Thursday morning, USA Hockey announced the 4o skaters invited to participate in the 2011 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., this August. The camp features candidates vying to earn a roster spot on the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team. The camp is simply an early step in the official evaluation process, but it’s an important one.
Yesterday, we profiled each of the 14 defensemen invited to camp. Today, we’ll fill you in on all 26 forwards invited to camp in two parts. Part II is coming up later Friday afternoon.
In Part I, we’ll focus on the forwards that are eligible for the 2011 Draft. Earning an invite to this camp won’t necessarily boost draft stock a great deal, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
The 1992 birth class was known for being deep, particularly on defense. However, the class as a whole is one of the deepest groups of American prospects in some time. This U.S. National Junior Team, as astutely mentioned by Chris Dilks on Western College Hockey Blog, will rely heavily on players from that birth year.
The 1993 birth year may not be nearly as deep as the 1992s, however the top end of the class is elite. While the roster will rely heavily on 19-year-olds at the forward position, there are going to be at least two or three from the 1993 class that will need to come in and make an impact offensively, while also gaining valuable experience for the 2013 World Juniors.
Coming up after the jump, complete analysis of each of the draft-eligible forwards invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp.
Each player is listed in alphabetical order.
Chase Balisy — Western Michigan — Balisy had a surprising season for one of college hockey’s most surprising teams. The California-native had a stellar freshman year, in which he finished second on WMU’s roster with 30 points. After being passed over in last year’s draft, it’s been a bit of a year of vindication for Balisy. Due to the depth in this camp, he’s still got an uphill battle, but certainly deserves this selection. He’s a smart player who rarely makes mistakes and makes the players around him better. Second-year draft eligible. CSS Rank: N/A
Tyler Biggs — U.S. National Under-18 Team — The bruising Biggs lives up to his name. When he’s at his top level, few are better and making their presence known on the ice. Biggs’s best value to this Junior team would appear to be as a fourth-line banger. Normally a top-line player at the NTDP, he’ll have to adapt to any role to be a part of this team. He has the character to do it and the ability to succeed. CSS Rank: 22
Reid Boucher — U.S. National Under-18 Team — After leading the U.S. U18s with eight goals at the World Under-18 Championship, it would have been impossible to leave Boucher out of this camp. He’s one of the most naturally gifted scorers among the invitees, but his size and speed may make his status uncertain. His scoring ability is undeniable. If he can show that scoring touch in camp, he’d be tough to ignore and will earn a much longer look. CSS Rank: 113
Rocco Grimaldi — U.S. National Under-18 Team — He was the only 1993-born player in the pre-tournament camp for last year’s Junior team, but didn’t perform to his normal standard and was cut. He’d be a tough guy to let go this year with his offensive ability. He has loads of skill and undeniable speed. Along with Biggs, Grimaldi has never finished lower than first in any of the three major tournaments he’s played in for the U.S. Not a bad winning pedigree there. CSS Rank: 32
Mike Mersch — Wisconsin — Mersch had somewhat of an up-and-down season at Wisconsin, but his inclusion in this camp may feel like some amount of vindication. He was the last cut from the 2010 U18 gold-medal team. To his credit, he worked hard in the offseason and had a good enough year at Wisco to earn a nod for camp. He’s got great size, but he needs to pick up the offense to be a factor. He won’t have long to prove he can produce at this level, but he’s deserving of this chance. CSS Rank: 83
Shane McColgan — Kelowna Rockets (WHL) — While McColgan lacks size, he packs a scoring punch that can’t be overlooked. He had 19 points in 10 playoff contests with Kelowna, coming on the heels of a 66-point regular season. His playoff prowess is a big reason he’s in camp and an even bigger reason his draft stock is trending up. Once thought to be the best American 1993, McColgan’s been playing a bit of catch up. A good performance in this camp will further prove he’s caught up and has reestablished himself as one of the elites in his birth year. CSS Rank: 125
