There will be many questions for the U.S. National Junior Team heading into its gold medal defense at the 2014 World Junior Championship and a lot of them will center around its forward crop. Twenty-four forwards have been invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp which begins Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y. They’ll hope to start providing some answers this week.
After looking at the defense and goalies yesterday, the forward group presents quite a few challenges. Without age-eligible Alex Galchenyuk returning, it is tough to pinpoint a go-to scorer among the group of 24 forwards. There is, however, a wide variety of skill sets that could make for a well-balanced lineup. Is it a gold-medal crop? Well we won’t know until the season plays out more and more players start to emerge, but there’s at least some intriguing pieces.
Coming up after the jump, a look at all 24 forwards invited to the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp.
This forward group might not be able to match the depth of several previous teams, at least at this point, but there’s going to be a good mix in camp.
Riley Barber had a really strong showing at last year’s World Junior Championship playing alongside Alex Galchenyuk and Sean Kuraly, and he’ll be back next year. Additionally, Ryan Hartman is eligible to return to the team. He is still recovering from offseason surgery and won’t be able to participate in camp, but expect him to play a large role in Malmo come December.
Additionally, Stefan Matteau will be back in camp after he ended up the last forward cut from the team last year at the pre-tournament camp. The Devils first-rounder ended up seeing NHL time, however, and his pro experience could be welcome here assuming he’s cleaned up a few areas of his game. Henrik Samuelsson is another first-rounder in camp, who may have some added motivation to play in this year’s tournament, as he is a dual Swedish-American citizen. The other first-round forward in Lake Placid is the Montreal Canadiens’ 2013 top pick, Michael McCarron, who should be interesting to watch.
This group doesn’t elicit a ton of excitement like last year’s did, but they’ll have a big chance to show what they can do in Lake Placid.
NOTE: Players are listed in alphabetical order. Players’ expected 2013-14 team listed in parenthesis. Player’s designated camp team (Blue or White) listed after current team. Draft rights in italics at the end of each capsule.
Justin Bailey (Kitchener Rangers) — USA Blue — An intriguing addition to the camp, Bailey’s game probably isn’t quite at a World Junior level just yet, but he does have quite a bit of potential. With good size at 6-3, 190, Bailey is still rounding out his game and adding more power to his offensive capabilities. He has a little bit of international experience having played at the Ivan Hlinka and he had a pretty solid showing as a rookie in Kitchener last year. I see Bailey as more of a maybe-next-year guy, but giving him a chance to show what he can do is a great plan. If his game takes another step forward over the next year, he’ll be high on the list of guys for 2015. This will be a good challenge for him at this point. Buffalo Sabres (2013, 2nd Rd., 52nd overall)
Riley Barber (Miami University) — USA Blue — The only 2013 gold medalist returning among the forwards in camp with Ryan Hartman on the shelf and Alex Galchenyuk not attending, there will be a lot of attention on Barber. It’s good to have WJC veterans around to see what kind of example they set. Even though Barber has WJC experience, this is his first National Junior Evaluation Camp. He was not invited to last summer’s camp, but made the team anyway with a stellar first half at Miami. There’s a high likelihood Barber will be a top line wing for this team, seeing as he’s already played that role. He’ll be depended on for scoring and will have to show the touch he did all last season. Setting the tone in this camp should be a priority for Barber, but his play in Lake Placid is unlikely to change much about his position on the team. Washington Capitals (2012, 6th Rd., 167th overall)
Taylor Cammarata (Univ. of Minnesota) — USA White — The forward I’m most interested to watch in camp is Cammarata. He led the USHL with 93 points last season en route to MVP honors despite his relatively small stature. As a younger player, he actually out-scored last year’s No. 1 pick Nathan MacKinnon while the pair were teammates at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. All of that production is really hard to ignore. He does it every year, but I’ve talked to several folks in the junior hockey and NHL scouting community that have doubts about the 5-7, 165-pound forward. He also had a very lukewarm showing at last year’s World Junior A Challenge. That’s why I think this camp is going to be such an important showcase for Cammarata, even though Don Lucia, his coach at Minnesota next year will be running Team USA. I don’t care about the size, but I want to see if he can create going up against a lot of elite players from Sweden, Finland and Canada. The pace of this camp will be faster than anywhere Cammarata has played, so that’s where his challenge lies. Can he handle it? If he can, he could help fill a potential scoring-line hole on the left wing. New York Islanders (2013, 3rd Rd., 76th overall)
