Earlier today, USA Hockey announced the preliminary roster for the U.S. National Junior Team. On that list, 15 forwards were named to compete for spots on the final roster for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
Team USA’s camp will begin Dec. 16 at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y. before moving to Helsinki, Finland, Dec. 19. The final roster will be announced Dec. 23.
The forward group is highlighted by returnee J.T. Miller who was loaned to Team USA by the New York Rangers and AHL affiliate Connecticut. He is the only forward with World Junior Championship and professional experience. That makes Miller’s role all the more crucial. The natural center is likely to play wing for Team USA to shore up some scoring pop on the right side.
The U.S. will also boast Alex Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the draft last summer and currently a dominant force in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sarnia Sting. Among the other first-round picks in Team USA’s forward group, Tyler Biggs (TOR), Stefan Noesen (OTT) and Stefan Matteau (NJD).
Coming up after the jump, an in depth look with notes on each of the 15 forwards invited to the camp, including who might be battling who.
Speed and grit will be two general descriptors used for this team. There’s a wide variety of skills among this crop of forwards, but speed and/or size stick out as important factors.
Team USA GM today said in his teleconference that the key characteristics USA Hockey wanted with this team were skating/speed or size/grit. Those have somewhat been hallmarks of USA Hockey over the last few years.
The U.S. will also have some highly-skilled forwards in the mix. Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Galchenyuk are dynamic puck handlers, while Rocco Grimaldi could be thrown into that mix too. Mario Lucia is more of a natural goal-scorer, while Vince Trocheck is kind of an all-around guy that can do a lot well. Riley Barber has been piling up points as a true freshman, while Jimmy Vesey has been a strong goal-scorer at Harvard.
There’s the grit with guys like Blake Pietila, Stefan Matteau, Tyler Biggs, Cole Bardreau and Ryan Hartman, with some of those guys possessing a good combination of skills and speed, too.
To be frank, the team doesn’t have an overwhelming skill level compared to teams from Canada, Russia, Sweden or Finland, but the balance thorughout the lineup and the speed could prove effective for the Americans.
On paper, this U.S. group doesn’t have the same depth of talent as years past and will be in a battle to medal, but as constructed this team will compete.
J.T. Miller should be a big factor in anything the U.S. does. It has a good top six with Gaudreau, Miller and Galchenyuk, likely the key forwards at each position.
USA Hockey may add to this list, according to Johannson, who said they haven’t ruled out the possibility of bringing in other players to camp. Namely, he was talking about Nic Kerdiles who has missed much of the season due to NCAA sanctions. Kerdiles will have a chance to earn a spot with a good showing this weekend, but Johannson also didn’t rule out anyone.
Odds are, this is the group they take in to camp, with Kerdiles a possible inclusion, and these are the guys that will have to compete with each other.
USA Hockey invited five forwards per position, so it’s looking like there are probably three spots that are open for competition with other battles determining spots on the depth chart. No. 4 center, No. 2 or 3 left wing and No. 3 or 4 right wing appear to be the key positions that may be up for grabs at forward.
Here’s a look at the 15 forwards selected to camp in alphabetical order.
Cole Bardreau – C — Cornell — One of the surprise invitations to camp to most hockey fans, Bardreau is there because of his ability to play tenacious defense and match speed against opponent’s top lines. He has a relentless work ethic on the ice and goes 100 miles an hour every shift. Despite his relative lack of size, he inserts himself into games with physical play and good puck pursuit. If he is to make the roster, he’ll likely be the fourth line center. He’ll have to battle in camp, but he played well at the summer camp and has done just fine at Cornell as well. His familiarity with the international game is a plus. His biggest competition may end up being Sean Kuraly as the center position is stacked with more offensive-types. Bardreau fits a role, which gives him an advantage. Undrafted.