J.T. Miller — U.S. National Under-18 Team — Miller showed what he looks like when he’s at his best at the World Under-18 Championship. He’s had consistency issues over the last two years, but his performance in Germany was eye-opening. If he can bring the same intensity, speed and skill to camp, he’s going to put himself in a great position to make this team. CSS Rank: 23
Matt Nieto — Boston University — Nieto was cut from the pre-tournament camp last year after a pretty solid start to his freshman season at BU. He’s the prototypical speed guy that USA Hockey has loved over the last few years at the WJC. The U.S. will sorely miss the speed and skill of Chris Kreider, but Nieto has a chance to help fill that void Kreider left. He needs to make sure that scoring prowess he showed at the NTDP returns to be a factor for this club. He’s going to have a really good opportunity to make this team with what his skill set. CSS Rank: 43
Stefan Noesen — Plymouth Whalers (OHL) — Coming off an outstanding season with the Whalers, Noesen is firmly in the discussion for the first round now. His 34-goal, 77-point output and solid frame are making scouts drool. Noesen is a bit of an unknown commodity as his production was off the charts. Can he sustain it at the World Junior level? He’s going to have a great chance to prove it in Lake Placid and throughout the season. CSS Rank: 35
Shane Prince — Ottawa 67’s (OHL) — Prince had an absolutely stellar regular season with Ottawa, playing alongside the OHL’s leading scorer Tyler Toffoli. Prince was no slouch himself with an 88-point year. He’s a three-year veteran of junior hockey and has proven he can play with the elite players. Prince has to show that table-setting ability to earn a spot on this team. The camp also affords Prince the opportunity to prove he’s more than just a good line mate. CSS Rank: 26
Brandon Saad — Saginaw Spirit (OHL) — Saad narrowly missed making the Junior team last year, and unfortunately had a bit of a disappointing second half in Saginaw. However, when he’s at his best, he’s elite offensively and has the strength and speed any U.S. team covets. Of the non-returnees, Saad has the best chance to make the squad in my mind. He’s got the international experience and tools the U.S. loves. CSS Rank: 19
Nick Shore — Denver — Shore is as good a table-setter as you’ll find. He’s got great size and despite injury, had a solid freshman campaign for the Pioneers. Shore is a heady player with great vision and can provide some strength down the middle for Team USA. He was tied for the team lead at the U18 Worlds in Belarus as Team USA won gold. He’ll have to recapture some of that magic to show he deserves a spot. CSS Rank: 56
Vince Trocheck — Saginaw Spirit (OHL) — As a center, Trocheck already has a slight advantage as it is one of the weaker positions in this camp. He’s shown that he can produce at Saginaw with 62 points last season. Trocheck will have to show versatility in camp as Dean Blais will want to see well-rounded centermen on his squad. I’m very interested to see how Trocheck fairs in this environment, as he is a very intriguing prospect. CSS Rank: 41
T.J. Tynan — Notre Dame — The nation’s top freshman was a revelation for Notre Dame. He put up a staggering 54 points for the Irish en route to the Frozen Four. With improved skating and puck skills, he’s looking like he deserves a high-round draft selection in his second year of eligibility. He has the wheels and tenacity to make an offensive impact on this team. Despite his small stature, he will be watched closely and with great interest. Second-year draft eligible. CSS Ranking: N/A
One thing to note, is that there’s a good mix of college and major junior players on this list. I shared with Aaron Vickers of Future Considerations that any perception that USA Hockey is biased against CHL players should be blown up.
The most talented players don’t always make the team. It’s all about the mix and what guys can fill certain roles. In short tournaments, character is every bit as important as talent. Based on the selections for this camp, it is obvious that players were chosen on what they have shown on and off the ice, not what team they play for.
This is just an early step in the long process of selecting the junior team, but these young guys coming into camp give USA Hockey a lot to look forward to. There’s some great skill among these draft-eligible players and a lot of great character, too.
Coming up later Friday afternoon, a look at the remaining forwards invited to camp.