With just three days to impress Phil Housley and his staff in the camp setting, the players at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp had to be on from the beginning. With such tough competition in camp and so many good players, these decisions couldn’t have been easy, but USA Hockey announced its camp cuts today.
In the end, 11 players were cut from the camp today, including six defensemen and five forwards. I was a little surprised to see USA Hockey decided to keep 34 players in Lake Placid, but based on what I’ve seen and heard so far, it was warranted. Keeping 34, including all four goalies, leaves more time to have direct contact with these players and more evaluation, particularly for some of the lesser-known guys.
“The first three days of camp have been impressive and we have been pleased with the players’ level of competition,” said Jim Johannson, Team USA’s general manager, in a statement. “The players being released today are still among those being evaluated for the team in the coming months. For the players retained, this week’s upcoming international games in Lake Placid give us an oportunity to further assess their skills.”
Like Johansson said, just because a guy got cut at this point doesn’t mean he’s out of the mix. There are guys that didn’t even make the camp that could push for spots in December.
Keep in mind, USA Hockey will hold a pre-tournament camp, which will serve as another evaluation period for 28-30 players just prior to the event in Ufa, Russia. So there’s still a long way to go between now and then.
The guys that remain in camp are going to have some extra opportunities to impress and position themselves well heading into the season. A good performance at this camp gives players a little more leeway if they struggle in the first-half of the season. Proving what they can do against the European squads goes a long way in developing a comfort level for the coaches and administrators, so these next few days remain crucial.
It will be with this roster that USA Hockey will go into the final three games of the camp, with two tilts against Finland and one against Sweden.
Coming up after the jump a brief look at those cut and the guys who are breathing a little easier this morning…
I’m sure this group is disappointed not to have made it to the next round of the camp, but I think the list of guys they sent home is only indicative of how good the talent in camp has been, particularly on defense. When two first-round draft picks are among the first cuts in camp, that’s all the proof you need to know how tough it actually has been.
Here’s who’s headed home:
Alex Broadhurst — I thought Broadhurst might have saved himself with some solid play, but if he makes the team it’s as a third- or fourth-line center and he might not have the size to do it. Broadhurst could go into London in the OHL next year and have a really strong season as a 19-year-old and that could change things for him, but for now, he’s the odd-man out in a log jam at center.
Brian Hart — The big Harvard-bound forward never really made enough of an impact at his size to stick in camp. It’s important to remember that he’s coming out of the prep ranks and the gap from prep to similar-to-WJC-level hockey is pretty large. If he learns to use his body better, he could have a shot, but there’s room to grow for Hart.
Logan Nelson — It was always going to be an up-hill battle for Nelson who had a lot of competition for that energy-line type player. He’s known as a two-way forward and I don’t know if that ever really materialized in camp. I don’t think he played poorly, but I think he was a step behind guys like Tyler Biggs, Blake Pietila and Nic Kerdiles.
Adam Reid — I really liked how Reid played in yesterday’s game against Finland, but the big forward apparently didn’t impress enough. If he were to make the team, it’s likely as a defensive specialist, but there are several guys that can play a more balanced game and I think that’s why Reid is on the outside looking in. Regardless, Northeastern fans can be glad to have him.
Henrik Samuelsson — It’s not often you see a first-rounder bow out in camp, let alone two, but Samuelsson was sent home. He has the size and strength, but footspeed is what Samuelsson lacks in comparison to his competition. There are a lot of power-forward types in camp, and pretty much all of them are better skaters than Samuelsson. That said, he’s only a 1994-born player. He has time to grow and work on things and I wouldn’t count him out just yet. He could have a big first half with the Edmonton Oil Kings and be right back in the mix.
Connor Carrick — There were certainly moments where Carrick flashed his offensive abilities and good skating, but his size disadvantage was evident. One of the knocks on Carrick is his risky decisions with the puck and I think that materialized in camp a little bit. He’s only a 1994-born, so he’ll have another shot at this next year, but I just don’t know if he’s ready for the WJC level just yet.
Brian Cooper — I only got to see Cooper in Monday’s action and I came away a little concerned about his ability to play with the pace that he has to at his size at this level. Cooper is a pretty gifted skater, but I don’t think he ever got his legs under him against the speedy Swedes. Questionable decisions with the puck compounded the issues. I think Cooper could have a really strong year at UNO, but with this tough D corps to crack I don’t see him in the mix down the road.