Riley Barber — RW — Miami — Barber has had an incredible season as a true freshman at Miami. He’s playing on the team’s top line and has put up 18 points in 14 games to lead the nation’s first-year players. He’ll have to prove in camp that he is not simply a product of a good linemate, as former WJCer Austin Czarnik has been finishing a lot of Barber’s feeds. Barber is also a former NTDP guy, so USA Hockey knows what he can do. If they think he can make an impact in a scoring role, he’ll have a good chance at making the team. As the only player on this roster that wasn’t invited to the summer camp, he has a bit of a higher hill to climb to make the team, but he has a terrific opportunity in front of him. His biggest competition may end up being Ryan Hartman, but there’s also a chance you could see Barber fill a 13th forward role if they can find a top-nine spot for him. Washington Capitals
Tyler Biggs – RW — Oshawa Generals — Biggs offers that physicality and nastiness that the U.S. has generally lacked in recent tournaments. With his size and toughness, Biggs can make things really difficult on the forecheck. He also knows how to use his body to create some offense near the net. His relative lack of speed hurts a bit, but Biggs more than makes up for it with the physical elements of his game. In those tight, physical contests, Biggs can be an asset. He can be slotted as a fourth-line energy guy, but he has just enough scoring pop to be one of USA’s top-nine as he is better than a point-per-game player in the OHL this year with 31 points in 30 games. Toronto Maple Leafs
Alex Galchenyuk – C — Sarnia Sting — The silky-smooth centerman offers the U.S. one of its more dynamic forwards in recent memory. The 18-year-old already has a staggering 49 points in 28 OHL games including 20 goals. Twenty three of those points came in November alone. Riding on a hot streak like that might be a good thing for Galchenyuk, who was born in Milwaukee, but spent a lot of his youth all over the world before his family settled back in Russia for a few years. That’s an important factor. He should be comfortable on the big ice and won’t have to deal with the culture shock of playing in Russia, which is an underrated factor. His on-ice talent is immense and gives the U.S. a true No. 1 center, though he’s played most of the year at LW for Sarnia. Montreal Canadiens
Johnny Gaudreau – LW — Boston College — The most exciting player within the age group currently playing college hockey, Gaudreau offers the U.S. a dynamic offensive threat. With some of the best puck skills you’ll see, Gaudreau can create something out of nothing and is an expert at making goals happen one way or another. He currently has 21 points (10g-11a) in 13 games at BC and is a central figure for the nation’s best team. His championship experience helps, too, as each of his last two seasons have ended with titles. His size is only a moderate concern when you consider just how tough he is to defend. He’s a big part of what this team will be able to do offensively. Calgary Flames
Rocco Grimaldi – C/W — University of North Dakota — Grimaldi was unable to attend the National Junior Evaluation Camp as he was still recovering from knee surgery last season. The diminutive centerman has shown no ill effects from the injury this year with North Dakota. Grimaldi fits a lot of skill into a small package, but his speed is what increases his value for this team. The California native can really burn and he combines that with strong puck skills and a devastating release. He’s good on draws and doesn’t back down from anything or anyone. If he’s slotted at center, Grimaldi will have to be cognizant of his defensive responsibilities as that’s an area he is improved, but maybe still not there yet. Grimaldi has performed at a high level on the international stage before and he should be able to again. Florida Panthers
Ryan Hartman — RW — Plymouth Whalers — Hartman’s versatility is one of his biggest strengths. He can be a guy that plays on the wing and creates offense and makes plays, but he also has a physical edge and plays bigger than his 6-foot frame. That versatility gives Hartman a big edge in his hopes of making Team USA. Even when he’s not putting up points, he’s doing something that impacts the game. He has good enough defensive awareness to get involved with a fouth-line role, but that skill still makes him a threat to produce. He might have a little competition with Barber, but even if it’s as a 13th forward, there’s a strong likelihood Hartman makes the final roster. Eligible for 2013 Draft
Sean Kuraly — C — Miami — Kuraly’s dismal season so far at Miami put him at risk of not making the team despite being Team USA’s best forward at the National Junior Evaluation Camp. Now he’s in for a battle for a final roster spot and it may come down to his ability to adapt to a different role than the one he played in camp. With Galchenyuk, Grimaldi and Trocheck all more reliable producers from the center position this season, Kuraly may have to find a spot by showing he can defend well. His speed and size are huge assets among Team USA’s forward crop. Skill-wise he has the goods to make the team, but if his troubles from Miami carry over to the camp, he may have to be left home. I think USA Hockey will give him every opportunity for him make the roster, but in the end, it’s up to Kuraly. San Jose Sharks
