Yesterday, I gave you an idea of what I thought of the defensemen and the returning forwards. Today, I’ve got quite a few thoughts on the seven forwards that were in their first World Junior Championship this year. Some of these guys really handled themselves well out there. I liked what I saw out of quite a few of these guys.
For the forwards born in 1992, they will get another crack at World Junior gold, but for the 1991-born, it’s one and done. It’s too bad for those guys, especially since I thought several showed signs of improvement throughout the tournament. Still, when you only get one shot at the WJC, you’ve got to try and make the most of it. For their efforts, they get to leave with a medal, which is no small feat for a U.S. team at this event.
Without further ado, here are the individual player evaluations for the remaining forwards, listed by birth year, then alphabetically:
Chris Brown — 6 GP, 2-1–3, 4 PIM, E — Here is a guy that I thought was going to have to battle for a spot on this roster. Well he won his battle and earned his shot. For much of this tournament, Chris Brown was very good. I thought he was one of the few players that was ever able to establish himself in front of the opponent’s net on a semi-regular basis, which actually helped result in his first goal of the tournament. He also was the only player to score against Canada. Brown was able to remain disciplined and stay out of the box for the most part. On a disciplined team, he took just two penalties. Additionally, he brought one of the more consistent physical games. There were a few times he might have gone out of his way for a hit, but I can live with that on a team that wasn’t very physical. Brown also showed off more skill than I remember seeing from him. I thought he handled the puck pretty well in traffic and was able to make several good passes in key situations. I think he can be happy with the tournament he had. I still think he can use at least one more year at Michigan to continue to refine his game. His size and strength are getting to a pro level, so the rest should come quickly.
Mitch Callahan — 6 GP, 1-0–1, 2 PIM, -1 — Another guy that battled his way onto the team to be the 13th forward. As the leading point man in Kelowna, this 13th forward thing had to be something new to Callahan. In that regard, he handled himself well. Injuries meant that Callahan had to be put into a different role. He scored the game-winner against Switzerland in what was his only notable highlight of the tournament. It was a big goal, and one of the few USA scored from in tight. The one thing I expected out of Callahan was an established physical presence. If there was one, I didn’t see enough of it. I think he had a few nice hits, but I’m not just talking about checking when I mean being physical. Strength on the puck, grinding in the corners and general hard play are all part of it. I think that Callahan was the one player that kind of looked a little over his head in this tournament, at times. I think a lack of experience was the only reason for that, which I don’t really fault him for. I’m sure the Detroit Red Wings have a spot reserved for him in Grand Rapids next year and that will give him a really good chance to get up to speed with the highly skilled players. I think my expectations were a little to high on him coming in, and that might be the reason for the lower marks from me.
Brock Nelson — 5 GP, 0-1–1, 0 PIM, -1 — I thought Nelson was going to battle for a spot in camp coming into this tournament. Since he had such a great camp, it really wasn’t much of a battle. Then the tournament started. He got hurt in the first game, missing Team USA’s second contest. The next game back, against Germany, he was very good. That was probably his best game. After that, he kind of went away, save for a few flashes in later games. I don’t know the extent of Nelson’s injury, but he never seemed the same as he did in camp or in the Finland game. Nelson has speed and skill, but he’s got a lot of strength to build. I think he was out-muscled in a variety of ways and was the subject of several big hits. He’s so tall, but thin. His wiry frame seems to allow him to get those legs going and his hands are very good. The great thing for Nelson is that he is at the University of North Dakota in a program that has developed plenty of pro talent. He’s a perfect guy for that program. There’s no doubt he’s going to continue to build strength and be a factor.
I’m not ready to call him a lock for next year’s team, though. (Thanks to Matt B. and Kyle, for pointing out my mistake. Nelson is a late 1991, not a ’92 as previously posted.) We’ll see how much strength he builds along the way, and I’d anticipate four full years at North Dakota will allow him to be ready for the pro game. With his tremendous upside, and room to grow, the Islanders have a solid prospect to watch out for.
