U18WC: Evaluating Team USA’s Forwards

Coming into the tournament, it was thought Team USA would have a hard time scoring goals. The forward corps didn’t possess a ton of high-end skill players, but had a fair amount of grinders and hard-workers.

The U.S. may not have lit the world on fire offensively, but in each of its six games it scored more goals than the other team. Someone told me that’s how you win hockey games.

Coming up after the jump, an in-depth evaluation of each of Team USA’s 13 forwards from the 2011 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship.

Cole Bardreau — 6 GP, 0-0–0, 4 PIM, -3

Cole Bardreau (USAHockey.com)

While Bardreau’s stat line may look ugly, the way he played was anything but. It was usually hard to find someone on the ice who was skating harder than Bardreau. Centering Team USA’s top shutdown line of Blake Pietila and Zac Larraza/Henrik Samuelsson, Bardreau was often going up against the the top offensive units teams had to offer. So you’ll have to forgive him for not having much time for scoring goals.

One of the things I liked a lot about Bardreau was the intensity he brought to every shift. He was an alternate captain for Team USA and clearly a big time leader for this squad. Bardreau also has tremendous speed, which is a big part of the USA Hockey style now and it’s also why there is probably no better place for him to play than Cornell.  He’ll be a fan favorite with the energy he brings.

One other thing I noticed about Bardreau was the number of times he’d get hammered along the boards or in open ice. No matter what, nothing phased him. He never got checked out of a game and was always on his feet quickly after being on the receiving end of a big hit. Bardreau’s size was a factor in the hits he took, but if you’re a smaller player, you’ve got to be able to fight through that stuff and that’s exactly what he did. Impressive work from him throughout his time in Germany.

Tyler Biggs — 6 GP, 2-1–3, 49 PIM, +3

The highlight of the tournament for Biggs was his dramatic overtime winner against Canada. It was a flash of that offensive ability that we sometimes see from the big power forward. An incredible shot that found its way just inside the left post. It’s plays like that that make people believe Biggs can be more offensive.

However, some wonder if Biggs is actually at his best when he’s creating for others with his physical presence. He doesn’t have the best hands in the world, but he’s an efficient skater with man-strength. I think this kid is at his best when he’s playing a north-south game, overpowering opposing D and making things happen near the net. Save for the brilliant goal against Canada, that was when he was at his best in Germany.

Biggs had a rough start to the tournament. He wasn’t having his typical presence and impact on the game. However, about halfway through, Biggs began playing that confident, physical game we come to expect and along with linemates Nic Kerdiles and Travis Boyd, became a force. That line was arguably Team USA’s best against Canada and Sweden, as far as all-around play is concerned. Despite the slow start, I think Biggs found his way and ended the tournament on the highest note possible.

Reid Boucher — 6 GP, 8-2–10, 8 PIM, +9

Reid Boucher scores game-tying goal vs. SWE (USAHockey.com)

Goal scored by No. 14, Reid Boucher. It was a guarantee you would hear that at least once a game in Germany. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more reliable scorer for a U.S. team at this tournament. It almost seemed automatic for the left winger.

Boucher didn’t just score goals, he scored BIG GOALS. To have a guy you can put on the ice in any situation and know he’s going to get it done had to be a tremendous feeling for the U.S. coaching staff. Boucher scored the game-winning goals against Switzerland and Germany, and scored this little beauty against Russia with just 21 seconds to play in regulation to hand Team USA the 4-3 win and earn a bye to the semifinals. Additionally, Boucher scored twice in the semifinal against Canada and tallied the game-tying goal against Sweden with under 1:30 to play in regulation. Clutch.

Reid Boucher has one of, if not the best, release I’ve seen on an American 17-year-old ever. Jeremy Morin was one of the best natural goal scorers in NTDP history, but I think Boucher might actually have the better wrist shot. Boucher plays with Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller, two elite offensive players in their own right. I think that’s why Boucher’s regular-season numbers don’t jump out at you. If he was the go-to scorer on his line, with a pass-first center, he might have scored 40-plus goals this season.

In a recent USA Today article from the legendary Kevin Allen, Kyle Woodlief called Boucher “ridiculously underrated.” I think this tournament will change that. A gifted scorer like Boucher is hard to come by. His skating needs work, but I think we’re seeing him get stronger and more confident and that shot is NHL-ready. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say he should be drafted no later than the second round.

Travis Boyd — 6 GP, 2-4–6, 2 PIM, +5

For me, Boyd was on the money the entire tournament. He was all over the ice making plays. Defensively responsible throughout, Boyd earned his plus-5 rating. Additionally, he showed some of that offensive skill that makes him a threat to score.

Playing on the power play and penalty kill, Boyd showed that he can be a versatile forward. He looked faster than I remember him throughout the tournament and his puck skills were as good as I’ve seen out of him. Boyd is going to do well at the University of Minnesota, particularly on the Olympic sheets of the WCHA. He’s a guy that knows how to use the big ice to his advantage and that showed.