Mario Lucia — LW — Notre Dame — After breaking his leg in the preseason, I thought Lucia’s World Junior hopes were done. It’s a tough injury to come back from and the time-table for his return were not on his side. He flew threw his rehab however and returned to the ice slightly ahead of schedule. He’s played in six games with Notre Dame and already has four goals. He can play with speed and has a natural scoring talent. That combined with good size is likely why USA Hockey went with Lucia instead of a sniper like Reid Boucher. Lucia has the potential to be a top-six wing for this team, but his competition will be strong. He slots firmly behind Gaudreau and will get a push from Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey. If Lucia can show he’s ready to play a major scoring role, he should make the team with ease. Any stumbles however, and he’s got an established group behind him ready to go. Camp will be important for the winger. Minnesota Wild
Stefan Matteau — LW — Blainville-Boisbriand Armada — The big power winger has a nastiness to his game that allows him to impose his will against opponents. He can play on the edge of the rules and take things a little too far sometimes, which can’t happen at the World Juniors. Supplementary discipline would be a huge hit to USA’s depth, so that will be under consideration. The skills Matteau has are evident. He has size, skates with power and can finish. Matteau has had an underwhelming year so far in the QMJHL, based on the expectations that come with being a first-rounder. That said, he has 14 goals on the year. His primary competition might end up being Jimmy Vesey, who has a little less physical strength, but good defensive sense. Also, should the team add Nic Kerdiles as is a possibility, Matteau would have to compete with his former U18 teammate as well. As long as Matteau can show he can play with an edge within reason and put himself in positions to produce a bit, he has a good shot at being one of the final 23. New Jersey Devils
J.T. Miller — RW/C — Connecticut Whale — Miller’s return is huge for the U.S. Had NYR held him from the WJC, there would have been a gaping hole with no adequate replacement. Miller brings strength, speed and a tenacity that is required in these emotional games. On top of that, he brings terrific vision and strong skills that should allow him to be productive. One of his best attributes however is his ability to create time and space for his linemates with terrific puck protection skills. He should see a lot of time on special teams and expect him on the ice a lot in general. He is likely to wear a letter for this team as well. New York Rangers
Stefan Noesen — RW — Plymouth Whalers — Strength, speed and a knack for scoring make Noesen a likely top-six wing for Team USA. He has some burliness and some grit which aid his offense and make him tough to play against. With 16 goals in 23 games, Noesen has had no trouble finishing. He also has enough versatility where he can play with just about anybody and do well. The U.S. typically builds a team with three lines with scoring pop and a defensively stout line. Noesen is behind Miller on the depth chart, but looks good to be a top-six guy with a lot of responsibility. Ottawa Senators
Blake Pietila — LW — Michigan Tech — He might be a first-line winger for the Huskies, but on the junior team, he’ll be expected to crash and bang on the fourth line. I don’t know that there is anyone among the left wings that has the same defensive capabilities as Pietila. He is terrific on the forecheck and along the boards. Pietila has a great compete level which is why I think he’s a near lock for inclusion on the final roster. You need guys that do some of the dirty work to win at this tournament and Pietila has proven in the past he can do just that. As an added bonus, he’s scored eight goals this year as a sophomore, so he’s not inept offensively. New Jersey Devils
Vince Trocheck — C — Saginaw Spirit — After a strong showing in the summer WJC camp, Trocheck has been on a blistering scoring pace in the OHL. His 45 points rank him sixth in the league, while his 21 goals are tied for third. That kind of production, as well as good-enough defensive awareness will make Trocheck a likely No. 2 or No. 3 center for Team USA assuming he performs up to expectations in camp. He has decent size and good speed, with the latter being the important tool. With good puck skills and the confidence a season like he’s having probably brings, Trocheck looks poised to be a key offensive player for Team USA. Florida Panthers
Jimmy Vesey — LW — Harvard — Vesey has come a long way since August. I thought he looked a bit over-matched at times in Lake Placid, but showed flashes of the ability to play at the World Junior level. He has sound defensive awareness, but has good scoring and playmaking ability. Vesey’s hockey sense is a big advantage here as I think that is what will allow him to play at the much higher pace at the World Junior Championship. He’ll have to battle with guys like Matteau and Lucia (and Kerdiles if he’s included later), so I still think there is still a bit of a wide open competition for the No. 2 and No. 3 left wings. The way Vesey has played at Harvard might give him a slight edge over the rest. Only real problem is that he’s only played seven games this year with Harvard’s late start so his readiness for the grind could be a potential concern. Nashville Predators
Here’s the positional break down. These are note projected line combos, but this is the positional depth chart as I see it for right now.
Gaudreau – Galchenyuk – Miller
Lucia – Trocheck – Noesen
Vesey – Grimaldi – Biggs
Pietila – Kuraly – Hartman
Matteau – Bardreau – Barber
Coming soon, an in-depth look at Team USA’s goalies and defensemen.