Well, the preliminary roster for the U.S. National Junior Team has been announced. There are plenty of intriguing names on it. Many expected, several not, and that’s what makes it fun. The picture begins to become more clear what the U.S. outfit will look like in Alberta come December 26.
Before we get into the specifics about players, here are a few things that we learned in general about Team USA…
This will be an old team. Of the 29 players invited, 24 are 1992 birth years. There are three 1993s and two 1994s. There are no 1993-born players on the U.S. blue line, though both 1994s are defensemen.
This will be a fast team. We knew that going in, but looking at the forward line up, there’s a bunch of good skaters.
Size doesn’t matter for forwards. There are eight forwards under six-feet tall, four of which are 5-foot-8 or shorter.
Size matters on D. Team USA’s blue line will be big. Eight of the ten defensemen listed are 6-foot-2 or taller, five of which are 6-foot-4 or taller.
Now, coming up after the jump, a quick reaction to some of the players on the roster.
JUST A NOTE: I will be reviewing the roster in depth in a series of posts on USofH Tuesday. So make sure to check back for a more in-depth look at each player rostered.
There were several big questions that were answered immediately regarding player personnel.
Would Jon Merrill’s suspension at Michigan preclude him from being brought into camp? No, it would not. He’s listed on the roster, though his battle for a spot is not over yet. He’ll have to prove he’s ready to take on the world’s elite talent.
Brandon Saad declined an invitation to USA Hockey’s summer camp, would that hurt him? No, it would not. Saad was listed on the roster, but like Merrill, will have to prove himself in camp to get a spot. He’s coming off injury and will need to be in top form to be effective for Team USA.
Might Justin Faulk be available to Team USA? Well, he might be. Currently playing in the NHL with Carolina, Faulk may not end up being released by the Canes. However, USA Hockey will leave the spot open for him as long as they can. Faulk’s inclusion on the roster came with an asterisk, in that he would be in camp “pending a release from Carolina.” So you’re saying there’s a chance!
How many goalies will Team USA bring? The answer, as it has been the last two years, is two. Andy Iles is listed as an emergency back up, but Jack Campbell and John Gibson are No. 1 and No. 2. Expect Gibson to see some time, but Campbell has been money in international events. There’s very little goalie controversy in camp that way.
SURPRISE! — There are always surprises. Every single time there’s one or two names where you just go… WOW! To me, there were four big surprises and maybe two minor ones.
There are four forwards that USA Hockey invited that were not part of the National Junior Evaluation Camp at any point, one defenseman that was cut early in camp and one that wasn’t there either.
The surprise of the roster for me was Josh Archibald of Nebraska-Omaha. I suppose I should temper that surprise, when the young man plays for Dean Blais on a regular basis. Archibald was born in Saskatchewan, but played high school hockey in Minnesota at Brainerd H.S., and is a dual-citizen.
Archibald’s inclusion speaks to the trust Dean Blais has in him and what the head coach thinks he can bring at this level. He’ll have to earn a spot, but the coach is familiar with him and that can’t hurt.
There was momentum building for this one, so I think it was a moderate surprise for me, but Johnny Gaudreau, the diminutive dynamo from Boston College snuck into the roster. You have to think Rocco Grimaldi going down with injury opened the door for the super-skilled Gaudreau. NEVER DOUBT GAUDREAU. I keep telling myself this, but I don’t listen to myself much. He’s going to be battling for a spot in camp, but will be one of the most skilled players there.
Austin Czarnik went undrafted last year, but has been on a tear in his freshman season at Miami. He also has World U18 experience, having won gold with Team USA in 2010. He was a top producer on that club, as well. This is a guy USA Hockey knows well enough to know he can provide a bunch of offense in spurts despite his size. He’ll have a tight competition on his hands in camp, too.
Kyle Rau wasn’t much of a surprise for me. He’s been making his case all season long. But he wasn’t in the NJEC. He simply worked his butt off this year and he’s getting rewarded for it.