J.T. Compher (Univ. of Michigan) — USA White — I think Compher has a really strong chance of making this team as potentially a third-line center. He plays with energy and physicality, but Compher also has really strong offensive abilities. He scored a few big goals at the last World Under-18 Championship as Team USA’s captain and has a gold and silver medal at the event as a two-time attendee. Additionally, Compher posted 50 points in an injury-shortened season at the NTDP in 2012-13. U.S. teams typically go with a top-nine, fourth-line structure at the WJC. Compher’s style really fits well with that, because he’s not solely a grinder and he’s not solely a point producer. He plays at both ends of the ice, plays hard every shift and can play just about any role you need him to. I think he’ll make the roster, but could do himself a big service with a solid showing in camp. Buffalo Sabres (2013, 2nd Rd., 35th overall)
Andrew Copp (Univ. of Michigan) — USA White — Copp had a surprise freshman season at Michigan and just got better as the year went on. Most of his 21 points came in the second half of the season. It was Copp’s first year focusing on hockey full-time as he was an accomplished quarterback all the way through his senior season in high school, even earning all-state honorable mention in 2010. Prior to heading to Michigan, Copp was a fill-in player at the NTDP, mainly on the team because he was local and could help fill holes. He worked his way onto the World U18 Championship team and won gold with the U.S. in 2012. This is the type of guy that’s really easy to root for. Now he’s showing he’s not so much of an underdog as his hockey skills continue to grow. I could easily see Copp as a center or wing on Team USA’s fourth line at the WJC, using his physicality and possibly chipping in a few points here and there. I think that’s the best way for him to earn a spot and he’ll have to show he can play a role again in camp. Winnipeg Jets (2013, 4th Rd., 104th overall)
Tommy DiPauli (Univ. of Notre Dame) — USA White — After a really solid freshman campaign at Notre Dame, DiPauli should be very interesting to watch this year. He had a good showing at last year’s WJC camp and with a year of experience should have higher expectations placed upon him. There’s a pretty solid crop of centers, but I think DiPauli has a shot at being a bottom-line center with his more aggressive, grinding play. He’s defensively responsible, plays the body and is also quite good in puck possession as he uses his frame very well. I think he has the ability to be more of a shutdown forward, but that’s what he’ll have to prove in camp against the top competition. This camp is extremely heavy on centers, but he should be getting a very long look with his mix of international experience and sound play as a true-freshman. Washington Capitals (2012, 4th Rd., 100th overall)
Adam Erne (Quebec Remparts) — USA Blue — I could easily see Erne sliding into one of the wings in the top six. He has good physical strength to go along with sound vision, an elite-level shot and ever-improving speed. He can be a tough guy to contain defensively and isn’t afraid to play an aggressive, power-style. Erne needs to show in camp that he can force the issue offensively, while making defenders uncomfortable. If he plays up to his ability, he really could be one of the go-to scorers for this team with his skill-set. There have been some character concerns stemming form a team suspension last season, but a lot can be learned from that angle in camps like these. He has played in events like the Ivan Hlinka as well, which is good for international experience and USA Hockey’s familiarity with him. Erne is going to be a really interesting one to watch in Lake Placid. Tampa Bay Lightning (2013, 2nd Rd., 33rd overall)
Hudson Fasching (Univ. of Minnesota) — USA Blue — A player that brings good size to the forward corps, Fasching likely has a lot to prove in camp. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to make this club this year, but would be firmly in the mix for 2015. Fasching still needs to add a bit more snarl to his power-forward game and I think most would like to see his hand skills come along a little more, which might preclude him from making the team this time around. He still has some really good potential and guys at his size are still important on the bigger ice. I think it’ll take a big showing for Fasching early in camp to keep his name in the mix, but more than anything, this will be a valuable test for the big forward. LA Kings (2013, 4th Rd., 118th overall)
