The U.S. has about as good a problem as you could hope to have when it comes to its defense. No matter which two of the nine defensemen in camp get cut, the reaction is probably going to be like this: “How could they possibly have cut him?”
The depth among the nine blueliners in camp is notable. There’s a good mix of skill sets, but the key similarity is mobility. All of the guys in camp can move well. Not all of them are speedsters, but every single guy is strong on his feet. Knowing that, it’s the other tools that each guy brings to the table that will ultimately decide his fate.
What is going to be extremely tough for the U.S. to decide now that the camp is headed to Finland, is which seven guys give them the right mix. Based on reports coming out of camp, it’s going to take a little longer to figure out who that might be.
Coming up after the jump, a look at Team USA’s options….
When it comes down to finding the mix, the U.S. has to decide how much value it’s going to place on offense, physicality, shut-down capabilities, etc.
The U.S. has several combinations it can go with that would make a lot of sense. The versatility of this group is plainly evident. The toughest decisions remain down the left side.
With only three right shots in camp, it’s probably pretty safe to pencil in Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Connor Murphy for roster spots.
Down the left side, Team USA has its three offensively-skilled guys in Shayne Gostisbehere, Matt Grzelcyk and Mike Reilly. There’s also all-around guy Jake McCabe, slick-skating defensive stalwart Brady Skjei and punishing shut-down defenseman Pat Sieloff.
Two of those six will be going home, in all likelihood. Almost assuredly, one of the cuts will be one of the three offensive guys. You could conceivably take all three, but it gets a little redundant and USA Hockey tends to like versatility with its team makeup.
Gostisbehere and Grzelcyk are the more likely of the two offensive-minded guys to make the team. Both can play on the power play and have defensive strengths that Reilly isn’t quite able to match. That said, Reilly has high-end skills and skating, so that will receive heavy consideration.
Gostisbehere and Grzelcyk both also received power play time in the practices, which is a good indication of what roles the coaches are seeing them play. Grzelcyk also was paired up a lot with Seth Jones, suggesting there’s a chance the U.S. could foresee Grzelcyk getting top-four minutes. Over the summer, it was Jones and Reilly that looked like Team USA’s best pairing, but between August and December, Grzelcyk has really elevated his game.
Reilly still can play himself onto the team, and perhaps one of those other two guys off it, but he’s a clear bubble guy in my opinion.
Then it comes down to which two of the group including Patrick Sieloff, Brady Skjei and Jake McCabe will make the team.
Sieloff and Trouba were a dominant shut down pair at the most recent World Under-18 Championship, for a team that allowed only four goals the *entire tournament*. The nastiness each brings to the table is what makes them really interesting together, so long as they are able to pick their spots for the big hit. They did that incredibly well together at the U18s and it paid off in a big way.
Sieloff has underrated mobility and really strong defensive awareness, too. He seems like a good fit and is probably the only true shut-down defenseman on the left side. That vastly increases his chances.
Skjei was paired with Seth Jones at that same tournament, and they too were dominant at the U18s. Skjei is bigger, but less physical than Sieloff, while playing a similar defensive game. He has enough offensive ability to jump into plays and contribute in that way, but his best asset is his defense. While Skjei has struggled at Minnesota in his freshman campaign, his skillset would appear to be better served in this type of tournament, particularly with his elite skating.
That said, it will come down to which Team USA needs more… Skjei’s size and skating or Sieloff’s physical game. Both move the puck well enough and each has good defensive awareness. Based on the way practices ended up in New York, it seems to me the U.S. is leaning a little more towards Sieloff at this point.
That leaves McCabe, who as an all-around contributor seems like a good fit for this team, contributing offensively and bringing a good physical game to the defensive zone. His skills make him fully capable of slotting into just about any role the U.S. can throw at him.
He spent a lot of time with Connor Murphy in New York. If that pairing holds up, McCabe would be a little more free to contribute offensively with true defensive-defenseman Murphy able to cover well. The former NTDP teammates might be a good match together at this stage of their careers.
The U.S. has some tough decisions yet, but they can go confidently into the tournament with whichever seven they choose. The final roster will be announced on Dec. 22.
Some other notes from today’s practice based on reports…
— According to Matt Lavanco, who took in the camp, Alex Galchenyuk saw some time back at center after playing primarily on the left wing Monday. Galchenyuk got a little work in between Johnny Gaudreau and Riley Barber. That line also saw some power-play time together with Jake McCabe and Jacob Trouba on the back end.
— According to Mike Morreale, U.S. head coach Phil Housley specifically mentioned how he likes the enthusiasm and chemistry of the line of Gaudreau-J.T. Miller and Rocco Grimaldi. Expect that trio to see more time together.
— Steve Lepore reported that Derek Stepan, current New York Ranger and captain of the 2010 U.S. National Junior Team that won gold, addressed the players Monday.
— The team is currently on its way to Finland and will have a 6:45 p.m. (Finland time) in Helsinki Wednesday. Nothing like hoping off the plane and on the ice.
— Team USA’s first exhibition game will be Thursday against defending gold medalist Sweden. It will air live on NHL Network in the U.S. at 12:30 p.m. ET.