Well, it wasn’t the finish the U.S. National Under-18 Team wanted. Posting a 2-0-0-2 record at the 2012 U18 Five Nations Tournament resulted in third place for Team USA, finishing behind tournament champ Sweden and Finland.
Sweden cruised through the tournament, going undefeated, including a 3-2 victory over rival Finland to claim the title on the tournament’s final day. Knowing now that both Finland and Sweden have strong outfits for the World Under-18 Championship, the U.S. is going to have to find some scoring help, after putting up just 10 goals in the Five Nations, with five coming against a weaker Czech team.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the best individual performances by U.S. players at the tournament.
Riley Barber — F — I’m not sure anyone will underrate Riley Barber after the tournament he had for Team USA. The winger scored five of Team USA’s 10 goals in the tournament, with a hat trick coming against the Czech Republic. Barber now has 18 goals on the season for the U.S. Under-18s, tops on the team. The lack of goal-scoring depth is beginning to show, as Team USA is still searching for that go-to scorer. Barber made a case in Finland that he can be that guy. Despite being a bit undersized, Barber has keen offensive instincts and should climb up the draft rankings after a standout performance.
Connor Carrick — D — Connor Carrick’s offensive ability came to fruition in Finland. The vastly underrated defenseman posted three points in the tournament including a pair of goals. He was the only player other than Barber to register more than one goal. Carrick has good offensive tools and should play a big role for Team USA at the World Under-18 Championship. With the lack of scoring depth up front, Carrick may need to help provide a little more O from the back end.
Brady Skjei — D — Skjei’s ascent up the draft charts has been warranted. There is some concern about his offensive abilities and instincts, but the size and the skating is going to hide a lot of the warts, and there really aren’t that many to begin with. Skjei led Team USA with a plus-5 rating. I don’t put much stock into plus/minus, but when you can’t see the games, you gotta point to something. Skjei’s game lends itself very well to the international style. He should be able to have that success to carry over at the World Under-18s and most likely solidify himself as a first-round prospect.
Jacob Trouba — D — Trouba only registered one assist, but one tournament attendee described him as “excellent throughout.” Or so to say, exactly as expected. With each passing month, Trouba just keeps getting better. He’s done so much to round out his game, and while the offense isn’t where a lot of scouts would like it, Trouba continues to look like one of the better American D prospects of the last few years.
Seth Jones — D — Not eligible until 2013, but you can’t have a post highlighting standout performances and not talk about Seth Jones. Having both Jones and Trouba patrolling the same blue line almost isn’t fair. The last time the NTDP had two defensemen of this high of caliber, it was Erik Johnson playing as an underager with the U18 Team that also featured Jack Johnson. With Jones back to health after being injured at the World Junior camp, the U18s could have a big bounce back at the Under-18 Worlds.
Jared Rutledge — G — Rutledge went 1-1 in tournament play, but any time you can shut out a Russian team, you’re doing something right. Rutledge made 23 saves in the 3-0 win. Rutledge may not have the prototypical size the NHL is looking for, but he has the technique and the competitive makeup. If a team is looking to provide depth to their goaltending talent pool, Rutledge is definitely worth a selection at the Draft.
U.S. U17s Win Vlad Dzurilla U18 Tournament
The U.S. National Under-17 Team fared much better than their U18 counterparts, albeit in a three-game tournament. The U17s took the Vlad Dzurilla by outscoring opponents 22-4 in the tournament.
Team USA opened tournament play with a 6-1 win over Switzerland, then beat Germany 8-0, and closed it out with an 8-3 win over Slovakia.
There is a bevvy of offensive players on this U17 team, and it is likely a few will get a call up to the U18s to see if they can bring that offense to the older club in the lead up to the World Under-18 Championship.
Here’s a look at the standouts from the Vlad Dzurilla:
Andrew Copp — F — Copp is a bit of an anomaly. The NTDP brought him in to help support both teams. He’s a 1994-born player, so he’s technically an Under-18, but since the Vlad is a U18 tournament, he was able to play. So Copp went ahead and scored three goals and added two assists and is looking less like a swing player and more like a regular. He’s draft eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but has received little to no buzz, mainly because he spent the first half of the season as the quarterback for Skyline (Ann Arbor) High School’s varsity football team. An injury during the football season further delayed his return to the ice. Copp has a great work ethic and is a natural athlete. He’s an intriguing guy to watch, as he’s turned down football scholarships in the hopes of continuing in hockey.
Evan Allen — F — Evan Allen has been on fire since leading the U.S. U17s to a second-place finish at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. That continued a the Vlad tournament. Allen led the team in goals (4), assists (6) and points (10). The 2013 Draft eligible might be a strong candidate to help bring that high-octane offense to the U18s. Allen has 30 points (16-14) in 36 games for the U17s.
Tyler Kelleher — F — The dynamic little guy continued his high rate of production for Team USA with seven points (3-4). He now sits second on the U17 team with 34 points (17-17). At 5-foot-5, 158, Kelleher has posted some stunning numbers, the kind that make you forget he’s 5-f00t-5 and 158 pounds. He’s draft eligible in 2013.
Will Butcher — D — It seems Butcher is always the leader in points from the blue line, and he did it once again with five points at the Vlad Dzurilla. The gifted offensive defenseman posted five points (1-4) in the tournament and finished with a plus-9 rating. He’s offensive, but not irresponsible defensively. As the 2013 Draft-eligible continues to round out and mature his game, he could be a pretty special talent.
The big news out of the USHL this week was the announcement of the first-ever outdoor game for the league. It wasn’t a very well kept secret, but an announcement Tuesday made it official. The Lincoln Stars will meet the Omaha Lancers at TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, on Feb. 9, 2013. The USHL game will precede a big college tilt featuring the University of Nebraska Omaha taking on the University of North Dakota.
There have been more than enough outdoor games, but this one is a little more unique than the others, by getting the USHL involved and holding it in a more non-traditional hockey market. This should be an outstanding event for both the USHL and college hockey and could do wonders for the game in Nebraska.
Kelly Friesen over at Buzzing The Net has an article about the unfortunate practice of comparing current prospects to established NHL stars. It’s one of my big pet peeves in the coverage of prospects. Comparisons are often misleading, due to the lofty nature of the comparison. It’s an easy way to describe players to the reader, but it’s not often right.
Brampton Battalion defenseman Dylan Blujus gets a shout out in Ryan Kennedy’s most recent Hot List. Sounds like the New York native is continually showing signs of improvement, especially in his offensive game.
Brady Skjei was the featured prospect in last week’s Hot List.
Ever wonder what life is like on the road in the USHL? Here’s a video tour of the Youngstown Phantom’s bus. Looks like a sweet ride.
Bob Miller of College Hockey Prospective sat down with top prospect Nic Kerdiles, who will be headed to Wisconsin next year.