Tuesday morning, USA Hockey will unveil its preliminary roster for the U.S. National Junior Team. If USAH is sticking with previous plans, the roster should feature roughly 27 players, including 15 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.
The final roster will be trimmed down to 23, which includes three goalies and is likely to break down with 13 forwards and seven defensemen.
Invariably, there is always at least one surprise player in camp — one that wasn’t invited to the summer evaluation camp and was not injured at the time. Typically, the vast majority of the players being invited to the pre-tournament camp, which begins Dec. 16 in Greenburgh, N.Y., at the MSG Training Center, will have participated in the summer camp in Lake Placid.
USA Hockey’s camp will run over three days in New York before USA Hockey heads overseas to Helsinki, Finland, for the remainder of the evaluation camp and the final roster will be chosen by Dec. 23.
Coming up after the jump, some roster news and one last projection with some explanations.
Gibson’s Health Status
First off, the news that is unlikely to effect the preliminary roster announcement, but is worth watching is the health of projected starting goaltender John Gibson. The Kitchener Rangers netminder is suffering from a strained hip flexor sustained Tuesday. According to Josh Brown of the Kitchener Record, Gibson has been “shut down.” The status of his return is unknown as the Rangers have tabbed his time out as indefinite, according to a source close to the team.
— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) December 1, 2012
Details have been scant about just how bad this injury is and with an indefinite time frame for his return, there could be reason for concern. Even if it’s minor, the strain could hamper the big goaltender as this is one tricky injury. It could be nothing, or it could be something that could negatively affect his play, or his ability to play at all.
The tournament is still a little over three weeks away, so there is time for this to heal if it’s minor. Unless the injury is known to be serious, Gibson will be listed on the preliminary roster.
Gibson is central to the U.S. medal hopes as far-and-away the best goaltender in the age group among Americans and probably among the top three in the entire tournament. If he’s unable to go, the U.S. would likely have to turn to either Providence freshman Jon Gillies or Guelph Storm netminder Garret Sparks. Both are good options, but neither is on a par with Gibson at this point.
This U.S. team may struggle to score, which means goaltending is going to be key.
United States of Hockey will be monitoring this situation closely and will update as more details emerge.
Projecting the U.S. Preliminary Roster
Alright, let’s get down to what you came here for. The following is a list of 27 players, using that number from previous reports (15 forwards, nine D, three goalies), that I believe will be in camp. That number, over the course of camp, will be whittled down to 20 skaters and three goaltenders for the World Junior Championship. I’ll also include a couple extra players in the mix, just to keep the bases covered.
Keep in mind, there’s usually a player somewhat out of the blue that earns an invite like Jamie Oleksiak and Mitchell Callahan two years ago, Josh Archibald last year and Luke Walker in 2010. Walker, Callahan and Archibald all ended up making the final roster. It’s always tough to figure out who that player will be, so I’ll be just as surprised of the rest of you by who it is, if it happens.
Additionally, my USA sources have been mum on the selections and the decision process, so this is simply an educated guess using knowledge of how previous camps were selected, typical player preferences, performance at the summer camp and throughout the first half of this season. The players are listed in order of confidence of their selection to give you an idea of where each stands among the group.
I’ll have some closing thoughts on some of the bubble players after the list, so here it goes…
Draft rights in parenthesis
Forwards: J.T. Miller (NYR), Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), Johnny Gaudreau (CGY), Stefan Noesen (OTT), Tyler Biggs (TOR), Rocco Grimaldi (FLA), Vincent Trocheck (FLA), Blake Pietila (NJD), Jimmy Vesey (NSH), Ryan Hartman (2013), Sean Kuraly (SJS), Mario Lucia (MIN), Nic Kerdiles (ANA), Stefan Matteau (NJD), Travis Boyd (WSH)
In the mix: Riley Barber (WSH), Brady Vail (MTL), Reid Boucher (NJD)*, Alex Broadhurst (CHI), Henrik Samuelsson (PHX), Cole Bardreau (undrafted)
Defense: Jacob Trouba (WPG), Seth Jones (2013), Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI), Matt Grzelcyk (BOS), Connor Murphy (PHX), Mike Reilly (CBJ), Jake McCabe (BUF), Andy Welinski (ANA), Brady Skjei (NYR)
In the mix: Garrett Haar (WSH), Patrick Sieloff (CGY), Robbie Russo (NYI)
Goalies: John Gibson (ANA), Jon Gillies (CGY), Garret Sparks (TOR)
In the mix: Collin Olson (CAR), Anthony Stolarz (PHI)
Here it is by position, just to visualize a little better. These are not line projections.
