As optimism has built and faded and so on and so forth in regards to the end of the NHL Lockout, there’s no better answer now than there was last week as to when this will all be done. While hockey fans wait with bated breath for their favorite teams to return to the ice, the folks charged with building national team rosters for the World Junior Championship are waiting for different reasons.
As the lockout appears to be getting close to reaching a final destination, whether it be a new collective-bargaining agreement or canceling the season, the planning for World Junior rosters is near its conclusion as well.
Most countries have posted their preliminary rosters, many of which include players that likely would be called to the abbreviated NHL training camps to get a shot at making the big clubs.
Good friend of the blog, Bruce Peter tackled this very topic for SBNation. The end of the lockout would be met with much celebration, but for the WJC GMs, it would mean bad news potentially.
Coming up after the jump, more from Bruce as well as how this would impact Team USA, as well as a look at which players named to the U.S. preliminary roster will be on national TV this weekend.
As Peter points out, the lockout would most directly impact Team Canada, which named 37 players to its selection camp Monday. Among those 37, Calder Trophy finalist Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be back in Edmonton faster than you can say Oklahoma City. Peter also identifies Dougie Hamilton (Boston), Ryan Strome (NYI), Mark Schiefele (Winnipeg), Griffin Reinhart (NYI), Boone Jenner (Columbus), Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida) and Morgan Rielly (Toronto) as potentially gone to training camps if the NHL and NHLPA reach a deal before the tournament. That’s a huge chunk of scoring vanished.
Russia would certainly lose Nail Yakupov (Edmonton) and would likely have to go without Mikhail Grigorenko (Buffalo) as well. Sweden, already depleted by injuries and Ottawa’s refusal to release Mika Zibanejad, would likely also lose Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim).
When it comes to the U.S., there’s a slight chance the Canadiens would call back Alex Galchenyuk, who has been on fire this year in the OHL and though he’s already in the American Hockey League, J.T. Miller doesn’t look poised to jump onto the New York Rangers’ roster just yet.
So the impact on the U.S. would pale in comparison to Canada and Russia, but would still be significant. Galchenyuk is looking good to be the No. 1 center for Team USA and would be looked to as a major producer. Should Miller also get called back, there goes the top wing and Team USA’s lone returnee at forward.
This is all hypothetical of course. There’s no deal on the table for a new CBA and there may not be soon as talks appear to be heading int he wrong direction after last night’s hopefulness.
While potentially losing Galchenyuk and Miller would be pretty bad for the U.S., they wouldn’t incur the same losses as Canada. Russia losing Grigorenko and Yakupov would also be significant. Both Canada and Russia are in Team USA’s group, so if there were any teams that were going to be depleted, it benefits the U.S. if its those two.
That said, I think everyone wants the World Juniors to be best on best. Team USA GM Jim Johannson said as much in the teleconference Tuesday.
In recent years, Canada’s failure to win gold has been blamed on the lack of availability of the best players in the age group, due to NHL duty. With a full boat this year, it gives Canada its best team in years and takes away any such excuse. The boys in red and white certainly would be the favorites. Even if Canada loses guys, they’re likely still the favorites, only less concretely.
The U.S. has a pretty decent group, but it’s not at the same level as teams of years past, so that’s a bit of a concern. The concern is compounded if you take one or two of the best players away, as the player pool doesn’t have the depth you’d hope for. That said, the NHL’s return would diminish depth of other teams perhaps more severely, which would level the playing field.
The NHL’s return wouldn’t simply take players away, however. It also removes any kind of spotlight from the World Junior Championship that was already going to struggle to capture a wide audience with the 11-hour difference between Russia and the Eastern time zone. Bring in the hype of the start of an abbreviated NHL season and the WJC is merely a “hey, look at that over there, that’s kinda nice” type of event.
Even when the NHL is in season, there’s a lot of attention for the World Juniors, but with the added excitement for NHL hockey after a long layoff, a lot of that goes away mostly.
