If the U.S. National Junior Team was hoping for a clearer evaluation picture for the first half of the season, I’m not sure they’ve got it with this year’s National Junior Evaluation Camp, but there were a few positives taken out of Thursday’s action.
The U.S. downed Finland 4-3 in a shootout, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period. It was just the second win for a U.S. team in six games at the NJEC, including those played with split squads.
It’s a camp, so the results don’t really matter, but they do tell a story. That story is not necessarily comforting one for Don Lucia and his staff. Finland was without its top defenseman in Olli Maatta and isn’t a very deep team, so the U.S. probably should have fared better than it did, though they’ll be happy to have the win.
There haven’t been a lot of positives to take out of the evaluations when it comes to individual players either. Only a few players have consistently stood out and made any kind of statement that they belong in the World Junior discussion. There are a lot of good players, but when building a team for the World Juniors, there needs to be at least a few elite players. Very difficult to call any one of the guys on the U.S. side truly elite.
It’s also important to remember that it’s August and these camps aren’t always going to give the best indication of what a player actually is. The first half of the season will loom large in the evaluation process, perhaps moreso than other years.
Coming up after the jump, a scoring summary, Team USA’s lineup from today and notes on players of note from Thursday’s action.
Scoring Summary — USA 4 – FIN 3 (SO)
First Period — 1. FIN, Mustonen (Nikko, Honka), 9:43; 2. USA, McCoshen (DiPauli), 14:04.
Second Period — 3. FIN, Lehkonen (Teravainen, Leskinen), 6:29; 4. FIN, Lehtonen (Mustonen), 13:17.
Third Period — 5. USA, Brodzinski (Erne, Grzelcyk), 6:19 (pp); 6. Erne (Carrick, Butcher), 7:24 (pp).
Round 1: USA, Cammarata (Saved); FIN, Lehkonen (Missed)
Round 2: USA, Erne (Saved); FIN, Kapanen (Saved)
Round 3: USA, Butcher (Saved); FIN, Teravainen (Saved)
Round 4: FIN, Lehkonen (Saved); USA, Samuelsson (Missed)
Round 5: FIN, Teravainen (Saved); USA, Carrick (Saved)
Round 7: FIN, Ikonen (Goal); USA, Erne (Goal)
Round 8: FIN, Leskinen (Saved); USA, Erne (Goal)
Goalie Summary (saves/shots)
Anthony Stolarz (USA) — 34/37
Joonas Korpisalo (FIN) — 31/34
Team USA’s starting lineup
Guentzel – Toninato – McCarron
Nieves – Samuelsson – Erne
Motte – Compher – Fasching
Copp – DiPauli – Stepan
Butcher – Carrick
Clifton – Pesce
McCoshen – Brodzinski
Grzelcyk – Santini
Scratched: Nic Kerdiles, Danny O’Regan, Riley Barber, Stefan Matteau, Quentin Shore, Patrick Sieloff, Brady Skjei, Jon Gillies
Players of Note
Anthony Stolarz — G — Though he had two really bad rebounds on two of the Finland goals, overall, he had a pretty solid game. Stolarz made 34 saves, some of which posed a real challenge. He showed a very quick glove and good quickness overall. If he can clean-up his rebound control just a bit, he’s going to be a really tough goalie. He’s much improved from last year’s camp and still looks pretty good to be the No. 2 for Team USA. His work in the shootout was incredible. Stopping Teuvo Teravainen and Artturi Lehkonen twice each is impressive work. The only goal Finland scored in the shootout, Stolarz almost had with his glove, too. You can watch his robbery of Teravainen with the glove on Finland’s third SO attempt, which would have won the game had Stolarz not stabbed it, right here.
Connor Carrick — D — Once again, Carrick stood out and has stated a case for being the best defenseman of the camp overall. He makes such good decisions with the puck and is showing added creativity to his offensive game. His puck movement has been outstanding and his skating has been really good as well. At both ends of the ice, he’s been effective and could establish himself a strong role for Team USA at the WJC, assuming his play carries throughout the first half of the season.