Jake Guentzel (Univ. of Nebraska Omaha) — USA White — The USHL’s reigning rookie of the year really took the league by storm as a member of the Sioux City Musketeers. Guentzel showed some good speed and skill which allowed him to put up 73 points in his first USHL campaign. The former Minnesota high school standout doesn’t have great size, but his tools might give him a really good shot at making the final roster. He’s also the son of Lucia’s Minnesota assistant coach Mike Guentzel, so there is plenty of familiarity with Team USA’s coach and Jake. He’ll likely get a chance to play a key role for UNO next year, which will boost Guentzel’s prospects of making the team, but this camp is going to be a huge test. It’s a big bump in competition, but if Guentzel can play with pace and produce in Lake Placid, he’s going to be firmly in the Team USA mix. Pittsburgh Penguins (2013, 3rd Rd., 77th overall)
John Hayden (Yale University) — USA Blue — A big forward with some toughness and a solid on-ice work-ethic, Hayden will have a chance at making Team USA in a bottom-six role. He has good physical strength and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around as a power-forward style player. I’m not convinced he has the offensive ability to produce at a meaningful clip at the WJC level, but if he shows he can play solid at both ends of the ice, he’s worth taking a good look at. At 6-3, 210, he’s a tough guy to play against and he uses that frame really well. The speed is adequate for the big surface and he does have some good international experience. This camp is going to be an important introduction for Hayden, who has a lot to offer if he can put it all together at the right time. If he doesn’t make it this year, he’s a strong early bet for 2015. Chicago Blackhawks (2013, 3rd Rd., 74th overall)
Vince Hinostroza (Univ. of Notre Dame) — USA Blue — Hinostroza’s inclusion was one of the really pleasant surprises on the final roster. His last two seasons in the USHL have really interested me and I’ve grown fond of Hinostroza’s game. He was particularly great at the World Junior A Challenge last year when he had six goals and eight points in four games as the U.S. claimed the tournament title. The Illinois native got better every year in the USHL and had a career-best numbers in all categories this season. He has a really great on-ice work ethic, plays with energy and has enough skill to produce. I think he’s in tough to make this final roster, particularly as a center, but there’s a chance he could slide into a bottom-six role. He’ll also need a good showing at Notre Dame, but I’m interested to see how he fares in camp. Chicago Blackhawks (2012, 6th Rd., 169th overall)
Nicolas Kerdiles (Univ. of Wisconsin) — USA White — To me, Kerdiles is a sure thing to make this team as a top-six forward. He would have had a great chance at making the team last year if not for his unfortunate 10-game suspension at the hands of the NCAA at the beginning of the year. However, when Kerdiles returned, he made an instant impact on Wisconsin and really helped turn the Badgers’ season around, all the way to claiming the WCHA playoff title. Kerdiles was named WCHA tournament MVP and averaged better than a point-per-game last year. He has two World U18 gold medals and led Team USA in scoring at the 2012 U18WC with nine points. He has good size and plays a solid two-way game. I’d expect Kerdiles to play a sizable role on this U.S. squad and can be a tone-setter in camp. Anaheim Ducks (2012, 2nd Rd., 36th overall)
Matt Lane (Boston University) — USA Blue — One of the less heralded players in camp, Lane has been passed over the last two years in the NHL Draft, but I wouldn’t count him out for the World Junior club. A tenacious forward, who is solid on the forecheck and good in his own end as well, Lane could have a shot at making the team as a fourth-line grinder-type. He has enough skill to get to the net and add the odd point. Last year’s team excelled due to the play of its “Grind Line.” That’s where Lane has to try to carve out his spot. If he can show in camp that’s a role he is ready and willing to play, he’ll improve his chances of making the final roster dramatically. 2014 NHL Draft Eligible (third year)
Jimmy Lodge (Saginaw Spirit) — USA White — Lodge is another one of those intriguing prospects who has a lot to prove in camp. If he’s at his very best, he can push for a top-six center role, but it’s going to take quite a lot. He’ll still be eligible in 2015, but it’s good to see if the skill he showed in his OHL season last year can translate at the World Junior level. He posted 67 points, but I know there are some concerns about his consistency and I think he may need to put on some more muscle before he can be at his optimum effectiveness. There’s certainly upside with Lodge. I don’t know if it will materialize soon enough to be on this roster, but he’s got a big chance to prove himself against some of the best players in his age group. Winnipeg Jets (2013, 3rd Rd., 84th overall)
