World Junior Rewind: Team USA’s Forwards

Today continues our look back at Team USA’s gold-medal performance, this time taking a look at all 13 forwards for Team USA. Coming soon, thoughts on the defensemen and goaltenders.

Logo_USA_hockeyComing into the 2013 World Junior Championship, the biggest question marks for Team USA rested with the forwards. Without the depth of scoring of several of the other WJC entrants, this was viewed as a potential weak spot for the U.S.

That was only compounded when projected top-six winger Stefan Noesen was ruled ineligible for the tournament due to his OHL suspension. Because of that, the Team USA staff had very little time to make the appropriate alternate decisions.

Both pre-tournament games and even the first three games of the tournament did very little to calm concerns about the forward crop. The U.S. wasn’t getting much production out of its perceived top line and the bottom lines weren’t generating many chances with much consistency.

As it turned out, it was the right ingredients all along, but the wrong mix. Once several adjustments were made among the forwards, the U.S. began realizing its full offensive potential. As that materialized, so did the results.

Coming up after the jump, notes on all 13 forwards from the World Junior Championship.

In alphabetical order

Cornell Athletics

Cole Bardreau (Undrafted) — C — 7 GP, 1-2–3, 4 PIM

The only player on Team USA’s roster to have been passed over (twice) in the NHL Draft, Bardreau may have been a bit of a surprise addition to the pre-tournament camp for the uninitiated. However, Bardreau brought a very specific skill set and USA Hockey had a lot of familiarity with him from his NTDP days. He was the perfect guy to fit a checking line role as a result and he played that role impressively.

Bardreau utilized his tremendous speed to stay with opposing forwards and get after defensmen on the forecheck. He had a few opportunities to display his good puck skills and vision in the offensive zone more than expected, but his value was in his defense and penalty-killing ability. His line with Ryan Hartman and Blake Pietila was never broken up for more than a few shifts the entire tournament and is a big reason the U.S. was able to shut down top lines.

The trio played important minutes throughout the tournament and gave the U.S. a big boost on its way to gold.

Though currently undrafted, Bardreau may have opened some eyes. He is undersized, but his speed and grit showed that he can be effective against top players. He may not get drafted in his last year of eligibility, but NHL teams may want to keep him on their radar to fill some organizational depth as a college free agent.

Miami Athletics

Riley Barber (WSH) — RW — 7 GP, 3-3–6, 4 PIM

Playing on a line with Alex Galchenyuk and Sean Kuraly, Barber started the tournament with a bang, but like the rest of his line went up and down a bit.

The important thing that Barber accomplished on a regular basis was a good offensive-zone presence. The finish wasn’t always there, but he was moving the puck well and getting pucks to the net. Barber finished second on the team with 24 shots on goal. He also showed that with another year of development under his belt, he could be an offensive leader for next year’s World Junior entry.

The Capitals prospect is showing added strength from his under-18 season and had good speed to begin with. He worked well with Galchenyuk in particular as the two seemed to have some good chemistry materialize throughout the tournament. The ability to play with and contribute with top players is an important trait for a player of Barber’s skill set.

He did have instances where he disappeared, but that may have been more due to the guarded minutes his line played. As more of the second scoring line, Barber’s trio got skipped over in PK and defense-first situations. That said, I think this tournament was a great developmental opportunity for Barber, who is currently lighting up college hockey at Miami. In even more of a featured role potentially next year, he should shine at the 2014 WJC.

OHL Images

Tyler Biggs (TOR) — RW — 7 GP, 0-1–1, 8 PIM

For Biggs, the 2013 WJC was a great example of what he can do to help a team win and also what he needs to work on. The good part is that he did a lot more of the former than the latter. Playing with Vince Trocheck for the whole tournament and a few different left wingers, Biggs was asked to do a little bit of everything.

Playing primarily in an energy-line type role where he was responsible for work at both ends of the ice and primarily establishing a good forecheck, Biggs did his job. He was one of Team USA’s best penalty killers and his ability to get down the ice to get after D and win battles along the wall was on display all tournament.

Biggs did have several quality scoring chances that lacked finish, which is something he’ll need to improve on down the stretch. Beyond that, there wasn’t much he did wrong outside of a stray bad penalty here or there.

In the end, Biggs was an important part of the gold-medal win due to his ability to do some of the dirty jobs teams need to be successful.

OHL Images

Alex Galchenyuk (MTL) — LW — 7 GP, 2-6–8, 4 PIM

The skill was evident from the beginning and remained evident throughout. For the first half of the tournament, Team USA’s most consistent threat at forward was Galchenyuk. As part of that second scoring line with Barber and Sean Kuraly, Galchenyuk’s ice was less than most of us on the outside expected coming in, but the result appears to have justified it. Tough to argue with gold.

That said, Galchenyuk was put in positions to succeed offensively and he did save for the last few games. He finished fourth on the team with eight points and showed a mix of his playmaking ability and tremendous goal-scoring skills. His goal against Germany showed off his devastating release, seen here:

The other big thing about Galchenyuk’s ice time was how he handled it. Not like the superstar that he is, but as a player who wanted to win. There’s something special about that. Every comment in the press and the body language showed poise in a situation that may have frustrated him as a top scorer back with his own team.