Still, Boyd has gotten no love from Central Scouting and it remains to be seen whether his game would translate to the NHL level. With the way he played in Germany, I think he showed he’s worth a shot. If he continues to develop his game and round it out the way he showed in Germany, he’s going to, at the very least, be a college standout, with the chance to develop into a pro-level talent.

Dan Carlson — 6 GP, 1-1–2, 2 PIM, +3

Dan Carlson (USAHockey.com)

Coming into the tournament, Carlson was well aware he’d be centering the fourth line for Team USA. Ice time was going to be limited, so when he was out there he would have to make the most of it. I think that’s exactly what he did.

Carlson, along with Ryan Haggerty and Adam Reid, showed exactly how a fourth line could make its team better. Every shift, it appeared these guys were going to make something happen. Carlson was in the middle of it all. He’s a strong kid, who skates well and has sneaky skill.

Carlson may have scored one of the most highlight-reel worthy goals of the tournament for Team USA, when he dangled between a pair of Slovakian defenders and flicked his wrists to wire the puck into the top corner of the net. It was a thing of beauty.

Carlson isn’t going to score a ton of goals like that, and I think he may have overachieved at the tournament. I mean that in a good way. We may have just gotten a glimpse of what’s to come with Dan Carlson. He’ll likely be drafted late, but he could really blossom into a big-time player at Minnesota State Mankato. When the lights were shining bright and the pressure was on, Carlson mainly delivered. Not too bad for a fourth-line center.

Rocco Grimaldi — 6 GP, 2-6–8, 6 PIM, +5

Rocco Grimaldi (USAHockey.com)

We’ve come to expect Grimaldi to dominate every tournament. Problem is, so did every opponent he went up against. He was held in check pretty well, not getting the looks at the net he’s used to seeing. However, it was the other things Grimaldi did that may have kept his draft stock in the first-round range.

Despite the lack of scoring, Grimaldi centered the line that contributed 41% of Team USA’s offense (along with Reid Boucher and J.T. Miller). Grimaldi made several key plays throughout the tournament. The two that come to mind immediately was his insanely clean faceoff win to Boucher for the GWG against Russia with just 20 seconds left in regulation and his slick feed to Connor Murphy for Team USA’s first third-period goal against Sweden.

In the faceoff win, Grimaldi showed his prowess on draws. He had several key faceoff wins throughout the tournament, but few bigger than the one for the Boucher snipe. The little play he made to get the puck to Murphy was vintage Grimaldi. Being draped by a much bigger opponent, he calmly protected the puck with his small body, used his strong legs to get the advantage and showed his vision by quickly slipping the puck to Murphy. It was a great play.

Grimaldi might have been forcing it a bit offensively, as he is used to being the top scorer on his team. That led to some poor shot selection at times, getting the puck caught up in legs, or opponents sticks. Still, he always did something in a game where you just had to think, “Wow. How did he do that?” If size matters at all, it couldn’t matter less with Grimaldi. He’s a player.

Ryan Haggerty — 6 GP, 2-0–2, 0 PIM, +3

Like Carlson, Haggerty played an important role as part of Team USA’s fourth line. He scored goals in each of Team USA’s first two games and had a very efficient tournament. While he may have only gotten five-seven shifts a game, he made a difference each time he was on the ice.

Haggerty even saw some time on the power play and made himself a bit of a scoring threat at different points. He has a great shot and gets to the open ice pretty well, so that meant teams were going to have to keep an eye on him out there.

The way the fourth line played, Ron Rolston had enough faith in them to give them extra ice time and rest the big scoring units. The good news for Team USA is that the fourth line even popped a few in on their own, scoring five goals as a group throughout the tournament. Perhaps it was unexpected, but it was certainly welcome. Haggerty was a great example of a player that made the most of what he was given.

Nic Kerdiles — 6 GP, 0-2–2, 2 PIM, +1

One of two 1994-born forwards on Team USA, Kerdiles found himself in an expanded role later in the tournament. He was part of the Boyd and Biggs line and played a very solid two-way game throughout. Kerdiles strikes me as the type of player who could develop quickly over the next year into a smart defensive forward who can be contribute offensively.

As I mentioned, the Boyd-Biggs-Kerdiles line was among the better for Team USA later in the tournament. Kerdiles was out there creating turnovers and also creating offense. The other thing I loved about Kerdiles was the way he played so simply. He never tried to be something he’s not. You never saw him taking those unnecessary chances offensively or getting himself out of position.

I’m impressed with Kerdiles’s maturity and poise. He never seemed to get rattled out there despite playing in key situations for Team USA. The versatility he showed throughout showed exactly why the U18s called him back up after he was briefly returned to the U17 squad and thought to be out of the mix for the Worlds. There’s a lot to be said for the way he played himself back onto the team.