Stefan Matteau (Rimouski Oceanic) — USA Blue — A lot of eyes will be on Matteau, who played in 17 NHL games last season with the New Jersey Devils. His status for next season is very much up in the air. He could make the Devils, play in the AHL or skate for the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL after an offseason trade. Matteau is a real wild card for a lot of reasons. He unceremoniously parted ways with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada last year while the club was still competing in the playoffs. On the ice, Matteau has had a penchant for bad penalties, which might be the exact reason he was left off last year’s roster after making it to the final cuts. There’s also the fact that Matteau has dual citizenship with Canada, and has yet to play in an IIHF event to lock him into his national team service. So there’s maybe a little added pressure to bring him to ensure he’s in the U.S. system for good. That’s never a good enough reason to use a roster spot, but it’s a factor. Matteau is quite good, though. He has a solid power game, plays physically, but his offense needs to come along a bit more. I think he’d be a force at the WJC, if given the chance. The big thing right now is can he behave himself and not disrupt the team? Can he avoid the penalty trouble that’s plagued him for years? These are the questions he’ll have to continually answer. He’s potentially high-risk, high-reward, but it wouldn’t be as tough a choice if he wasn’t worth the trouble. We’ll see how this plays out in camp and throughout the season. Heck, if he makes the Devils out of camp, it’s a dead issue anyway. New Jersey Devils (2012, 1st Rd., 29th overall)
Michael McCarron (London Knights) — USA White — After earning a first-round selection in the most recent draft and with Lake Placid being a short drive from Montreal, the Canadiens top pick will have a lot of eyes on him at this camp. McCarron will have to deal with some heavier expectations, but I think it’s important to remember, he’s still fairly early on in his development. That said, the strides he’s made in the last three years leads me to believe McCarron is on a track to really push for a roster spot. His 6-5, 228-pound frame is obviously an added benefit. Having some toughness and physicality doesn’t hurt, even on the big ice. McCarron also has good enough feet to get around the big ice as he showed at the most recent World U18 Championship. I think he’ll have a chance to push for a third-line role on the wing, with former U18 teammate John Hayden possibly serving as his principle competition. The pace of this camp is going to be high, so McCarron has to prove he can keep up with it. There’s a good chance he will and he’s probably worth keeping around to give him every chance to show what he might be able to bring to the national junior team. Montreal Canadiens (2013, 1st Rd., 25th overall)
Tyler Motte (Univ. of Michigan) — USA White — After his showing at the most recent World U18 Championship, I think Motte has a chance at this roster, though it’d be tough to pencil him in just yet. He showed he can be great at both ends of the ice and has the athleticism to make up for his relative lack of size. Motte was a terrific penalty killer and saw plenty of ice time as one of Team USA’s best forwards in Sochi. I’m finding it a bit tougher to see where he fits in on this team, however. He probably could be a third liner or maybe even a 13th forward, but the competition is going to be stiff. I think he’ll really need to stand out in camp and blow the doors off his freshman season at Michigan (which he just might be capable of doing) to earn a spot, but I’m looking forward to see how he does in Lake Placid. I think he’ll definitely be in the mix for a big role in 2015 at the very least. Chicago Blackhawks (2013, 4th Rd., 121st overall)
Christoval “Boo” Nieves (Univ. of Michigan) — USA White — With the way his freshman season went at Michigan, I think Nieves showed he made the right choice when he picked schools. Having split the previous season between prep school and the USHL, he really developed a ton over the course of the last season and I think he’ll seriously push for a spot in Malmo. He showed more of a willingness to pay the price for offense, put on a bunch of muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame and still has some really strong puck skills. Gone are the knocks that he was only a perimeter player and now he’s looking like a quality prospect. He posted 21 assists in a tough season for Michigan and very well could be a top-six playmaking winger for this junior team. Nieves, who has Ivan Hlinka experience, has to show in camp what he did in the latter half of his freshman campaign. If he does that, he’ll quickly become a favorite to claim a spot on the squad. New York Rangers (2012, 2nd Rd., 59th overall)
Danny O’Regan (Boston University) — USA Blue — O’Regan is one of the strongest candidates to take one of the top two center positions after showing off his vast skills at BU last season. He posted nearly a point per game for a pretty inconsistent Terrier squad with 16 goals and 22 assists only a year removed from prep school. He was part of the U.S. U18 team in 2012, helping the club win gold at the U18WC as well. There’s a maturity in O’Regan’s game that really would be well served at the World Juniors. He’s got good hand skills, makes solid decisions with the puck and sees the ice extremely well. O’Regan is a tad undersized, which is only a moderate concern. A good showing in camp should solidify his place as one of the top options at center for Team USA. San Jose Sharks (2012, 5th Rd., 148th overall)