Drew Shore — 6 GP, 2-0–2, 2 PIM, +2 — I think I downplayed Drew Shore’s scoring ability too much in my previews, because I thought he’d be best served as a playmaking centerman on this club. He ended up with no assists, which is a little shocking to me since he distributes so well. Clearly, Shore was in a goal-scoring role for this team. He was up and down, though. There were moments where he looked all-world (SEE: His goal against Slovakia). Other times he just looked average. That’s always been a knock on Shore, inconsistent play. One thing I saw out of Drew, that was pretty nice to see was him using his body more. He didn’t just try to stickhandle through everyone, most times, though he was guilty of it on a few occasions. He also threw a few hits around out there. His goal against Sweden was another one of those net-front tips that the U.S. didn’t really get going consistently enough. I think Shore is for sure at Denver at least one more year to continue to round out his game and find a level of consistency. He has been so good this season with the Pios, that I think one more year should lock him in and build confidence. He’s got a ton of potential and I think the Panthers can be happy to have him as a prospect.
Nick Bjugstad — 6 GP, 2-2–4, 0 PIM, +2 — Bjugstad will always have the highlight of scoring the OT winner against Finland in the first game. It wasn’t a pretty shot, but it counted. However, contrary to his numbers, I thought Bjugstad was incredibly inconsistent defensively. One of the games where Bjugstad was exposed a bit was the Canada game. He had a really tough time out there, positionally. I think a big reason for that was the physicality and pace to the game. There’s no doubt that Bjugstad is big, but the strength was an issue. There’s little evidence that he knows fully how to use that frame. I thought the way he was used on the power play was fantastic. He did a nice job against smaller, less physical teams establishing a presence and never leaving. However, he couldn’t do it against Canada. In his defense, no one could. Still, the inconsistency in his game was noticeable. The great thing about Bjugstad is his upside though. There’s so much there. Really, the tools he possesses are just awesome. When he figures out to put them all together, he’s going to have a very long NHL career. No doubt about it. I also think he’s back on next year’s team and will be a big time contributor. At least another year at Minnesota against the tough competition the WCHA has to offer should help. The Panthers can be excited to have two elite center prospects in Bjugstad and Shore.
Charlie Coyle — 6 GP, 2-4–6, 4 PIM, +1 — Alright, here it is: Charlie Coyle was the offensive MVP of this team, bar none. He was named one of Team USA’s three best players by the coaching staff and there’s no doubt he was the correct choice. Chris Kreider scored more goals, but Coyle was Team USA’s best forward game in and game out in a variety of ways. I think the Finland game helped him get his legs, because he was not at his best that night, though still pretty good. From then on, he was terrific. By far the best center Team USA had in every way. The line he had with Palmieri and Kreider was next to unstoppable until Team USA ran into Canada. His six points were the most among first-year players. He just looked like a veteran out there. Coyle played physically, he drove to the net and he made some incredible passes out there. His size and strength are getting close to a pro-level and now he has confidence. I think next year will be his last at Boston University and he will be available to be a leader on next year’s U.S. National Junior Team. There’s no doubt San Jose Sharks fans were loving Coyle’s tournament, probably almost as much as Sharks management.
Emerson Etem — 6 GP, 1-0–1, 0 PIM, -1 — Etem was probably one of the most gifted scorers on this roster. However, his one goal was not what I thought the U.S. would get out of Emerson Etem. The goal he scored wasn’t even all that pretty, it just got misplayed by the Slovakian goalie. Still, Etem created chances with his speed and strength. He had some of the only chances early in the Canada game and was one of the guys that really didn’t back down against the Canadians. I also loved the way he played against Sweden. The problem with this team was scoring and Etem was expected to be a scorer. As many chances as he generated, the lack of success is kind of concerning. He’ll continue to score at a rapid pace for Medicine Hat and there’s no doubt in my mind he’s on this team next year. There was evidence this year of how good he can be, so the Anaheim Ducks can be thrilled to have him under their watchful eye.
I think the U.S. has a lot to look forward to in next year’s squad. The 1992 birth year is as deep as any USA Hockey has produced, so I’ll be very interested to see just how many non-92s make this squad. There’s bound to be a few, but I think next year’s squad is going to be very heavy on 19-year-olds.
Coming up later today, I give my quick review of Team USA’s goaltending tandem and in the same post, look at several players, not on this year’s team, to watch for next year’s squad.