The U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team has a daunting task ahead. The U.S. has won the last two gold medals, and no team in the history of the tournament has ever won three consecutively. In fact, no U.S. National Team, men’s, women’s or otherwise, has ever won three consecutive titles.
So while history is not on their side, the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team has had success internationally throughout the last to years as members of the NTDP and can be confident heading into the biggest tournament they’ve played in yet.
At the forward position, Team USA has a solid group that brings a variety of talents to the table. With three forwards in this group projected to go early in the NHL Draft and many more expected to be picked up, there’s plenty of elite talent. While the top three will get the headlines, the depth of this group is underrated.
After the jump, a look at Team USA’s 13 forwards.
In alphabetical order:
Player – Hometown – College Commitment – CSS North American Mid-Term Rank
Stat Line: GP — G-A-PTS — PIM
Cole Bardreau – Fairport, N.Y. – Cornell University – CSS Rank: 204
Stat Line: 52 GP — 10-15-25 — 41 PIM
When I saw Bardreau a few weeks ago in Dubuque, I was amazed at how much he’s improved since he was a U17. He plays hard all the time and can be used in a variety of roles. He’s spent a lot of time playing with Blake Pietila and Ryan Haggerty and those three have done well together. They were one of Ron Rolston’s best lines at the U18 Five Nations Cup in February. Bardreau is not a big kid at 5-9, 178, and he’s not overly skilled, but he just gets it done. He’s served as an alternate captain for this team, as he sets a good example for his teammates. If Team USA is in need of some energy, look for Bardreau to provide some of that.
Tyler Biggs – Cincinnati, Ohio – Miami University – CSS Rank: 5
Stat Line: 48 GP — 17-11-28 — 112 PIM
Biggs has been the toast of the scouting world all season long for his aggressive play, fighting prowess and thundering hits. He lives up to his name at 6-2, 207, and uses that frame well. He’s the captain for Ron Rolston’s squad, but does most of his leading by example. With Biggs on the wing, defensemen have to keep their head on a swivel, because he’s coming hard on the forecheck. Anyone with their head down in open ice is going to have some problems if Tyler Biggs is in the neutral zone. Biggs isn’t going to wow you with skill, but he still finds a way to make plays. When given space, he can find the net and has scored big goals in his career for the U.S. Additionally, his experience from being part of last year’s gold-medal winning U.S. squad will go a long way. Look for him to be relied on heavily by Team USA.
Reid Boucher – Grand Ledge, Mich. – Michigan State University – CSS Rank: 206
Stat Line: 49 GP — 24-19-43 — 25 PIM
I’ve said many times on this blog that I thought Boucher’s draft ranking seemed a little low to me. Speed and strength are likely keeping him on lower lists, but he’s an offensive talent. A deadly release and accuracy make him one of the purest snipers on this team. He was an offensive force at the 2011 Under-18 Five Nations Cup, skating alongside Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller. As the U.S. Under-18s second highest point-getter this season, he’ll be a big part of the offense for Ron Rolston’s bunch.
Travis Boyd – Hopkins, Minn. – University of Minnesota – CSS: Unranked
State Line: 52 GP — 11-21-32 — 14 PIM
I’ve been a bit surprised that Boyd had not been ranked for the draft. Initially, I thought it was because he was too young, however his birthday falls one day before the age cutoff for draft-eligibility. So this tournament could be a way for Boyd to get his name out there more. Boyd is solid offensively. He finds space on the ice and handles the puck well. Boyd’s pretty solid playing against his own age group. He’s seen time with Tyler Biggs on his wing, so the big man has helped create space for Boyd and should continue to do so in Germany. As a center, likely playing second-line minutes, he’ll be an important piece for Team USA’s success.
Dan Carlson – Corcoran, Minn. – Minnesota State University Mankato* – CSS: 90
State Line: 50 GP — 3-5-8 — 42 PIM
Carlson’s numbers don’t pop out at you, but he’s a kid with good size at 6-0, 198. He’s strong on his skates and when he gets his motor going, has pretty good speed. Another center for Ron Rolston, he’s more of the fourth-line option. However, depth in this tournament is of the utmost importance, and Carlson will be there to provide it. The U.S. won’t be afraid to roll all four lines in the preliminary round thanks to solid players like Carlson.
* – Updated 3/31, via Chris Heisenberg
Rocco Grimaldi – Rossmoor, Calif. – University of North Dakota – CSS: 25
Stat Line: 50 GP — 34-28-62 — 57 PIM
If you’ve read this blog, you’ve probably read enough about Rocco Grimaldi to last you for a long, long time. However, he’s the key piece to this team and a big reason for its international success. Grimaldi has led the team in every offensive category for two years and gives Ron Rolston a go-to guy in all situations. His speed, puck skills, shot and determination are even with, or above, any player I’ve seen at this level. He makes you forget about the fact that he’s only 5-foot-6. Having won a gold medal with the U.S. in 2010 and being a key contributor on that squad, he’ll be a leader for this club. Expect big things from Grimaldi.
Ryan Haggerty – Stamford, Conn. – RPI – CSS: Unranked
Stat Line: 46 GP — 8-17-25 — 22
Like Carlson, Haggerty provides depth for Team USA. I was a little surprised CSS didn’t rank him in the mid-term only because I think there’s potential in this kid that he’s yet to tap. Playing alongside Pietila and Bardreau, Haggerty had a confidence-building tournament at the Five Nations Cup. He’s increased his aggressive play and in my last viewing looked to have shored up his defensive game some. He’s also versatile enough to throw in for fourth-line type situations or he can jump in with the third line.