Henrik Samuelsson (Edmonton Oil Kings) — USA White — After an 80-point campaign in his first full WHL season, Samuelsson looks poised to claim a roster spot on Team USA. The son of former NHLer Ulf Samuelsson has a lot of edge in his game as well, which is something that he’ll have to temper a bit to lower his risk factor. Having played briefly in Sweden two seasons ago, Samuelsson should feel right at home in Malmo and understands the international game well. He’s not the fleetest of foot, but his puck skills and size more than make up for that and he’s gotten better with his feet anyway. Samuelsson can play center or wing and his versatility would allow him to play on any of the top three lines. I’m not ready to say he is a lock, but I think it’d be really tough to leave Samuelsson off the final roster. He was cut early in last year’s camp, so he’s got a good shot at redemption here. As an older guy, he’ll have to be more of a leader this time around as well. Phoenix Coyotes (2012, 1st Rd., 27th overall)
Quentin Shore (Univ. of Denver) — USA White — After raising his game in his freshman season, Shore shook off getting passed over in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility quite nicely. He showed an ability to play at both ends of the ice, added some physicality and scoring touch. He had just 19 points in his first season at DU, but if he’s to make Team USA, it’s likely in a lower-line role. The centerman has a lot of competition down the middle, which could be a challenge for him. He has good-enough size and his skating is adequate. If he brings a heady, gritty game to camp, he should be able to make some kind of impact. He has an uphill battle, but there’s reason to believe Shore can be a factor down the stretch. Ottawa Senators (2013, 6th Rd., 168th overall)
Zach Stepan (Minnesota State Univ.) — USA White — Before I get into talking about Stepan, how about the Waterloo Black Hawks placing four players from last year’s team into this camp? That’s a pretty impressive feat for a USHL club in a camp that’s usually dominated by college and major junior players. So well done, Waterloo. Anyways, on to Stepan, who was sensational for the Black Hawks last season. He posted 32 goals and 78 points and showed strong play at both ends of the ice. He was also strong at the World Junior A Challenge. Stepan could push for a spot as a top-six center, but may be more closely duking it out with guys like J.T. Compher and Vince Hinostroza for a third-line center role. After decommitting from Ohio State and choosing Minnesota State, he’ll be in the newfangled WCHA, a league he should be able to excel in. Stepan, whose cousin Derek plays for the New York Rangers and was the 2010 U.S. National Junior team captain, will have plenty to prove in camp and it’ll have to stretch into the first half of the season. I’m very interested to see how he’ll handle the challenge in Lake Placid. Nashville Predators (2012, 4th Rd., 112th overall)
Dominic Toninato (Univ. of Minnesota Duluth) — USA Blue — A stellar rookie campaign in the USHL last season really sold me on Toninato, who I also liked while he was playing his high school hockey. He’s another guy who is looking to push for a center spot, though I could see him slotting in at wing as well. After a 70-point campaign with the Fargo Force, I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in a camp like this. He has the skill to play at this level, but until you get a guy out there against those strong teams from Finland and Sweden, it’s tough to know for sure. He’s one of the players I’m most intrigued to watch as he really seemed to take another step forward during his time in the USHL. Toronto Maple Leafs (2012, 5th Rd., 126th overall)
Brady Vail (Windsor Spitfires) — USA Blue — I was surprised Vail was not invited to last year’s camp as I thought he’d be a good two-way guy to at least get a look at. That doesn’t matter now, as he’ll have a much better opportunity of making the team this year. Vail’s defensive value is very high, but not at the expense of his production. He’s posted back-to-back 20-plus-goal, 50-plus-point seasons in the OHL and even saw 12 games of AHL action last year with Hamilton. He can do a little bit of everything, which makes me wonder where he’ll slot in. He could probably be either a top-six or shut-down center. He’s been able to keep up with some of the top forwards in the OHL, so I’d like to see where USA Hockey envisions him. I think he’s got a really good chance of making the final roster, but with no heavy international experience, he needs to introduce himself to the staff in a big way in this camp. Montreal Canadiens (2012, 4th Rd., 94th overall)
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All Photos via USA Hockey