Today marks the final on-ice session for Team USA at the MSG Training Center in New York. All 26 players left in camp will be hopping a plane to Finland for the rest of the camp in Helsinki, where the expanded roster will play two exhibition games against Sweden and Finland and hold another series of practices. Only three cuts will have to be made, but the decisions are going to be as tough as ever.
The last few days in camp haven’t revealed a bunch about Team USA, but there has certainly been some experimentation with the lines. The loss of Stefan Noesen, who Phil Housley told NHL.com would have certainly been on the team, makes for some more difficult planning, particularly in the top six.
Coming up after the jump, a look at some of the lineup options being explored by Team USA, links and more.
Line Combos in Practice
NHL.com’s Mike Morreale shared a few of the line combos Team USA was experimenting with in practice. It’s early in this portion of the process yet, so these are likely to change. What the team does in the exhibition games in Finland will be more indicative of where Team USA is going with its combos, but it’s still interesting to see what kind of ideas they have.
Alex Galchenyuk – Vince Trocheck – Riley Barber
This is a combo that caught me off guard a bit, but it’s highly interesting. Galchenyuk has been playing left wing most of the year in Sarnia, but was exclusively a center in the summer camp. Moving him to the wing certainly frees him up offensively and also strengthens the left side.
Trocheck has had an incredibly productive season in the OHL and based on this combo, it appears USA Hockey expects him to be able to bring that productivity to the World Juniors. Putting him and Galchenyuk together gives the U.S. to of the most prolific point-producers in the OHL. Trocheck has good defensive skills, too, but this looks like a true scoring line, should the U.S. stick with it.
Throwing Barber with this pair is highly intriguing as well. The Miami freshman is leading the nation’s first-year players in college hockey. He’s paired with Austin Czarnik with the RedHawks, which has led to that being one of the most dynamic duos in the country. Giving Barber a shot with two guys that can finish like Trocheck and Galchenyuk is a good idea. Barber has good vision and is able to make plays from the right side, which should help bolster the offense if they think this line can work.
Johnny Gaudreau – J.T. Miller – Rocco Grimaldi
This group spent each of Monday’s two ice sessions together per NHL.com’s per Adam Kimelman and it’s awfully intriguing.
Miller and Grimaldi could be interchangeable at the center position, but Miller’s defensive value is certainly a plus when he’s playing down the middle. It’s very interesting that USA Hockey put each of its smallest forwards on the same line with the 5-7 Gaudreau and 5-6 Grimaldi, but in doing so this could be a really fun line to watch if it stays together.
Miller is so good at creating space for his linemates, using his vast skills and strength to draw in and occupy defenders. Gaudreau and Grimaldi thrive in space and in transition. If you have both of those two on the wings, it’s going to be tough to defend. Each has high-end puck skills and rarely miss when they have an open look.
I didn’t see this combo coming, but now that it’s been put together it looks like it could be a big-time scoring unit.
Stefan Matteau – Sean Kuraly – Tyler Biggs
The thing that stands out about this line is the size. This is a powerful line, with each guy at 6-2, 200-plus pounds. This was the most intriguing trio tweeted out yesterday by Morreale.
This combo would suggest that Team USA is looking at more of a top-six, bottom-six situation as opposed to building a team with three true scoring lines and one shut down line as in years past.
This group could play awfully physical, be tough against other teams scoring lines and contribute some offense on its own. Matteau and Biggs both play with some nastiness and can lay the body pretty well. Kuraly is a good two-way centerman with speed and some offensive pop.
There is certainly some quality scoring with this group as well, but the standout tools are the size and strength, which will make them tough to play against at both ends of the ice if they stay together. The way this is structured, it’s an intriguing potential third line.
Blake Pietila – Cole Bardreau – Ryan Hartman
This is the one line that I figured would be put together as a potential fourth line for Team USA. This group will provide energy, physicality and sound defensive play. They would have the responsibility of getting in the craw of opponent’s top lines and applying pressure in all zones.
Pietila has good strength and defensive awareness, with an unrivaled battle level. Bardreau has speed and tenacity and plays a very pest-like game. Hartman has the most skill of the guys on this line, but he also plays with some edginess and speed.
As constructed, this looks like a line that Team USA could comfortably go to Ufa with. You know exactly what you’re going to get out of these three guys and can be comfortable with them playing the role they’re asked to play.
I think the lines will continue to be experimented with, so don’t get too bent out of shape that Mario Lucia and Jimmy Vesey weren’t mentioned. Either one of those guys could hop in as 13th forward and slot in as needed, but either could get a crack at a regular line as well.
Galchenyuk moving to left wing, if that’s a permanent move, will probably push one of those two guys off the team as only one forward will be sent home.
Other Notes From Camp & Links
— Based on the comments the staff has been making, expect J.T. Miller to wear the C for Team USA. He’s the lone returning forward and has professional experience. The word that keeps popping up when they mention him is mature. It sounds like Miller is embracing his role. If I were to guess, any two of Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Connor Murphy could also find themselves with a letter on their jersey.
— There are four Ohio natives vying for spots on Team USA this week, which is interesting because the only state with as many is hockey hotbed Michigan. Score one for the Rust Belt. (USAHockey.com)
— U.S. GM Jim Johannson expanded on his feelings about the Stefan Noesen decision from the IIHF. “We wanted to let the process go full and, in the end, we do not feel it’s an equitable process.We did send this to the [IIHF] for [its] determination since there’s an opportunity for them to read and review. That was done. In the end, that suspension is behind upheld.” Johannson also said USA Hockey will work hard at changing the IIHF’s process. (NHL.com)
— I could link every story on NHL.com’s camp blog, but instead I’ll just share the link to the whole thing. Mike Morreale and Adam Kimelman are bringing the good stuff daily (NHL.com)
— Friend of the blog Nathan Fournier is contributing to The Hockey News this week. He caught up with Seth Jones, who talked about the disappointment of getting injured before the tournament last year. (The Hockey News)
— SBNation’s Steve Lepore, another friend of USofH, was in New York and has been providing some solid coverage as well. (SB Nation)
— Another good friend of the blog, ProHockeyTalk’s Joe Yerdon, is also covering the camp. This piece details the confidence Team USA can have in its stacked defense. (PHT)
— Before leaving for camp, Alex Galchenyuk casually put up eight points, including five goals, over two games. He is the Ontario Hockey League’s player of the week. (OHL)
Team USA will be heading to the airport later this afternoon for the trip to Helsinki. News will be a little slow until they’re back on the ground and skating again, but we’ll have plenty more World Junior Championship content right here on United States of Hockey, so stay close.