Kevin Gravel was a minor surprise on D, though I mentioned earlier today that it was going to be a tough group to predict, given the uncertainty about some players. Gravel is a big body on the back end that will challenge a few other guys for a spot.
The last surprise was Jacob Trouba, though I felt his inclusion was a strong possibility last week. I think he’s going to be up against it with his age in camp, but he’s done more than enough this year to warrant an opportunity. Trouba is going to push guys like Stephen Johns, Austin Levi and Gravel. Get ready for a battle, boys. It’ll be one of the more fun competitions to watch.
As I mentioned in my earlier post Monday, there’s always going to be several guys that you look at and go… how come he didn’t make it? Well, there’s 29 spots up for grabs. Sounds like a lot, but it’s really not. So, because I’m sure you’re curious, here are the guys who are slightly surprising…
Big Plymouth forward Stefan Noesen has first-round pedigree, but his age may have gone against him. He’ll be in the mix again in 2013.
Jared Knight was a bit of a surprise, given how well he played in Lake Placid at the NJEC. I’m certain he was watched a lot this year. He just ended up on the outside.
Matt Nieto made it to this camp as an underager in 2010, and again in 2011, getting cut both times. This time, he won’t even have a chance to compete. He’s a guy that has great wheels, but has struggled in the camp environment, maybe it was too risky.
Tyler Biggs has come on strong late, and a few folks might wonder how fellow RedHawk Czarnik made it over the burly Biggs. Age and skating ability. Biggs will be a key figure in 2013, you’d have to believe.
Those are the major ones for me. There are plenty more you could make a case for, but I think I get the direction USA Hockey is going in.
Some more notes on Team USA:
– There are eight returning players listed on the roster: Jason Zucker and Jack Campbell are both back for their third WJC (assuming Zucker makes it, which is a safe assumption).
Charlie Coyle was arguably Team USA’s best forward in 2011 and will figure prominently in 2012.
Nick Bjugstad and Emerson Etem will look to improve on a luke warm first WJC, and are both playing the best hockey of their lives right now.
Jon Merrill gets a chance to earn a spot after his tumultuous first-half. He was the top point-getter among U.S. defensemen in 2011.
Derek Forbort will also have a big opportunity to come back and be part of Team USA in an expanded role. He’s been improving as the season goes along at North Dakota, so we’ll see how big of a factor he can be in 2012.
– Sixteen of the 29 players are National Team Development Program products. Fifteen of those 16 won gold at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship in either 2010 or 2011.
– Eighteen players are current or former college hockey players
– Nine players are from the Canadian Hockey League
– Two players (Austin Czarnik, Jacob Trouba) are eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Seth Jones is eligible for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
– Five players are alumni of USHL member clubs, while that number jumps to 20 when you include the 15 NTDP alumni who played in the league as part of Team USA.
– Fourteen different states are represented on this U.S. roster:
Michigan – 6; Minnesota – 5; Massachusetts – 3; Pennsylvania – 3; New Jersey – 2; New York – 2; California – 1; Colorado – 1; Florida – 1; Illinois – 1; Maryland – 1; Nevada – 1; Ohio – 1; Texas – 1.
Fourteen states for a roster of 29 is quite a range. That’s pretty great to see and goes to show that players are getting developed everywhere. Truly a great testament to the growth of USA Hockey and the improvement of player development nationally.
Come on back Tuesday for a full roster run down with stats, analysis and links for every player.
You know… it’s true what they say…. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.
Looks like the top 6 forwards will be big and fast while the bottom 6 forwards will be small and fast. Either way, Blais likes his teams to skate.
“Jon Merrill gets a chance to earn a spot after his tumultuous first-half”…. Merrill had a first-half? Where did he play? Jk- couldnt’ resist. I hope he’s in top form- we’re gonna need him. Archibald and Czarnik over Knight and Noesen is a head-scratcher for me too, but I have faith in Blais. Can’t wait to see these 29 on the same ice.
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