Mike Paliotta — The big defenseman looked OK in camp, but seemed to struggle against Finland, getting caught out of position a few times, at least one of which led to a goal. There are certainly some nice tools there, I just don’t know if Paliotta’s game is ready for the pace of the WJC. He’s going to be a big part of Vermont’s D corps, so we’ll see how he progresses in the first half.
Robbie Russo — I was only a little surprised to see Russo get cut. He showed really good puck-moving ability, but there are a lot of good puck movers in camp. His struggles in the D-zone were noticeable, particularly against Sweden. He’s a guy I think they’ll keep an eye on because he really is a solid PP quarterback. I just don’t know if there’s room for a guy who they might envision as a specialist. Still think he’ll be watched closely the entire first half.
Joakim Ryan — The often smooth defenseman wasn’t much of a factor good or bad in the game against Sweden. I think he had a tough time adjusting to the pace, despite the fact that he was very familiar with Team Sweden as he spent time with that group last year. I think there’s some serious upside to Ryan, but there’s a long way to his ceiling. Unfortunately, the WJC isn’t about potential, it’s about what you can do right now.
Jordan Schmaltz — If there was one real surprise among the cuts, I think Schmaltz is it. I would say I’m moderately surprised, but not shocked. The one thing that I thought Schmaltz could do to separate himself was show flashes of his sometimes elite-looking offensive game. It didn’t materialize in the game against Sweden and I think Schmaltz struggled with the pace and skill of the opposing forwards defensively. If the offense isn’t clicking, I don’t know if his defensive ability is enough to compensate. I think Schmaltz could have been a victim of expectations, as he was riding high coming in thanks to his USHL playoff performance and first-round selection by St. Louis. Schmaltz was also a victim of his comparables in camp really raising their game. Shayne Gostisbehere and Mike Reilly were two of the best Dmen so far and that likely edged Schmaltz out of the picture. When a first-rounder gets cut, there might be reason for fans of that team to scratch their heads or maybe prematurely panic. Don’t. Schmaltz has a very high upside and has a long way to go to get to his ceiling. Thing about the WJC is that players aren’t picked based on what they can do in two or three years, they’re picked on their ability at the present. A strong first-half from Schmaltz will keep him in the WJC conversation. I know they’ll be keeping a close eye on him.
Here’s a look at some guys who are breathing a big sigh of relief this morning:
Steven Fogarty — The big two-way centerman has had an OK camp, but I think the reason he stays is that he shows flashes of what he’s really capable of and if he can put it together, there’s a chance Fogarty could be a force at center in a bottom-six situation. I think he’ll need to show better the rest of the way, but his physical tools are going to give him a longer look.
Nic Kerdiles — I think the Anaheim second-rounder has had a lukewarm camp and has a lot of competition. Kerdiles, a natural center has been playing the wing, which should free him up for a little more offense. His size and strength are assets, but I think to make the team he’s going to have to produce a little bit more.
Garrett Haar — I actually thought Haar played pretty well, particularly late against Finland. Only reason I think he’s breathing easier is because of how stiff the competition was. He comes in as one of the less-heralded guys and really held his own.
Jake McCabe — The Wisconsin sophomore struggled mightily against Sweden, but I think he stays because he’s one of the few defensemen in camp that can be, when he’s at his best, a shutdown defenseman. The offensive aspects of his game are kind of minimal compared to his ability to play smart and play physical. McCabe might have been sweating a bit last night, but he lived to play another day.
Jimmy Vesey — After having a really strong game against Sweden, in which he began generating chances, I think Vesey started showing that he can adjust to the pace. Coming from the EJHL to this level is a huge jump. I think it took him a little while to adjust, but he’s getting there now. Good sign.
Jon Gillies — The big netminder has an .814 save percentage and 5.39 GAA so far. I think it was wise to keep all four goalies however. They’re getting a lot of one-on-one coaching with Joe Exter, formerly USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach and three-time assistant at the WJC. No goaltender outside of John Gibson really established himself, so keeping all four makes sense. Gillies is another guy where you can see the tools and see the upside, but it’s uncertain if he’s at the level he needs to be just yet. He gets a few more tries to prove that wrong.
The full U.S. squad will be back in action Wednesday against Finland at 4 p.m. EDT. That game will be available live on FASTHockey.com.
With 34 players in camp, they’ll still probably dress 22 per game just like IIHF regulations allow, meaning 12 scratches per game. The guys that need to be evaluated the most will play the most, more than likely, so don’t read too much into scratches. The players still in camp are there because they earned the opportunity to get a longer look, so they’ll all get one.
There is a ton of great hockey left to be played in Lake Placid. For a full schedule, click here.