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The U.S. National Junior Team was finalized Sunday ahead of the 2019 World Junior Championship set to begin Dec. 26. The U.S. roster features 23 players — 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. All of the five returning players who were in camp made the roster, but the final list was not without a few minor surprises.
Here’s a look at Team USA’s final list as well as some thoughts on potential lineup configurations and thoughts on team configuration.
First off, the players that made the team listed with some different positional possibilities. THIS IS NOT A LINE CHART. I included the ones they used in pretournament later in this post. This is just a positional depth chart.
Joel Farabee (PHI) – Jack Hughes (2019) – Oliver Wahlstrom (NYI)
Noah Cates (PHI) – Ryan Poehling* (MTL) – Jason Robertson (DAL)
Logan Cockerill (NYI) – Josh Norris* (OTT) – Tyler Madden (VAN)
Evan Barratt* (CHI) – Sasha Chmelevski* (SJS) – Jack Drury* (CAR)
Jay O’Brien (PHI)
*-Denotes center that could play wing
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Quinn Hughes (VAN) – Phil Kemp (EDM)
Dylan Samberg (WPG) – Mikey Anderson^ (LAK)
K’Andre Miller (NYR) – Jack St. Ivany (PHI)
Mattias Samuelsson (BUF)
^ – Denotes a left-shot D likely to play right side
Kyle Keyser (BOS)
Cayden Primeau (MTL)
Spencer Knight (2019)
The final cuts:
D Joey Keane (NYR) D Michael Callahan (ARI), D Ty Emberson (ARI), RW Sean Dhooghe (2019), RW Cole Coskey (2019), Sammy Walker (TBL)
We’ll get this one out of the way early because it’s usually the thing that gets the most attention, but this year there was very little in the way of controversy or surprise. That said, I fully expected Joey Keane to make the roster based on his season to date and strong performance at the summer evaluation camp. In the end, Keane was left off in favor of a right-shot defenseman that really came on strong and I think surprised USA Hockey’s brass a great deal. That would be Yale rearguard Jack St. Ivany, who had a very strong USHL season last year and is playing especially well for Yale as a freshman. While Keane is probably the better defender of the two, St. Ivany has size and is a little more sound when it comes to moving the puck up ice. In the end, I think he might be a better fit for the up-tempo style USA wants to play.
Outside of Keane, nothing really surprised me. Callahan, Walker, Coskey and Emberson were not part of the last summer camp and had an uphill battle to unseat players that had established themselves already. Obviously, St. Ivany and Tyler Madden, who each made Team USA were able to do that. It would have been hard for six different players to do that. Madden’s emergence as a potential top-six or at least top-nine winger pushed Dhooghe out of the picture, I think. I have a feeling that was one of the tougher cuts to make.
Dhooghe is a fan-favorite and the kind of player you love to root for as a true underdog who just continues proving people wrong. In the end, as good of a player and kid as Dhooghe is, they had some better options for the style they want to play. If Dhooghe was going to make it it would have probably been as a 13th forward, but I think that role will end up being played by Jay O’Brien who has a little more speed. Once I saw Dhooghe was scratched for last night’s game, that looked like the writing was on the wall. It’s unfortunate that he won’t get to test himself on this stage, but in the end, I can’t argue with the omission.
What is Team USA going to look like?
When the Americans play Slovakia to start the World Junior Championship on Boxing Day, it’s still a little unclear what they’re going to look like in terms of lineup and configuration. Here’s a look at the two lineups they went with in their 3-2 win over Russia and 6-2 win over the Czech Republic.
The first night, USA sat all of its returning players and started looking at different options of who could be on the wing and who could be down the middle. Sasha Chmelevski was used a lot on the wing during the summer camp in Kamloops, but had success down the middle in the pre-tournament. If that holds, the U.S. could put one of Ryan Poehling or Josh Norris on the wing to give the top two lines a little more offensive pop. Evan Barratt also reportedly had a strong game while put in an elevated role against Russia. That said, I still think he could be a benefit in a depth line to spread the scoring out a bit more.
