Of the 26 forwards invited to camp, 12 have already been drafted by NHL teams. Of those 12, five were first-round selections in 2010, while four were taken in the second round.
Also out of this group, four players are returning from the 2010 bronze-medal winning U.S. National Junior Team.
There’s a lot of talent among these remaining forwards and plenty of favorites to earn a spot on the U.S. roster. Learn more about them after the jump.
Kenny Agostino — Yale — After a standout freshman season for one of college hockey’s top teams, Agostino certainly earned a shot at the Junior squad. He posted 25 points in Yale’s high-tempo offensive system. Consider also that he is just one year removed from New Jersey high school hockey. Should be interesting to see how he stacks up against the best the U.S. has to offer. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 5th Round, No. 140 overall, 2010.
Bill Arnold — Boston College — Arnold played in all 39 games for one of college hockey’s elites in his freshman campaign. He scored 10 goals, and possesses an outstanding shot. His international experience will be an advantage (2010 U18 Gold), but with such a deep camp, he’s got his work cut out for him. Good thing Arnold is a notorious hard worker. Drafted by Calgary in the 4th Round, No. 108 overall.
Nick Bjugstad — Minnesota — Bjugstad has a leg up on the competition due to the fact that he’s returning from the bronze-medal squad. However, looking at the roster of forwards, veteran status may not guarantee a spot this year. Bjugstad can’t let his guard down one bit. He’s got great size, strength and ability. It would take a lot to knock him out of a spot, but he needs to get off to a good start with this camp to create some breathing room. Drafted by Florida in the 1st Round, No. 19 overall.
Connor Brickley — Vermont — The gritty Massachusetts native made it to the pre-tournament camp last year, but was ultimately left off the team. Brickley is one the grittiest players brought into camp up front. He plays a physical, fearless style that the U.S. lacked at times at the last WJC. Brickley has to bring that hard-nosed, hard-working style to camp. He did score 20 goals in the USHL once, so he can bring a little offense from time-to-time too, but its that physical presence the U.S. covets. Drafted by Florida in the 2nd Round, No. 50 overall.
Charlie Coyle — Boston University — Perhaps Team USA’s best forward at the 2011World Juniors, Coyle could be a leader in 2012. He was brilliant at all ends of the ice for Team USA for much of the tournament and will have to bring a similar effort. He’s likely a lock, but can start being a leader by having a solid effort in camp and setting the standard. Drafted by San Jose in the 1st Round, No. 28 overall.
Emerson Etem — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) — Etem is another returnee that will have to recover from a less-than-exemplary 2011 tournament. Expected to be an offensive presence in Buffalo, Etem never seemed to find the scoring touch he had with the Hat. However, Etem is coming off a 45-goal, 80-point season in the WHL. He needs that production to carry over. As one of the more gifted goal scorers in camp, Etem needs to show it in Lake Placid. Drafted by Anaheim in the 1st Round, No. 29 overall.
Kevin Hayes — Boston College — Hayes appears to have some great upside to go along with his tremendous size. He had a decent freshman campaign, spending most of the year on BC’s fourth line. If he makes the U.S. squad, it is likely in a fourth-line role. Hayes will need to show adaptability to any situation the U.S. puts him in in camp and prove he’s more than just a big body. Very intriguing player to watch. Drafted by Chicago in the 1st Round, No. 24 overall.
Jared Knight — London Knights (OHL) — After a 70-point season in the OHL, Knight made the decision pretty easy for USA Hockey to invite him to camp. He’s a strong kid who has three years of Junior under his belt. He’ll be battling with the rest of this deep camp, but he’s got some veteran-like experience even if none of it has come internationally. Drafted by Boston in the 2nd Round, No. 32 overall.
Phil Lane — Brampton Battalion (OHL) — Size and physicality. He’s not exactly an offensive dynamo, but he’s big and he’s got some snarl to him. He’s got plenty of fights on YouTube, which doesn’t necessarily help in the World Juniors as much, but it does help to have a guy that shows toughness, and has no fear. Lane needs to show he can keep that grit and keep up with the pace to prove he deserves a shot. Drafted by Phoenix in the 2nd Round, No. 52 overall.
Bryan Rust — Notre Dame — Rust was part of Notre Dame’s otherworldly freshman class that helped lead the team to the Frozen Four. He had 19 points in his freshman campaign, which doesn’t jump out at you. However, he’s got international experience and plays at a very fast pace. Speed is a priority for U.S. teams and Rust has it. He’s also strong on his skates and has some great international experience already. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the 3rd Round, No. 80 overall.
Austin Watson — Milwaukee Admirals (AHL)/Peterborough Petes (OHL) — Watson is probably one of the best all-around players coming into camp. He can put up points, kill penalties, play responsible defense and throw the body around a bit. He posted 34 goals with Peterborough and finished his season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. He’s also got an Under-18 gold to his name. With what Watson brings to both ends of the ice, he looks like a guy who has a real shot to make this roster. Drafted by Nashville in the 1st Round, No. 18 overall.
Jason Zucker — Denver — He’s the reigning WCHA Rookie of the Year and is the only forward who has played in the last two World Junior Championships. Zucker caught an elbow from Martin Marincin in the prelim round last year and was never the same. When healthy, he’s a ball of energy that Team USA simply could not go without. He’s as easy a lock there is on this team. I was a little surprised when Minnesota (a team that got a huge steal by picking him when they did) didn’t offer him a contract this offseason, but USA Hockey has to be pleased about that. If he’s healthy, he’s on the roster and he’s probably wearing a letter on his jersey. Drafted by Minnesota in the 2nd Round, No. 59 overall.
This group of forwards will probably be looked to as leaders in the camp, particularly the guys that made the team last year. As the leaders, it’s going to be on these guys to set the pace and tone of the camp. The NJEC is almost always a high-intensity, tension-filled week which makes it a challenge for any player.
Should these older guys show up with their best effort, it will be a really exciting camp to follow.
You may have noticed there are no goalie previews as of yet. That’s because the goaltenders have not been announced for camp. There is always a goalie-only tryout camp in which the top candidates come together in Ann Arbor, Mich. That camp takes place June 13-15. Out of that, usually around four goalies are selected to come to Lake Placid. USA Hockey expects to announce the goaltenders going to the National Junior Evaluation Camp by the end of the month. Probably a safe bet Jack Campbell’s at the top of that list…
Quick side note: If you’re looking for a good vacation in August, the NJEC isn’t actually all that bad of an attraction. You’ve got essentially the best Under-20 players in the country all under one roof, plus a ton of elite Swedes and Finns. Also, if you’re a USA Hockey buff, Lake Placid is a must-visit destination. The camp is held at the very same building in which the Miracle on Ice took place. Kind of like killing two birds with one stone.
We’ll have full coverage of the National Junior Evaluation Camp when it begins in August, but will cover any and all news about the U.S. National Junior Team as it becomes available throughout the summer.