Galchenyuk would obviously be an important part of next year’s team, but the chances of him being available? Slim. He showed that his skills are NHL ready. If he’s not on the Habs this year, he most definitely will be next year. Undoubtedly, Galchenyuk is a special player.

BC Athletics

Johnny Gaudreau (CGY) — LW — 7 GP, 7-2–9, 4 PIM

Johnny Hockey lived up to his name at the WJC, but it took him a little while to get going. Mired in a drought for the first three games of the tournament, Gaudreau came alive in the elimination games. A pair against Slovakia, a hat trick against the Czechs and two dazzling scores against Canada in the semis showed why the U.S. stuck with him in a top scoring role.

Gaudreau’s seven tallies led the tournament and fell just one shy of the American World Junior record set by Jeremy Roenick.

Gaudreau has developed a reputation as a big-game player and in the most important games he showed up in a big way. He didn’t score in the gold-medal game, but he was threatening and generating chances. His skill skill level makes him a factor in any game and teams had to be aware of him at all times.

I still believe he’s one of the most creative American forwards I’ve seen. He has a way of manufacturing offense and he makes it count when he’s got an open look. His toe-drag snipe against Ryan Murphy and Malcolm Subban in the semifinal against Canada (at about 5:20 of the video below) was a devastating goal and one of the highlights of the tournament for Team USA.

Now, thanks to “HappyGuy343,” each of Gaudreau’s nine points in the tournament…

UND Athletics

Rocco Grimaldi (FLA) — LW/RW — 7 GP, 2-2–4, 4 PIM

Up until the gold-medal game, the standout moment that everyone was talking about was Grimaldi’s game-long benching against Slovakia. For what reports called “selfish play,” Grimaldi sat the entirety of that game, lost his spot on the top scoring line and the power play, and was dogged for his attitude.

However, Grimaldi answered back. In his next three games, he was one of Team USA’s best forwards. Moved to a line with Vince Trocheck and Tyler Biggs, Grimaldi made that line better offensively, as it had really struggled to produce all tournament.

Then, of course, the gold-medal game. Grimaldi’s two goals propelled the U.S. to victory and both were not your typical super-skilled goals we’re used to seeing from Grimaldi at North Dakota. They were those greasy goals that eluded the U.S. in losses to Canada and Russia in the prelims, and they also were a little lucky. For a guy that hadn’t gotten the bounces all tournament, he got the two he and his team needed at the right time.

Grimaldi’s tournament went from being forgettable to meaningful pretty quickly, but going back to why he got benched…

Grimaldi has tremendous speed and puck skills, but early in the tournament he was perhaps trying to do too much. I don’t think I would have labeled it selfish, but it certainly was ineffective.

He brought it all back in the latter half of the tournament by keeping things simple and doing what he does best, utilizing his elite speed, being a pest for the defense and when he has the open look, taking the shot. He stopped forcing things and as a result he made Trocheck and Biggs better down the stretch.  The only thing notable about his benching anymore was his response.

OHL Images

Ryan Hartman (2013) — RW — 7 GP, 2-1–3, 16 PIM

One of two first-year draft-eligibles on the team, Hartman had more to gain than gold with a solid performance at the World Juniors. Playing as part of The Grind Line with Cole Bardreau and Blake Pietila, Hartman was the more offensive of the trio, but also brought an important physical element.

Save for a few bad penalties, none worse than his elbow on Ryan Murphy late in the Canada prelim game, Hartman was an effective forward for Team USA. He utilized good speed and hockey sense to make smart plays at both ends of the ice. He scored twice and brought exactly what was expected of him to Team USA’s top checking unit.

While the World Junior Championship is merely one evaluation point among many in a draft-eligible season, Hartman certainly took advantage of the big stage and added exposure. He wasn’t showcased offensively in the tournament like he is normally with the Plymouth Whalers, but he proved he can be an effective two way player.

He was asked to play a role and he did so extremely well. Hartman could find himself selected in the first round. He’ll also find himself in an established role on the 2014 U.S. National Junior Team after the way he played in Ufa.

Miami Athletics

Sean Kuraly (SJS) – C — 7 GP, 1-2–3, 2 PIM

The tournament really couldn’t have started any better for Kuraly. Scoring 19 seconds into Team USA’s first game, it looked as though Kuraly might be reclaiming the offensive touch that he had in Lake Placid as the camp’s leading scorer in August.

That never really materialized, as Kuraly finished with three points. That said, Kuraly’s skills allowed the U.S. to play the style it wanted through all four lines. His size and speed were huge factors in all zones as he gave that second scoring line with Galchenyuk and Barber at least a little defensive value.

He may have lacked the touch of a top-six center, but he was really the only option. That line played at a very high tempo, one that Kuraly was able to handle very well and he was good on draws throughout the tournament. It started with a bang and kind of trailed off, but I think Kuraly brought some good energy to the top six and with some better finish could have had a much more productive tournament.

