The candidates for the U.S. National Junior Team will play their final exhibition game tonight and after that, the evaluation period is over. USA Hockey expects to announce its final roster on USAHockey.com Thursday. Since it’s hard to wait, I figured I’d give you my best guess at Team USA’s final roster for the 2011.
The 28 players USA Hockey brought into camp certainly made their cases well and I think that’s a big testament to the scouting. They brought in a few guys that hadn’t been in the summer camp, which speaks to the depth of this class. A lot of good players were left out, but when putting together a U.S. National Team, you hope that there are a lot of good players you had to leave behind, as opposed to not enough to make a good roster (This Tim McCarver moment brought to you by Ovaltine).
In putting together my projected roster, I pooled my own opinions on players, what I’ve heard from sources and what we’ve learned from the past two World Junior Championships. Things might happen tonight in the exhibition game that throw a wrench in this, but this should at least be a pretty good indication of what Team USA will look like, even if I’m wrong on a few.
Check out my final list after the jump….
Jack Campbell — Despite the rough go against Russia in exhibition, Campbell is proven on the international stage. He’s won a whole bunch and should be a major factor in Team USA’s World Junior run.
John Gibson — He’ll probably spend most of his time on the bench, but he’s far from just a back up. Gibson is an elite goaltender and if he is needed, he’s more than capable of putting Team USA in a position to win.
Jon Merrill — Despite not playing a game all season, Merrill is the most all-around skilled defenseman of this group. His World Junior experience and immense ability will make him a likely top-pairing D-man.
Jarred Tinordi — The 6-7 monster is mean and physical, but he’s also smart. Tinordi is going to be a steady presence on the back end for Team USA.
Adam Clendening — The best pure puck-mover of Team USA’s blue line, Clendening is going to bring some flare to the U.S. defensive corps. He should also see some PP time and put up a few points.
Derek Forbort — The big, mobile defenseman brings such a great skill set to the table. He’s a very good skater with a solid defensive stick. Could see some quality minutes.
Austin Levi — This was a decision I did not arrive at easily, but Levi played well enough in camp to earn the nod for me. He has some offensive ability and gets pucks to the net, so he gets his shot in my book.
Jacob Trouba — Despite his youth, Trouba has played well in camp and offers a skill set that Team USA might not get out of anyone else with Justin Faulk out. The only concern is whether the youngster can handle the pressure of the WJC and make good decisions.
Kevin Gravel — The injury to Seth Jones probably opened the door to a few players, but maybe none more than Gravel. He did not play in last night’s exhibition, but Gravel is another big body, with good mobility, on the back end.
I had a hard time leaving Stephen Johns off the roster, and there’s actually a pretty good chance he makes the real team. The injury to Jones kind of shook things up a bit and felt like Johns didn’t fit the mix as well, as much as I really like his game.
Seth Jones would have been on this roster had he not gotten injured. It’s a tough blow to Team USA’s defensive depth, but these things happen.
Charlie Coyle — Coyle is going to be a leader on this hockey team and one of its top-2 centermen. He’ll be relied on for his solid two-way game and will also be expected to produce.
Nick Bjugstad — Despite the pre-camp injury, Bjugstad is an important piece to the U.S. team. He’s a big center that can do damage from all areas of the ice. His size and added strength will be keys to his tournament success.
Jason Zucker — After having last year’s WJC derailed by a Martin Marincin elbow to the chin, Zucker should come back reinvigorated. This will be his third time on the U.S. National Junior Team and he’ll be one of the key performers.
Emerson Etem — After a one-goal performance in Buffalo, expect Etem to pick up the production. He’s a natural goal scorer that should find the net more than a few times in Alberta. Could be the go-to scorer for this outfit.
Brandon Saad — Saad’s power game can be overwhelming for opponents at this level. Few are able to get to the net like he does and he should provide a spark to the top-six of this U.S. team.
Austin Watson — The big center should anchor Team USA’s energy line. He’ll be expected to play dependable D and be available for PKs. Look for him to match up against some of the opponents better scoring lines.
Connor Brickley — The jam of this forward group lies with Brickely. He’ll play hard every shift and put a few opponents in a world of hurt. He’s the kind of guy you love to have on your team, but hate to play against.
J.T. Miller — It’s looking more like Miller will be a wing for Team USA. He’s got great speed and size, which allows him to do some damage at both ends of the ice. Look for Miller to provide some scoring depth for Team USA.
Bill Arnold — Another good two-way guy, Arnold can be a factor offensively. He’s strong on his skates and plays a pretty smart game. He gives the U.S. really nice depth at center.
Kenny Agostino — Agostino has been a revelation since the National Junior Evaluation Camp. He plays with energy and can score some goals for you.
Kyle Rau — A tenacious competitor, Rau is another guy who can be on just about any line. He’s found ways to score goals at every level he’s been at, big ones.
T.J. Tynan — Tynan is nice because he can play center or wing and give Team USA some solid depth. He packs an offensive punch and skates well, so there’s your reasoning.
Josh Archibald — I didn’t know much about Archibald before, but I certainly do now and believe we’ll all find out more about him at the World Juniors. He has great speed and size and can find the net in addition to providing some energy.
Brian Ferlin was great in summer camp, great for Cornell this season, but it doesn’t seem like he’s done enough in this camp to crack the final roster. Coming into camp, I thought he was a likely on the roster. Less certain now.
Austin Czarnik made a really compelling case to be on the final squad and very well could end up making it. I just didn’t feel strongly enough about his candidacy to put him on the final sheet. This may be one where I’m wrong.
John Gaudreau had to be exceptional in camp, and I don’t think he has been. His immense skill set comes in handy, but when there’s a lot of size and strength up front, he’d have to outshine those guys.
Shane Prince is an offensively gifted player, but there seem to be a lot of those at this camp. I just didn’t feel like he brings enough to the table for the U.S.
These are my picks. We’ll know for certain who’s on the final roster Thursday morning.
As was mentioned above, things can change tonight after Team USA meets Switzerland at 7:30 p.m. MST in Camrose. You hope there aren’t any last-minute injuries or anything like that. If Blais and staff have their way, the picture becomes abundantly clear tonight and the decisions get made in time for tomorrow’s announcement.
You can expect wall-to-wall U.S. National Junior Team roster coverage tomorrow, complete with player reports and thoughts from some of the USA staff right here on United States of Hockey.
As always, if you have a question, comment or you want to rip my roster, leave it in the comments below or let me know on Twitter: @chrismpeters.