The clock is ticking. Decision time just seems to keep creeping closer for the U.S. selection of its pre-tournament camp. A number of U.S. candidates are really beginning to separate themselves from the pack in what is still a fairly shallow selection pool.
The good news for Lucia is that a lot of the key guys the team was expected to be counting on are playing pretty well this season. Some of the players that had good camps, but were looking more like bubble candidates, aren’t having the greatest season though.
The relative lack of depth from this year compared to others is noticeable, particularly when looking at the candidate pools of other countries — Canada and Sweden specifically. That’s going to require some guys to really step up when the tournament goes live.
There’s still some time for candidates to make their case.
Coming up after the jump, a look at which players are surging and some of the bubble guys fading away from consideration without a quick turnaround.
Nic Kerdiles — C/W — Wisconsin — The last WJC watch, I wanted to make a note of Kerdiles’ switch to center for the Badgers this year. With Wisconsin idle last weekend, Kerdiles still has an 18-game point streak intact dating back to last season. This, despite the fact he’s been moved to the middle, which is actually his natural position. Kediles has eight points so far this season in six games. The U.S. is a little lighter down the middle, which makes Kerdiles’ move to center that much more interesting. It gives the U.S. an option. He’s a lock to make the club, but now the question becomes, where will he line up. He did play the wing in camp, but if he can continue to show an ability to produce from the middle, it’s something the U.S. is going to have to consider.
Riley Barber — RW — Miami — I thought we’d see Barber and Kerdiles on the wings of Team USA’s top line, but if Barber can be the featured scorer for Team USA, like I think he probably will need to be, that may allow Team USA to keep Kerdiles in the middle. Barber is tied for third in the nation with 15 points, which includes nine goals. Everything about Barber’s game screams top-line threat for Team USA right now. He’s playing with speed, using his body effectively to help generate offense and he’s a proven finisher. He remains one of the most encouraging forward candidates for Don Lucia’s group and should play huge role in the bid to repeat.
Ryan Hartman — C/W — Plymouth — I’ve heard good things about how Hartman has played for the struggling Whalers. Battling some significant veteran losses from last season, Hartman is one of the featured players for Plymouth now. The Blackhawks first-rounder is still one of those strong all-around guys that should play a significant role for the U.S. He has 21 points in 20 games, but is a surprising minus-14 so far this year. I don’t normally put a lot of stock in plus-minus, but that’s a somewhat surprising number in a 20-game span for Hartman. He’s playing center, primarily, but I think he’ll be looked to more on the wing for Team USA. A contact that recently saw Hartman told me his offensive skills are really standing out this year. His style of play, which includes a hard-nosed edge, adds a needed element to Team USA. If there’s production attached to it this year, all the better.
Hudson Fasching — RW — Minnesota — This is the Hudson Fasching everyone saw when he was dominating the Minnesota high school ranks at 15. The big forward is reaching that offensive potential that was masked a bit in two years at the NTDP. Playing on Minnesota’s top line all year, Fasching has points in all eight games he’s played this year, which is good for 11 points. He’s going to the hard areas, making defenders miss and showing off some improved distribution ability. Most of all, he looks like he’s playing with confidence. He may have come into the season as a bubble player, but he’s looking more and more probable, if not close to lock-worthy for Team USA. It’s been really impressive to watch this year.
Adam Erne — RW/LW — Quebec — Erne has done well in the QMJHL with 21 points in 20 games, but in his third season in the league, I think it’s fair to expect more. While a point-per-game pace is certainly nothing to sneeze at, the Q is one of those leagues where gifted offensive talents should produce at a higher clip. Erne remains a strong candidate for a spot in the top six with his elite-level shot and strong playmaking ability. He’s a guy the U.S. will need producing.