Penticton Vees

Mario Lucia (MIN) — LW — 7 GP, 0-1–1, 0 PIM

Lucia had a pretty tough tournament to evaluate as he somewhat faded into the background as a 13th forward. I don’t believe he played a shift in any of the last three games for Team USA, which probably was a tough pill to swallow.

Throughout most of the tournament it was hard to find where Lucia fit. He has top-six scoring ability, but was not going to supplant either Johnny Gaudreau or Alex Galchenyuk. He wasn’t very well equipped for a spot in the bottom-six despite his good size and speed. As a result, he ended up the odd man out down the stretch and didn’t see the ice.

If you’re a Minnesota Wild fan, this shouldn’t be a huge concern for you. Lucia has tools and still has a lot of development ahead of him. Considering he’s just two months removed from rehabbing a broken leg, the best is yet to come for Mario Lucia.

AHL

J.T. Miller (NYR) — C — 7 GP, 2-7–9, 2 PIM

A slow start for Miller and, what I thought were a pair of really disappointing games against Russia and Canada in the prelims, the lone returning forward turned it up a notch from Slovakia on. As a result, he finished with a team-best seven assists and tied for the team lead with nine points.

The things that Miller got away from against Russia and Canada are what made him successful going forward. Instead of relying on his skill, he played to his strengths which include his vision, size and speed. He got better at establishing a net-front presence and was so good at creating time and space for his linemates.

The addition of Jimmy Vesey to the top scoring line took a lot of pressure off of Miller who previously had been playing with 5-foot-7 Gaudreau and 5-foot-6 Grimaldi. He was just trying to do too much in the first half of the tournament. After he simplified his game, he was reliable and performing to his expectations.

As a first-year pro, Miller has plenty of work left to do, but he showed elements of what should make him effective throughout his career.

MTU Athletics

Blake Pietila (NJD) — LW — 7 GP, 0-2–2, 0 PIM

The final member of The Grind Line, Pietila offered Team USA a litany of tools that helped bring home a gold medal. He was strong on the forecheck, great on the penalty kill and solid throughout in his own end. He was able to skate with top forwards and keep them in check. Pietila also applied a ton of pressure on the defense and was strong along the walls. He played a physical style, but on the tournament’s most-penalized team, Pietila didn’t get whistled once.

He’s the leading scorer for Michigan Tech, but he knew defense was going to be his role here and he just simply filled it. Pietila had one of those kind of tournaments that doesn’t jump out at you, but it was so effective in its simplicity.

He wasn’t all defense. There were a few instances where Pietila showed some good offensive tools with some of his passes and scoring chances, but what he did in a checking role will be what he’s remembered for.

There is an importance for building roles into teams for these short tournaments and with Pietila, the U.S. staff nailed it.

OHL Images

Vince Trocheck (FLA) — C — 7 GP, 3-3–6, 10 PIM

Coming into the tournament as one of the leading scorers in the OHL, perhaps Trocheck figured he’d be a top-six center. That wasn’t the case, but Trocheck showed why he was selected for his role on a lot of key shifts.

Playing more of an energy-line center, Trocheck was called upon for big penalty kills and often matched up against one of the opponent’s top six lines. He showed relentlessness in puck pursuit, but also played a very heady positional game throughout the tournament. Trocheck was Team USA’s best faceoff man and took a lot of those key draws.

Trocheck was moved to the top power-play unit after Grimaldi’s benching and responded with two goals and an assist against Slovakia. He made that group better by making good decisions with the puck and taking advantage of open looks. Trocheck also scored the game-icing empty netter against Sweden for the gold.

He wasn’t always noticeable, but Trocheck did a lot of the little things that it took for Team USA to win the title.

Harvard Athletics

Jim Vesey (NSH) — LW — 7 GP, 1-4–5, 2 PIM

The surprise story of the tournament for Team USA, Vesey made the most of his one and only World Junior opportunity. He almost didn’t make the team as it looked like his fate was sealed after he was scratched for Team USA’s final pre-tournament game. However, after Stefan Matteau took a 10-minute misconduct in the final exhibition, alluding to his questionable discipline, Vesey may have become the safer option and he made the club.

For the first three games, Vesey was the 13th forward, spotting in with the Trocheck-Biggs line mostly and occasionally getting a few looks with the top lines. His ice time grew as the tournament progressed and after Grimaldi’s benching, Vesey was promoted to the top scoring line.

He instantly made Gaudreau and Miller better, with three assists in the first period against Slovakia. Vesey was content to let the other guys wrack up the points while spotting in some offensive bursts of his own. Vesey’s goal against Canada in the semifinal displayed just how good he can be with his powerful stride and goal-scorer’s mentality (it’s in the Gaudreau video above).

He has good size, he’s getting stronger and now he’ll have some added confidence after being a key contributor to a World Junior gold medal. There is a lot of potential yet to reach for Vesey, but he showed some really strong glimpses at the World Juniors.

Coming soon on USofH: World Junior Rewind — An in-depth look at Team USA’s defenseman and goalies

About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, U.S. National Teams, Uncategorized, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to World Junior Rewind: Team USA’s Forwards

  1. Pingback: Read: JT Miller WJC Tournament Review/How He Plays “The Right Way” | SNY Rangers Blog

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