Gaudreau – Galchenyuk – Miller
Vesey – Grimaldi – Noesen
Pietila – Trocheck – Biggs
Lucia – Kuraly – Hartman
Kerdiles – Boyd
Gostisbehere – Trouba
Grzelcyk – Jones
Reilly – Murphy
McCabe – Welinski
Gibson – Sparks – Gillies
Some notes on the prediction:
— J.T. Miller is included among the list despite the fact that I have been able to get confirmation from any USA sources if he is expected to be made available by the New York Rangers, who can decide if the would-be WJC returnee should stay in the AHL with the Connecticut Whale. A source close to Miller has indicated to me that the former first-round pick is excited about the possibility of going back to the WJC, but did not know what the Rangers would decide.
If Miller is out, a pair of potential replacements would be Riley Barber, who is the nation’s top-scoring freshman at Miami, or Henrik Samuelsson, a big bodied center/wing for the Edmonton Oil Kings who has 27 points in 25 games this year and a first-round pick by Phoenix. UPDATE: ESPN New York’s Katie Strang has the latest on Miller.
#NYR Speaking of Rangers, team is expected to allow prospect JT Miller to participate in WJC camp. Roster announcement expected next week
— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) December 1, 2012
— Mario Lucia and Nic Kerdiles both had extended periods off due to injury and suspension, respectively. Lucia returned to the ice three weeks ago, however, and already has four goals and an assist. Kerdiles played his first game of the year on Friday and looked solid. He then scored a goal the next night in helping Wisconsin earn its second win of the season. Neither can be considered a lock even with their seamless transition back to the ice, but it is worth bringing both to camp for extra eval time just to be sure they’re ready for the rigors of the WJC. If that means adding another forward or two to the camp just in case, then USA Hockey should do it as both of these guys have potential to make an impact at left wing.
— The U.S. has a multitude of gifted puck-moving defensemen, which makes the decision quite difficult. Shayne Gostisbehere, Mike Reilly and Matt Grzelcyk give the U.S. high-end guys that will compliment the more defensive-minded players like Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Connor Murphy. Robbie Russo has turned his season around at Notre Dame and offers a similar skillset, while Jake McCabe, Garrett Haar and Andy Welinski are solid two-way guys. There are some seriously tough decisions to be made on the blue line, with any one of the guys listed as in the mix having a realistic chance at being on the final team. I’ve believed since the Lake Placid camp that USA Hockey couldn’t take all three of Gostisbehere, Reilly and Grzelcyk, but each has played well enough in recent weeks to consider that as a viable option now, especially with potentially questionable production up front. That may make a guy like Brady Skjei a bit more expendable.
— Sean Kuraly has performed below the lofty expectations he set at the camp in Lake Placid with just two goals and an assist in 14 games this year. The U.S. has a lot of options at center, but none have the mix of speed, size and strength Kuraly brings to the table. He might not be a top-six guy, but he has the skillset to be effective at the World Junior Championship. His camp performance, I believe, is enough to carry him into this camp.
— Travis Boyd may look a bit out of place amid many top-three-round picks on the U.S. forward corps, but he could come in as a fourth center or 13th forward as a good two-way guy. He’s had a good start to his season at Minnesota and is able to contribute on the penalty kill. He’d be a guy that has to battle for a final roster spot, but he could be one of those guys where familiarity is important as a former NTDP/World U18 Championship alum.
— Assuming John Gibson is healthy and the fact that the U.S. can take three goalies, I think that race is over. Gibson, Gillies and Sparks give the U.S. a solid trio. Jon Gillies was not very good in the Junior Eval camp, but has been in his freshman campaign at Providence. Garret Sparks was good in camp and has been the first-half of this season. Anthony Stolarz was the other camp goalie, but his playing time has dwindled at Nebraska Omaha. Meanwhile, Collin Olson has played well in abbreviated action at Ohio State. Still think the U.S. is well set so long as Gibson is OK.
— There are tough decisions to be made, but USA Hockey is likely near completion of finalizing this preliminary roster. Players are likely being notified over the next 24 hours of their invitation to the camp, so that info may start trickling out as early as Monday morning. The official announcement is expected to be made Tuesday on USAHockey.com at 10 a.m. ET.
Come back to United States of Hockey for full coverage and analysis after the roster is unveiled.
* – The post was updated after the initial publishing mistakenly left off Reid Boucher from forwards in the mix (see comments).