Zac Larraza — 6 GP, 1-4–5, 4 PIM, +4

If there’s one player that just impressed the heck out of me at the World Under-18s, it was Larraza. He played the best I’ve ever seen him play. He was so good defensively, skating with Bardreau and Pietila for much of the tournament. Larraza used his body well throughout, and caused a ton of turnovers in both the defensive and neutral zones.

Larraza’s shorthanded goal against Canada was a result of hard work and solid penalty killing, as he blocked a shot and took the puck down the wing for the score. There was a lot more sacrifice to his game. When he came into the NTDP, it was thought Larraza could be an elite offensive talent, and the tools are still there to potentially see that. However, the way he played defensively was the big surprise for me.

There may be few players that helped their draft stock rise more than Larraza did. His big body, solid skating and great defensive instincts, coupled with his offensive ability, should bump him up the rankings before June. Can’t say enough about the job he did all tournament long.

J.T. Miller — 6 GP, 4-9–13, 6 PIM, +8

J.T. Miller did a lot of celebrating in Germany (USAHockey.com)

Miller was an absolute beast out there for pretty much the whole tournament. I actually thought he struggled a bit through the first two games and didn’t look like much of a factor, despite an assist in each game.

However, during the Russia game, it was Miller Time. That’s when it all started. He scored twice in that game and became a force every time he hit the ice. Miller has become a really solid distributor of the puck this year, and Reid Boucher was the benefactor.

When Miller is locked in, he’s got such great vision and makes smart decision. Additionally, he avoided penalty trouble for the latter half of the tournament. If he’s not focused, he’s running around the ice and trying to do too much. So to see him harness his game and just play was a treat to watch.

Miller’s strength and skill set was evident every time he hit the ice. He’s so hard to take off the puck and to keep the puck away from. He was named one of Team USA’s three best players and was easily one of the best forwards in the whole tournament. His draft stock was high already, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he went from a bottom half of the first round to easily the top half. If he continues on the trend he started in Germany and maintains a consistent level of play, he’s going to be a star.

Blake Pietila — 6 GP, 1-0–1, o PIM, -4

Along with Bardreau and Larraza, Pietila made himself really hard to play against as part of Team USA’s shutdown unit. I’ve marveled at Pietila’s strength and work ethic before, and I saw a lot of that again in Germany.

This line might have been more defensive, but they certainly made an effort on the offensive side. I think they were at their best though when they were keeping teams honest with an aggressive forecheck, with Pietila leading the charge. He played physical, he played tough and he played smart.

When this line focused on the defensive side, they were really tough to beat. Pietila was constantly battling along the walls and did a fantastic job there. He also saw a ton of time on the PK and did well on his defensive zone draws when spelling Bardreau. I think Pietila is a lock for a mid-round draft pick and whoever picks him up will be happy once they get him.

Adam Reid — 6 GP, 2-0–2, 4 PIM, E

Another key part of Team USA’s fourth line, Reid made the most of his time on the ice. The big, lanky forward played a physical, energetic game. He also had two goals on just four shots.

Reid is solid around the opposing net and gets to loose pucks well. He’s very raw, but I think there’s still some molding that can be done with him. Reid’s not a gifted puck handler, but he just seems to make things happen when he’s out there.

Reid also had the hit of the tournament for Team USA against Team Germany, absolutely leveling a defenseman behind the net. The shockwaves may still be doing some damage along the German countryside. Scouts will love his size and potential. Reid might not go high in the draft, but a team that likes good size with their projects will be happy to work with the big man.

Henrik Samuelsson — 6 GP, 0-1–1, 4 PIM, -3

Samuelsson started the tournament with Bardreau and Pietila, getting most of the minutes, but Zac Larraza ended up jumping up in that spot thanks to his outstanding play throughout. Samuelsson sunk more into the 13th forward role, but he’s also an under-age player and the same thing happened to Tyler Biggs at last year’s World Under-18s.

I’m not sure Samuelsson should dwell on that too much as he still showed why there are a lot of scouts looking forward to seeing him more next year. He’s got phenomenal size and strength, to go along with pretty good offensive instincts. Despite being one of the younger players in the tournament, Samuelsson sometimes looked like a man among boys.

I think a lot of the issues with Samuelsson will come mentally. He took a few bad penalties and made a few mistakes in the defensive zone, but he’s still learning the game and I think he’ll work through those issues. He’s an incredibly gifted hockey player and could become a real standout in the near future. I think his U18 season will be a big breakout for him and the scouts are just going to flock to Ann Arbor to see his development.

Well, there you have it. Team USA’s forward corps may not have the flashiest players, but there is a lot to like with this group. Everyone fit into some role on the team and they performed tremendously in those roles. When you have 13 forwards that buy into their jobs on the team, you’ll usually have success. That’s exactly what happened in Germany, as the U.S. earned its third straight gold medal.


About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World U18 Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

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