Twenty-four American forwards were invited to the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, which begins Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y. Last year at the World Juniors, with a very deep crop of forwards, Team USA struggled to generate a lot of offense. The inability to produce at a high enough clip to have success is certainly a concern even this year, but there are a few players in camp that could ease some of those worries.
The forwards bring both intrigue and plenty of question marks. There is a lot of versatility within the group, which is a good thing, but there are so many wild cards that are tough to project. The decisions will be tough as a result.
Since there are 24 forwards, I’ve broken down the preview in half. Lucky for you, but luckier for me, USA Hockey released it’s split rosters Wednesday. The 45 players invited are split into two teams in camp, each with two goaltenders and 12 forwards, while one has nine defensemen and the other has eight.
To kick off the forward previews, here’s a look at the 12 forwards placed on Team Blue.
If you checked out the post on defensemen, this will follow the same format, except instead of splitting this up by birth year, it’s just going straight alphabetical.
Name — 2012-13 Team — Draft rights (Team, Rd., overall, year) — Report
Colin Blackwell — Harvard University — SJS, 7th Rd., 194th Overall, 2011 — Blackwell was a bit of a surprise invite to me, but that’s because admittedly, I’m not too familiar with him. He had 19 points as a freshman for Harvard and was the Massachusetts high school player of the year in 2010-11. A bit undersized and certainly a little bit of an unknown coming in, Blackwell will have to find a way to make his presence felt rather quickly.
Thomas Di Pauli — Univ. of Notre Dame — WSH, 4th, 100, 2012 — A gifted two-way centerman, Di Pauli can do a little bit of everything. He skates fairly well, but his biggest asset is his ability to pursue, protect and possess the puck. He’s good on the forecheck and is able to create time and space. Those are some of the key tools that Di Pauli needs to display to give himself a shot at the roster in December. He was a little nicked up throughout last season, so this camp may be the first glimpse at Di Pauli at 100 percent. Knowing how well he played banged up, it should be really interesting to see what he can do with a clean bill of health.
Steven Fogarty — Univ. of Notre Dame — NYR, 3rd, 72, 2011 — Fogarty is one of the players I’m most excited to see in camp after his 33-goal, 82-point season for Penticton in the BCHL last year. He has a big body at 6-2, 194. By most accounts, his development took a big step forward after moving on from Minnesota high school where his size allowed him to dominate. Fogarty can play well at both ends of the ice and if his two-way game from the BCHL translates to the jump in competition at the Junior camp, he could find himself in the conversation in December.
Alex Galchenyuk — Sarnia Sting — MTL, 1st, 3, 2012 — There’s not much argument that Alex Galchenyuk is the best player in camp. He’s the highest draft pick invited and he brings skills to the table no one else can. The only concern right now is that those skills will help him land a spot on the Canadiens next year, which would likely make him unavailable for the WJC. After missing almost all of last season due to a knee injury, it is uncertain Galchenyuk will be ready. As long as he’s available, he’s on the team. There just aren’t many guys like him in the U.S. system right now, or ever, really.
John Gaudreau — Boston College — CGY, 4th, 104, 2011 — Sure, he’s 5-7, 150, but with puck skills like his, the size is irrelevant. Gaudreau could be a strong candidate to be among Team USA’s top-six forwards in Ufa and the fact that he and Galchenyuk, the two most skilled players with the puck on their stick in camp, are on the same team is almost unfair. He was a point-per-game player in his first year at BC, which is pretty insane for a true freshman at his size. With championships in each of the last two seasons, Gaudreau also has that winning pedigree. I think I’ve learned my lesson betting against Gaudreau before, so I won’t again. I think he’s on the team barring something drastic.
Brian Hart — Harvard University — TBL, 3rd, 52, 2012 — After a dominant season in the prep ranks, Hart quickly climbed draft charts and was an easy choice to come into camp. The jump from prep school to World Junior-level hockey is immense, so Hart will have to prove his physical strength makes up that lack of experience. He’s shown he can produce offensively in prep, with 129 points over the last two seasons. If Hart can show his production was not simply thanks to being a bigger, older guy in prep hockey, he’s going to keep himself in the discussion til the very end.
