With the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship now less than two months away, United States of Hockey will be spotlighting candidates a few times per week, in addition to tracking other WJC-related news all the way up to USA Hockey’s pre-tournament camp.
Rocco Grimaldi — Center
Hometown: Rossmoor, Calif. Birthdate: Feb. 8, 1993
Height/Weight: 5-6, 170
Current Team: University of North Dakota
NHL Rights: Florida Panthers (2nd Round, 33rd overall, 2011)
National Team Experience: U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team (U18WC gold: 2010, 2011), National Team Development Program (2009-11)
Perhaps one of the best descriptors of Rocco Grimaldi is “odds-defying.” His size is the first thing mentioned about him, then you consider his non-traditional hockey roots and it’s a wonder he is where he is, but that’s a testament to his immense skills.
Physical stature is obvious, but one viewing of Grimaldi allows the size to somewhat melt away. He has tremendous speed, which makes him both tough to play against and a dangerous offensive player every time he steps on the ice. Grimaldi also has good puck skills, with ability to make defenders and goaltenders miss. On top of that, in the offensive zone, Grimaldi can score from just about anywhere, with a devastating release on his shot.
Grimaldi would have presumably been a front-runner for a spot on last year’s squad had he not suffered an early-season knee injury at North Dakota. He tried to play through it, scoring a goal and adding an assist in four games, but soon it became evident that to get him to 100 percent, surgery would be required.
The California native missed the rest of the season and ended up earning a medical red-shirt which makes him a freshman once again this season. If there was any concern about Grimaldi’s health coming into the season, it has been washed away.
Centering a line with fellow freshmen Drake Caggiula and Colten St. Clair, Grimaldi has been North Dakota’s most consistent offensive player with a point in each of the first four games this year. He has two goals and two assists and at least a half dozen more scoring chances.
The speed is still there, as are the puck skills. Basically, he looks normal, which is a very good thing.
For the U.S. National Junior Team, Grimaldi, a natural center, may end up being a more valuable asset in supporting a lack of depth on the wings. Grimaldi has that type of skillset that makes him difficult to leave home just because his natural position may be filled. That said, Grimaldi has looked very good at center so far for North Dakota, and there’s little reason to doubt he can fill that position at the World Junior level.
Grimaldi’s value is only increased due to his international experience. At every major tournament he’s played in, he’s been a key asset from the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge where he made the all-tournament team, to his 10-point performance as an underager at the 2010 World Under-18 Championship. In the three major events he’s played, the U.S. has won. Having players with championship experience certainly helps.
He wasn’t quite ready, coming off the injury, to participate at USA Hockey’s Junior Evaluation Camp, so there are other players that got a better look, but he’s no stranger to the U.S. program and should be a likely candidate to fill an important role for Team USA.
Catching Up With The Candidates
Alex Galchenyuk — C — Sarnia Sting — The No. 3 overall pick by Montreal in the 2012 Draft has been held off the scoresheet only three of the 15 games he’s played in. His 21 points tie him for sixth in OHL scoring.
Johnny Gaudreau — LW — Boston College — The sophomore forward has picked up right where he left off in BC’s national championship season. The top LW among the American WJC pool has seven points in five games and has scored some pretty meaningful goals already.
Jacob Trouba — D — University of Michigan — A returnee from last year’s team, Trouba has made his presence felt in his first collegiate season. He already has two goals and four assists through his first five games and has displayed the physicality that helped make him a top-10 draft pick.
Vincent Trocheck — C — Saginaw Spirit — After going scoreless in his last three games, Trocheck lost his lead on the OHL stat board. Prior to this mini-slump Trocheck had only had one prior game where he didn’t record at least one point, so there’s likely not much cause for concern. He has 20 points (9-11) in 15 games.
J.T. Compher — C/W — U.S. National Under-18 Team — Compher has appeared in just six games this season with the Under-18 Team after being sidelined with an undisclosed injury. According to Don Granato last week, Compher has been progressing, but an extended period of time off the ice could damage the underager’s chances for the final roster.
Sean Kuraly — C — Miami University — The Miami freshman has been held off the scoresheet in all six games so far this season, which is somewhat surprising given his productivity in the USHL and at the summer evaluation camp. Kuraly looked more like a top-six centerman for Team USA in August, but the lack of production is a bit of a concern. He has been centering Miami’s third line, typically this season. He has the tools that should keep him firmly in the mix, but he’ll need to show some production, too.
Jon Gillies — G — Providence College — The 1994-born goaltender is off to a terrific start in his first collegiate season. The big 6-5, 215-pound goalie has posted a 1.72 goals-against average and .938 save percentage, while compiling a 3-2-1 record. The amount of playing time Gillies has and will receive might help him amply prepare to back-up John Gibson.
Jumping on the Radar
Riley Barber — RW — Miami University — Barber, a 1994-born forward, was not invited to USA Hockey’s National Junior Evaluation Camp in August, but his offensive explosion to start his collegiate career is notable. He has eight points (4g-4a) through his first six games and shows no signs of slowing. He is an NTDP alum and won championships in each of his last two seasons (2012 World U18s and 2011 Clark Cup with Dubuque).
Cody Payne — RW — Plymouth Whalers — After putting up 13 and 16 points in his first two seasons, respectively, Payne is already up to 13 this year in just 14 games in year three. He has good size and toughness and his quick start at least puts him on the radar. If he can sustain his current pace, he’s worth watching.
Adam Erne a candidate?