If the NHL returns, it will be great for the game as a whole. Everyone will be happy and our long continental nightmare is over, but for these countries trying to ice the best teams, it’s a mostly unexpected headache. They’ll get no sympathy from NHL fans worldwide, though. Nor should they.
Here are the preliminary rosters as released by the international federations so far (you may need Google Translate for help):
U.S. Candidates on TV
Another weekend jam-packed with college hockey on TV will offer Team USA fans a lot of opportunities to catch the newly minted pre-tournament camp invitees.
It’s important to remember that until the final roster is named, these players are still being evaluated. That means their performances this weekend still matter for attempting to be one of the final 23 players named to the U.S. roster.
Here’s a quick and easy guide for you to plan your television watching this weekend. (All Times ET)
Michigan State at Notre Dame — Friday, 7:30 p.m. — NBC Sports Network
Mario Lucia — Notre Dame — The left winger has only appeared in six games since his return from a broken leg. He’s been terrific so far, however, as he already has four goals. He’s a guy that still has to prove himself out there to show he’s ready to go for the World Juniors.
Harvard at Merrimack – Friday, 7:30 p.m. — FCS-Atlantic
Jimmy Vesey — Harvard — Another left wing candidate, Vesey has had a short season as well, due to the Ivy League schools starting a few weeks after everyone else. Any game reps he can get between now and the World Juniors will be important as he has a big step up in competition ahead of him.
Michigan Tech at Wisconsin — Friday, 8 p.m. — FCS-Pacific
Michigan Tech at Wisconsin — Saturday, 8 p.m. — FCS-Pacific
Blake Pietila — Michigan Tech — Pietila plays mostly on Michigan Tech’s top line, but he’s looking more like a fourth-line candidate for the WJC. Keep a close eye on his physical game, but also don’t be surprised if he is playing more of a scoring role. He does have eight goals this year, but that won’t change his role for Team USA.
Jake McCabe — Wisconsin — The two-way defenseman has looked really good over the last two years at Wisconsin and is playing a much more established role as a sophomore. He tends to play a lot of minutes. McCabe isn’t always flashy, so sometimes he can be tough to notice, but he’s shown in the past that he can deceive you with his skill.
Denver at North Dakota — Friday, 8:30 p.m. — FCS-Central
Denver at North Dakota — Saturday, 8 p.m. — FCS-Central
Rocco Grimaldi — North Dakota — The diminutive centerman has been outstanding in his red-shirt freshman year. The last few weekends, he’s also played on the wing, which is something the U.S. might consider to free Grimaldi up to focus more on scoring. Either way, Grimaldi tends to jump off the TV screen with his explosive speed and high-end skill.
Minnesota at Colorado College — Friday, 10 p.m. — FCS-Atlantic
Minnesota at Colorado College — Saturday, 9 p.m. — FCS-Atlantic
Mike Reilly — Minnesota — The gifted offensive-defenseman has been vastly improved in the last few weeks compared to his first few collegiate games. He’s gaining confidence and that has brought more creativity out of the slick-skating Reilly. Colorado College, like Minnesota, plays on an Olympic sheet at the World Arena, which will give you a good idea of how he’ll be able to maneuver on the big ice if you haven’t seen him before.
Brady Skjei — Minnesota — Skjei has had some struggles as a true freshman, but his physical tools are in line with what you’d think would make him effective at the World Junior level. This is going to be a big road series for the Gophers, so it will be interesting to see how Skjei looks as he continues to adjust to the college game. He has a great track record with USA Hockey, and offers a differing skill set from most of the other guys invited to try out for the defense.
Maine at Boston University — Saturday, 8 p.m. — CBS Sports Network
Matt Grzelcyk — Boston University — If you saw last weekend’s games on NBC Sports Network, you know what Grzelcyk can do. The way he played against the nation’s best team, particularly on Friday, was pretty incredible. Now he’ll go up against Maine, which has been dreadful this season. If the leash is off Grzelcyk in this game, he should be able to do some special things with the puck and will be fun to watch.
Complete college hockey TV schedule for the weekend can be found here.