Nicolas Kerdiles – Irvine, Calif. – University of Wisconsin – Draft Eligible in 2012
State Line: U17 – 40 GP — 17-10-27 — 60 PIM / U18 – 12 GP — 3-5-8 — 4 PIM
Kerdiles is an interesting pick for this team. He actually got called up to the U18s in late January and earned a spot at the U18 Five Nations Cup and performed admirably. However, he was sent back to the U17s. Instead of pouting, all Kerdiles did was up his game. In his last four games with the U17s, he posted five points against USHL competition. Sure enough, he was called back for this tournament and will play as one of four under-agers on the U.S. roster. Kerdiles has great size and strength for a kid his age. His offensive talent is there and he can skate. His style of game lends itself well to the U.S. team.
Zac Larraza – Scottsdale, Ariz. – University of Denver – CSS: 98
Stat Line: 49 GP — 8-5-13 — 20 PIM
Coming into the NTDP, Larraza was highly touted. While his offensive numbers have never been what were expected, he’s continued to develop and round out his game. Larraza is one of Team USA’s biggest forwards at 6-2, 192. He’s a pretty good skater with good offensive ability. His size and skill set will be valuable against the European competition in particular. He’s been getting better at throwing his weight around and making good decisions defensively. I still think Larraza has great potential to develop at the college level and I certainly wouldn’t rule out a bright future in professional hockey.
J.T. Miller – East Palestine, Ohio – University of North Dakota – CSS: 13
Stat Line: 48 GP — 11-26-37 — 78 PIM
The first thing that jumps out to anyone about J.T. Miller is his stunning strength. At 6-1, 193, he’s difficult to take off the puck and really tough to battle against along the boards. He throws his weight around often. He was out there creating space for Grimaldi and Boucher when that duo was lighting up the U18 Five Nations. Additionally, Miller has good offensive skills and ranks third for Team USA with 37 points. Miller can be prone to running around on the ice a little bit, but when he’s locked in, he’s a big-time player for Team USA. With his strength and skill, he could have a big tournament and find himself in the high first round.
Blake Pietila – Brighton, Mich. – Michigan Tech University – CSS: 112
State Line: 52 GP — 13-9-22 — 51 PIM
Pietila might be one of the most underrated players on this U.S. squad. He’s a very important piece for this team defensively and particularly on the forecheck. Like Miller, he is strong along the walls. He competes every shift and it’s hard to find any player that’s willing to outwork Pietila. Team USA gets a lot of it’s scoring out of Miller, Grimaldi and Boucher, so it is important that Pietila and his line mates shoulder some of that defensive load while also trying to chip in offensively. Pietila actually has upped his game internationally and was a bright spot for the U.S. at the Five Nations. He’s a quiet, but very important part of this team.
Adam Reid – Chino Hills, Calif. – Northeastern University – CSS: 59
Stat Line: 44 GP — 9-6-15 — 33 PIM
Reid is Team USA’s tallest forward at 6-3, 202. He’s been getting better at using his lanky frame to his advantage and has made sure to contribute physically. He’s had to deal with some injury troubles over the last few years, which may have slowed his development a little bit, but he’s still built a solid base. He’s raw, but he’s another guy that’s gotten a lot better from year one to year two at the NTDP. He’s got a ways to go to get to his ceiling, which is why there are a lot of interested scouts. Expect to see him in that third-line, fourth-line utility-type role. He’s another one of those guys that makes the U.S. team better by providing depth. He’s also a great character guy and that benefits good teams.
Henrik Samuelsson – Scottsdale, Ariz. – Uncommitted – Draft Eligible in 2012
Stat Line: U17 – 38 GP – 12-16-28 – 98 PIM / U18 – 8 GP — 3-3-6 — 4 PIM
Samuelsson will be the second in his family to play for the U.S. in this tournament, as his brother Philip skated for Team USA at the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Fargo. The under-ager is the son of long-time NHLer Ulf Samuelsson and plays with an edge. Shocking, right? After leading the U17s in PIMs for much of the year, Samuelsson has begun avoiding penalty trouble, which is key in international play. He’s a gifted puck handler with a lot of offensive talent. He was Team USA’s leading scorer at the World U17 Hockey Challenge, which was a coming out party of sorts for Samuelsson. Additionally, he has great size at 6-2, 195. He’s not fast, but is very solid on his feet. Samuelsson adds an element of snarl and isn’t afraid to agitate up front, to go along with high-end talent. Sounds like just the mix the U.S. can use in Germany.
So in summation, Team USA has a very solid group. The top three scorers for this squad will have to continue production, but the additions of Samuelsson and Kerdiles, to go along with Biggs, Boyd and Pietila should help the scoring. The bottom two lines for this club will be solid defensively and won’t lack for energy. It’s a pretty well-rounded group.
With the success this team has had already internationally, they should have some confidence heading into tournament play. It’s going to be a really fun group to watch.
By the way, you can catch all of Team USA’s IIHF World Under-18 Championship games on FASTHockey.com. I’ll have more details on that soon.
Coming up tomorrow, I take a look at Team USA’s defensive corps and goaltenders. If you have questions about the World Under-18 Championship or the U.S. team, leave them in the comments and I’ll answer whatever I can.