Nicolas Kerdiles — Univ. of Wisconsin — ANA, 2nd, 36, 2012 — Kerdiles was Team USA’s leading scorer with nine points at the World U18 Championship in April, which included a five-point effort against Sweden in the gold medal game. He has good size and strength to go along with good skating ability and some offensive touch. He’s not a dangler, but plays a pretty strong north-south game and will deliver the odd check. Kerdiles can play center or wing, which is going to give the U.S. some options with him. As long as Kerdiles continues what he showed at the U18s, there could be a spot for him among the top nine forwards on the final roster.
Sean Kuraly — Miami University — SJS, 5th, 133, 2011 — In his second USHL season with the Indiana Ice, Kuraly took charge. He posted 70 points including 32 goals, both of which ranked fourth in the league. He was also one of Team USA’s strongest forwards at the World Junior A Challenge last November with six points in five games. With great size and pretty strong puck skills, Kuraly has the tools to give himself a pretty good shot at making the team. Anytime you bring in a player as productive as Kuraly was, the biggest thing the USA Hockey brass will be looking for is if that production translates to a higher level. As long as Kuraly can play with pace and use his body well, he should push for a spot.
Mario Lucia — Univ. of Notre Dame — MIN, 2nd, 60, 2011 — After a strong high school career at Wayzata, Lucia was flat out dominant at the BCHL level with 94 points, best among rookies in the league. His 42 goals also tied for the league best as Penticton set a bunch of records and won a title. Lucia has a wiry 6-2 frame, but has a nice release on his shot and could be looked to for that goal-scoring prowess. Lucia will have to endure some physical battles to show that he can play up to his size and go to the dirty areas to score. If he can show he can do that in camp, he’s going to have an inside track on a spot on the U.S. roster.
Stefan Noesen — Plymouth Whalers — OTT, 1st, 21, 2011 — Noesen was a top performer in last year’s NJEC, but was a surprise omission when the pre-tournament camp roster was announced last December. This is a year where you’d expect Noesen to be a near lock. He can go to the hard areas of the ice, get to the net front and has good enough skill to score in other ways too. He had 82 points for Plymouth in 2011-12 and very easily could be a producer for the U.S. WJC team. As long as Noesen plays to his size and puts up his regular level of production, he should be in Ufa.
Adam Reid — Northeastern University — Undrafted — One of the wildcards in this camp is Adam Reid. When the WJC team is built, there needs to be a few role players. Reid would be looking like a guy battling for that 13th forward spot. He’s one of the biggest forwards in camp at 6-3, 209 and has a terrific on-ice work ethic. Reid is the type of player that will do just about anything he’s asked, which is an important quality. In order to make the team, Reid is going to have to play physical, play with energy and limit mistakes with the puck. It’s going to be a tall order for him to make it, but he has some of the intangibles including international experience (U18 gold in 2011) that could keep him in the mix for a bit.
Henrik Samuelsson — Edmonton Oil Kings — PHX, 1st, 27th, 2012 — The U.S. has brought a lot of skilled forwards in to camp, but few have the combination of skill and snarl that Samuelsson brings. He plays with an edge, sometimes a little too far on the edge, but Samuelsson has some valuable skills that could prove important in Ufa. With a big body and good physical strength, Samuelsson is tough to move and take off the puck. On top of that he has good skills that could allow him to put up some points. The one drawback is that Samuelsson’s skating ability could hold him back. If Phil Housley wants his team to play at a fast pace, Samuelsson is going to have to prove his other skills outweigh his footspeed. Samuelsson will have a close eye on him due to his physical tools even beyond camp.
You can catch Team Blue and Team White meet in the camp’s first game Saturday at 4 p.m. EDT live on FASTHockey.com. Full broadcast schedule is here.
Coming up later today on United States of Hockey, a look at the forwards playing on Team White.