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I think Jack Hughes is locked in as the No. 1 or No. 2 center for the team. The rest kind of fills out as it needs to. I can’t recall a year where the U.S. had this many good options to center lines. They’ve had better overall talent down the middle before, but the sheer volume of natural centers on this roster is a huge weapon when it comes to making adjustments and figuring out how things work as the tournament progresses.
Additionally, one of the more positive developments of the pretournament games was the resurgence of Oliver Wahlstrom. Playing alongside former NTDP linemate Jack Hughes, he scored three goals over the two games and they weren’t just tap-ins. He’s floundered a bit at Boston College, but he’s always been and will continue to be an elite finisher. He’s got some of the best possible set-up men on this team to allow him to showcase that skill.
Another thing that stands out about this roster is that there’s not a forward on here I would term as a defensive specialist per se. Sure, Jack Drury is a shot-blocking machine who is committed to strong play in his zone and on the PK, but he’s also been a producer in most of his stops. He can give you some production from a lower-lineup spot. Evan Barratt and Sasha Chmelevski can play a grinding style of hockey, but they’re also major producers in their respective leagues and have notable offensive tools.
This roster is not going to be defined by grit. It’s going to be defined by tempo and skill. Forwards will still have to fit into defined roles, but this roster is full of players who can do a lot of different things well. That’s a good position to be in.
Meanwhile on the blue line. My best guess at how they’ll lineup after the final cuts is probably at least similar to this:
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Miller or Samuelsson-St. Ivany
Then Miller or Samuelsson as the No. 7.
Coming into the tournament I felt like the U.S. might have a bit of a weak point on the D. Now I’m less certain of that. I think this blue line has good balance with Hughes possessing the ability to dominate the tournament just as he appeared to dominate at the summer camp and in his only pre-tournament game. Get ready for a show.
Having a D corps with some big bodies that can skate should go a long way. Samuelsson and Kemp are steady defenders. K’Andre Miller is one of the top scoring freshmen in all of college hockey from the blue line. Samberg and Anderson were with the team last year and also helped Minnesota Duluth win a national championship last spring. St. Ivany has showcased excellent two-way skills and confident puck-moving abilities. Meanwhile Hughes brings the dynamic element. I think this group should be pretty steady and versatile.
Lastly, based on the way Team USA used their goaltenders in pre-tournament, I’m led to believe that Kyle Keyser will be the go-to guy between the pipes for Team USA at least to start. The Bruins prospect played the full game against the Czech Republic, while Spencer Knight and Cayden Primeau split the game against Russia.
I don’t know that I’d pencil Keyser in as the No. 1 the whole way at this point, but I’d say he’s at least in the driver’s seat.
Overall I think the U.S. staff built the kind of team they set out to build in August. This group has good speed up and down the lineup, with enough skill to keep defenses on their heels. They don’t have a ton of natural finishers, but players like Oliver Wahlstrom and Jason Robertson should expect a lot of chances to put up some points given the talented playmakers that dot this roster.
Having such a big blue line with that mix of dynamism Quinn Hughes provides gives the Americans a more balanced, trustworthy D corps. The defense is such a huge factor in triggering the U.S. transition game and I think every single player on the roster is capable of making those good outlet passes under pressure, which can be a constant state against top opponents.
In net, I think the U.S. is at the very least comfortable. There isn’t experience, but they have three guys playing very strongly coming into the tournament and have options if their first choice falters.
The U.S. is not going to come into the tournament as favorites, but they’re the best team in their group on paper and arguably second best in the tournament as a whole. I’ve got Canada pegged as clear favorites heading into the WJC, but this American roster probably gets as close as any other team.
I think this will be an entertaining team with a lot of potential for what should be a very competitive, challenging group stage and an even tougher playoff round.
Next stop for me is Vancouver. So I won’t be on site for Team USA’s tournament opener, but I will be in Victoria for the last two USA games and probably wherever they end up in the quarterfinals and beyond. I hope to have a few updates from out there. Thanks for checking back with the old blog. It’s been fun to bring it back for a little bit seeing as this U.S. team should be a lot of fun to follow.