Adam Erne — F — He had two points in the third period and scored twice in the shootout, including once when Team USA was trailing a goal. His first two periods were very average, but I think Erne is showing he might have a place on this team in a top-six scoring role. He plays with good speed and his release is high-end. His game-winning goal also showed his quick hands. It was a solid effort overall from Erne, though he probably needs to be a little more consistent to solidify himself a spot. You can watch his second shootout goal right here.
Matt Grzelcyk — D — There are a lot of things that Grzelcyk does well. His decisions with the puck are usually spot on, he is really good in traffic and there’s a very low panic level in his game. He hasn’t been a standout overall in the camp, but I think that’s because he’s kept things extremely simple. It’s making him quietly effective, but every once in a while, he’ll make a play that wows you.
Dominic Toninato — F — For the first half of the game, I thought he was Team USA’s most effective center. He seemed to fade a bit down the stretch, but when he was really going good, he was making all kinds of great plays. Toninato showed really strong vision for the ice and he was able to move the puck really well. He’s not terribly flashy, but I like the way he thinks the game. He was pretty good at the dot as well.
J.T. Compher — F — I’m finding it harder to believe he won’t be on the junior team. Compher has been mostly really good in this camp. He’s got good speed and is playing with a lot of energy. I could easily see him centering the third line, helping out a lot on the PK and being a solid two-way guy for Team USA. His line with Tyler Motte and Hudson Fasching was Team USA’s best in the first period. He made his linemates better with the workload he absorbs on every shift.
Ian McCoshen — D — With a goal today it was nice to see McCoshen get rewarded for some solid play. He has been good at both ends of the ice, flashing an above average puck-moving ability and some strong offensive instincts. McCoshen makes mature decisions with the puck and was reading the ice really well once again. That’s a big positive for the U.S.
Thomas DiPauli — F — DiPauli set up McCoshen’s goal with a great play to open the lane and get a clean pass off. He also looked to thrive in a defensive role. I think DiPauli has a chance to make the team as a shutdown centerman, who can make plays as well. I don’t know that he’s done enough in Lake Placid to solidify anything, but he’s proving he can fit a role if needed.
Will Butcher — D — Though his defense is still coming along, Butcher’s puck-moving game is looking as good as ever in this camp. He’s strong on the power play and he reads the offensive zone really well. Butcher has good speed and his distribution is solid. He’s making better decisions with the puck and taking fewer unnecessary risks. I think he could carve a spot for himself as the team’s seventh defenseman, but he played top-pairing minutes today and looked just fine.
Brett Pesce — D — I thought Pesce had his best game defensively as he really seems to be adapting well to the pace of this camp. It took him a little while, but now that he’s there, he’s getting much better shutting things down defensively. His puck management still isn’t great, but his value is in how he plays without it.
Hudson Fasching — F — Fasching is having a really good camp, particularly over the last few days. He’s playing good two-way hockey and making a few plays around the net. Fasching showed more physicality, better hands and his skating has been solid.
Tyler Motte — F — I think Motte, who played with Fasching and Compher, has done a lot of nice things. He kind of disappeared late in the game Thursday, but he was making plays and using his good speed well earlier in the contest. I don’t know if he can find a role on this team, but he’s at least showing that he belongs in the discussion.
Michael Brodzinski — D — Brodzinski has some really good hands and he ended up scoring a goal. It was a bit fluky, but he created the opportunity with a nice move to cut to the middle. The skills are absolutely there, but I still think he needs to work on his puck management and find better options when he’s getting rid of the puck. The pieces of his game are starting to come together a bit more as the week goes on though.
Andrew Copp — F — I thought Copp showed glimpses of what he could be for this team. He and DiPauli, along with Zach Stepan, seemed to play more of a shutdown role, but when they had the puck in the offensive zone, they made a few things happen. I think Copp could be a physical, shut-down forward, but he’ll need to be just a bit better than he has been in camp during his first half at Michigan.
Henrik Samuelsson — F — He has such physical strength and really good puck skills, but I fear Samuelsson’s footwork could get him left off this roster. He’s not been able to play at the pace necessary to play within Don Lucia’s system. What he has accomplished at the WHL level is tough to ignore, but if there’s one thing you have to be to play on a U.S. World Junior Team, it’s quick. I don’t think that’s true for Samuelsson. Could he find a way to make the team? I think so, but I’m starting to wonder where he’d fit.
