounders Rasumus Ristolainen and Aleksander Barkov.
It’s not announced yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if guys like Filip Forsberg, Oscar Dansk, Oscar Klefbom and Hampus Lindholm, and possibly even 2012 WJC OT hero Mika Zibanejad make the trip for Sweden. They’re all in Sweden’s expanded WJC camp currently underway.
With so many elite players in this camp, it really helps cure the summer malaise with high-quality hockey.
2013 Draft-Eligibles In Action
Arguably the best American prospect since Patrick Kane will be in competition in camp as Seth Jones takes the ice for the second straight year. Jones was the youngest player invited to last year’s NJEC and immediately proved he belonged. An injury during the pre-tournament camp prevented Jones from representing Team USA at the 2012 World Juniors and his absence was noticeable.
The 6-3, 200-pound defenseman could push Nathan MacKinnon for the first-overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He is a virtual lock for the U.S. National Junior Team this year and should show why in this camp. The scouts and GMs know him well, but it never hurts to make a good impression early in the draft season.
There’s also Ryan Hartman, who may fly under the radar coming into the 2013 Draft season. After putting up surprisingly low offensive production in 2011-12 with the U.S. National Under-18 Team, Hartman was a standout in the World Under-18 Championship.
He’s headed to the Plymouth Whalers next year, where he should be able to put up some points, but this camp could be help Hartman make a statement early in the draft season with many scouts and GMs in Lake Placid.
What You Can’t See…
Florida Panthers 2011 second-round pick and North Dakota forward Rocco Grimaldi, who underwent knee surgery last season was invited, but isn’t quite ready to go for this camp. I’m told USA Hockey invited him knowing that there was a good chance he wouldn’t be ready, and it turns out he’s not, but should be good to go for the fall at North Dakota.
Grimaldi is a guy who, despite not being in camp, is still a very strong candidate to make the final roster. He’s been dynamic in international competition in two World U18 Championships and a World U17 Challenge.
Having lost almost all of his freshman season at North Dakota last year won’t help, but he’s the type of player the U.S. just doesn’t have a lot of in terms of puck skills and scoring ability. He’ll be watched closely throughout the first half of the season and I’d think still has a very strong chance to be on the plane to Ufa, Russia in December.
No replacement will be named for Grimaldi, leaving the camp with an even 24 forwards.
Coming up tomorrow on USofH, an in-depth look at the 17 defensemen invited to the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp.