It’s the fifth day of the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp. The cuts have been made, so the tensions ease a little bit, but the competitiveness of the camp should not. Twenty-two of the 34 players remaining in camp will take on Finland at 4 p.m. ET in Lake Placid.
With the trimmed roster, there are still some extremely important elements of the camp. Phil Housley gets to take over a bit with the group he has and start working more on implementing systems that he’d prefer to employ at the World Junior Championship, minus a few wrinkles here and there. Getting the players familiar with both the system and each other is important.
The vast majority of the players that make the final roster for the U.S. National Junior Team in December will come out of this portion of the camp. With that in mind, there will be several line combos to watch over the next three days as the U.S. coaches will try to see who works well together and whose skill sets compliment each other. With most of these guys on different teams throughout the year, they’ll get precious few reps as a unit, so the next three days actually can have an impact in December.
That’s the real value in the dual camp format. They get a good look at 45 guys over a three-day period, a closer look at a smaller group the rest of the week and then one last look at 25-30 players once again in December. That, combined with the players’ performances throughout the first half of the season allow the USA Hockey brass to make the most informed decisions.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the projected combos for today’s contest and what to watch for as the U.S. meets Finland at 4 p.m. EDT on FASTHockey.com.
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com is on site in Lake Placid and has been providing some great coverage of the camp so far. He was at Team USA’s morning skate today. Only the 22 players that are dressing this evening skated. Kimelman also provided a look at the lines from today’s skate:
Mario Lucia – Sean Kuraly – Stefan Noesen
J.T. Miller – Alex Galchenyuk – John Gaudreau
Stefan Matteau – Steven Fogarty – Tyler Biggs
Thomas Di Pauli – Cole Bardreau – Ryan Hartman
Jake McCabe – Connor Murphy John Gibson
Matt Grzelczyk – Garrett Haar Garret Sparks
Shayne Gostisbehere – Andrew Welinski
Scratched: Blackwell, Boucher, Boyd, Pietila, Trocheck, Vesey, Jones, Reilly, Trouba, Sieloff, Gillies and Stolarz
Again, I wouldn’t read too much into the scratches. I think the guys that really need to be seen will get at least two games, while the more established guys probably will get in at least one with some of the combos they envision for the potential final roster. Pretty interesting to see Trouba, Jones and Reilly not dressed today on D. With only one game against Sweden, I’m guessing the coaches will want to see them against the tougher competition (The Swedes have scored a total of 13 goals so far in their two games).
That said, there are some really, really intriguing forward lines for today’s game.
The top line of Lucia, Kuraly and Noesen has been the best in camp so far. The trio rolled past Finland in the USA Blue game Monday with all three posting multi-point games. Clearly that’s a line they want to give more time to solidify that chemistry. It should be noted that Kuraly and Lucia played an awful lot together at the World Junior A Challenge last November and were terrific. All three of these guys have positioned themselves well as a unit for a shot at making the team. It would be nice to see what they can do against a tougher Swedish team, but just getting the reps in now will help.
For the fourth game, Gaudreau and Galchenyuk together and now it will be J.T. Miller getting a try with that pair. Noesen, Colin Blackwell and Mario Lucia all got runs with that duo with middling results. Miller changes things though. He’s got really strong playmaking ability, but better than that, Miller does a nice job using strength and speed to create time and space for his linemates. Having Miller with the pair of super-skilled forwards seems like a really solid match. It will be interesting to see if he can open things up for Gaudreau and Galchenyuk to create.
That third line is also incredibly interesting with Biggs, Fogarty and Matteau. Fogarty flanked by a pair of first-round power-forward types gives the U.S. a physically strong unit that can play the body, put pressure on opposing D and still be responsible enough defensively. Fogarty has offensive ability, but it hasn’t materialized like I was expecting it to. Having a pair of big guys on his wing could allow him to get a little more room to work and create. Biggs and Matteau will make a lot of opposing D nervous on the forecheck. We’ll see if they can be effective together.
I like seeing Nic Kerdiles as the 13th forward. He can slot into so many different roles and likely will get some time on at least two of the lines. His two-way skills and strong skating will fit in well with whoever he gets slotted with.
That fourth line includes a pair of natural centers in Bardreau and Di Pauli. I think having Ryan Hartman with them gives that line a little extra offensive pop. It’s always difficult to pinpoint just what Hartman is and what he can be. He has some great natural offensive ability, but really enjoys being physical. He doesn’t have power-forward size, but has shown a propensity to play that style. If he is to make the team, it’s likely in a bottom-six role, so watch what he can do in this situation.
The defense doesn’t include Jones, Trouba or Reilly, who have essentially been the three best in camp, but this is a huge, huge opportunity for the guys that are playing today. It’s particularly important for guys like Matt Grzelcyk, Andy Welinski and Shayne Gostisbehere who have been standouts so far. They should see time against the variety of Finnish lines and will have to show strong defense. All three have looked good at both ends of the ice so far.
This is a big game for Connor Murphy, who I think based on his track record is a favorite to make the team. He’s the top defenseman (on paper) in this lineup today and will have to prove he can thrive in a first-pairing role against a pretty shifty team. He’s been good in camp defensively and will need to prove he can shut down guys like Teuvo Teravainen and Juuso Ikonen, who have done some damage in Lake Placid.
Finland, despite going winless so far in Lake Placid has a ton of skill up front and a pretty sleek defensive unit. They are going to pose a pretty good challenge to this D corps for the U.S. squad.
We’ll see if they split the goalies as they have been all camp or if Gibson or Sparks gets the whole game.
Gibson has done more than enough to solidify his standing as the top goalie in camp, so I probably would prefer to see Sparks get the majority of the game. The Toronto prospect has looked pretty good in his games so far and could help himself out substantially with another solid performance against Finland.
This should be a really intriguing game to watch. It will be streamed live on FASTHockey.com at 4 p.m. EDT.
I’ll have a full recap with analysis of the top performers for Team USA either late tonight or early Thursday morning. So check back for that.