Mike McCarron — F — McCarron was a little quiet again Thursday, but showed improvement from his lackluster performance on Wednesday. Also, McCarron took a pretty bad high stick to the face, so he missed some time due to that. He was doing a great job getting to the net, had a great scoring chance in the first period and saw quality time on the power play. I think he’s making a strong case to be considered heavily for a spot on this year’s team. A little more consistency and finishing plays better will get him an honest shot.
Jake Guentzel — F — Overall, he was pretty solid playing with Toninato and McCarron. He’s a guy that has some speed and good skill. He also showed some solid on-ice work ethic and battled for a lot of pucks. I thought Guentzel was the most noticeable he’s been all camp on Thursday, but I’m starting to wonder where he fits. I don’t think he’s ready for a top-six role on this team and I think that’d be the only place a guy with his style could fit. I think Guentzel proved he belongs in the discussion at the very least.
Boo Nieves — F — This is a player that’s on the cusp of being a special prospect. He’s so close, but for whatever reason, he’s not hitting that level just yet in this camp. Speed and skill are absolutely above average to high-end, but he’s having trouble finishing, be it via pass or shooting. It seems like he gets to where he needs to go, but when it’s time to make that last play, it falls apart. The fact that he can get to that point though is encouraging. He played some center, but I think if he makes the team, it’ll be as a wing, which is where he spent most of his time Thursday.
Connor Clifton – D — He had really been having a great camp, but I think he got caught trying to do a little too much on Thursday. That said, he made some really nice plays in his own end. When it came to the offensive side, I thought he forced it a bit more than I had seen previously. Clifton has good physical strength and such a great shot, but his decisionmaking will need to improve a bit.
Taylor Cammarata — F — Cammarata played a somewhat limited role Thursday and again was not very visible. He has such good hand skills, but beyond that, there’s not as much there. His play away from the puck has always been questionable, but it really has been over the last two games. When he’s at his best, he’s deadly in his ability to create and make plays. When he’s not, he’s just another guy and that won’t be good enough at the World Juniors.
Steven Santini — D — After starting off the camp with such solid play, I think Santini had another sub-par game. I think his defensive ability and his feet are still top notch, but he had some struggles Thursday. With little offensive prowess, he has to excel in his own end. I don’t think he’s been bad at all. He just needs to be a touch better to make the team.
Zach Stepan – F — Here is another guy who’s doing some good things at both ends of the ice. He’s a good skater, has some skill and there’s at least some edge to his game. I’m just not sure what kind of player he could be on the World Junior team. If he were to make it, I think it’d be in a third- or fourth-line role, focusing more on the defensive side. He showed glimpses of that today, but nothing real standout.
Odds & Ends
— This is the fourth NJEC I’ve followed closely, having attended one while working for USA Hockey and watching the last three on video. Of the four, I think this camp has been the most concerning from a U.S. perspective. The talent level doesn’t really match previous years, which I kind of figured coming into camp. I didn’t think these teams would struggle this much however.
— One NHL scout offered his opinion of the U.S. camp to date via text message: “USAH is in trouble with this group. Need help quick.” I asked if it would be different if Jones, Trouba and Galchenyuk were available and his response: “They will need more than that.” So, if you were looking for an opinion other than my own, there you have it.
— I think the players scratched today, with the exception of maybe Quentin Shore and possibly Stefan Matteau are virtual locks to make the team. That offered the staff a chance to get more evals on guys who needed it. I think we’ll see the players that had the best camp get rewarded with spots in the game against Canada, which should include many of the strongest candidates to make the final roster.
— I think it would be extremely difficult to project a World Junior roster at this point, something I did at the end of last year’s camp. Usually, even at this early stage, there’s some good guesses you could make, but there are just so many question marks at this point for this group. The good news is, there’s several months of hockey to be played. The best of the group tend to rise to the top as the season progresses, which is good because there haven’t been a lot of rising to this camp.
— Team USA plays Canada Saturday at 1 p.m. in the National Junior Evaluation Camp finale. It should be a fairly telling game, in terms of who is looking good for a roster spot as well as how much of, if any, gap exists between U.S. and Canada. On paper, there’s a gulf between the two teams. I’ll have a full recap after the game Saturday.