Vincent Hinostroza — C — Notre Dame — After watching Notre Dame take on Minnesota this weekend, I’m even more convinced Hinostroza deserves a longer look for the WJC team. This weekend he centered Mario Lucia, yes the son of Team USA’s head coach, and Austin Wuthrich and four points, all assists. Hinostroza, unfortunately, had to leave the second game early after getting kneed by Tom Serratore. That probably hurt Notre Dame’s comeback bid in a 5-4 loss. With 12 points already this season, Hinostroza is Notre Dame’s leading scorer. Each game he looks more comfortable and his speed, something Team USA always values, makes him dangerous. If Hinostroza is injured severely enough, though, it could take him out of contention, which would be a real shame.
Ian McCoshen — D — Boston College — Playing like he’s been there for years, McCoshen continues to excel defensively for the Eagles as a true freshman. He has six points so far this season, so he’s been able to contribute at both ends of the ice. The fact that he’s a top-pairing defenseman on one of the nation’s best teams is a pretty solid indicator of where he’s at right now. McCoshen has a lot of poise in all zones and looks like a possible top-four option for Team USA with how he’s played.
Jon Gillies — G — Providence — Gillies continues to solidify his standing as Team USA’s No. 1 guy in net. Despite seeing around 30 shots a night, Gillies has posted a solid .944 save percentage and 1.73 goals-against average en route to a 6-1-1 record. The big netminder is proving his freshman campaign last year was no fluke and he’s more than ready to be an elite No. 1. He’ll follow in the big skates left by Jack Campbell and John Gibson, and he’ll be just as vital to anything the U.S. is able to accomplish, if not more than his predecessors.
Taylor Cammarata — RW — Minnesota — Cammarata has kept producing so far this year and has nine points. He’s playing on Minnesota’s second line and has done extremely well with Justin Kloos at center, his former Waterloo Black Hawks linemate. It is probably going to be tough for Lucia to leave Cammarata behind at this point. That said, the U.S. head coach will have to decided how Cammarata fits with the U.S. club. Could he play top-six for Team USA right now? That, I’m less sure about.
Henrik Samuelsson — C/W — Edmonton Oil Kings — The big forward has been doing extremely well in the WHL this season with 30 points in 21 games, which ties him for eighth in the league. It’s the kind of start he needed to have after an underwhelming showing at Team USA’s camp this summer. Samuelsson has really strong hand skills, which could offset the fact that his feet are only average. He also brings an element of size and grit that the U.S. could potentially use. The way he’s playing should at the very least get him to camp to show what he can do in front of the coaching staff.
Ones to Watch
Patrick Sieloff — D — Abbotsford — Sieloff has yet to return to play since getting an infection in his hip after an injection. He is currently working with the Calgary Flames medical team while rehabbing, but with no known timetable for his return, it’s probably time to start worrying about his ability to play for the U.S. in December. Sieloff has appeared in only two games this season and hasn’t suited up since Oct. 5. With his WJC experience from last season and physical, defensive style, he probably would be a top-two pairing defenseman for Team USA. With Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones already out, losing Sieloff would be a disastrous hit to the depth.
Cole Cassels — C –Oshawa — Though not invited to the summer evaluation camp, Cassels may be earning some consideration for Team USA with his strong start in the OHL this year. The son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels has 28 points in 21 games so far for the Oshawa Generals and is the leading scorer among Americans in the OHL. He’s a 1995-born, so there may be some older centers that might be better fits for this year’s team, but he’s at least worth taking a look at for this year with his strong start.
Anthony Florentino — D — Providence — The true freshman defenseman has been getting solid playing time for the Friars this year and has done extremely well. With seven points in eight games, he’s been producing from the back end. Having made the jump from prep to college so seamlessly, he should get some further consideration. At 6-1, 210, he has good size and mobility, so that helps on the big ice, too. He still has another year of eligibility, so there’s no real rush if he needs some more seasoning, but he’s having an eye-opening year for sure. Team USA’s holes on the blue line crack the door open for unexpected candidates like Florentino to get a shot.
On the Decline
Zach Stepan — F — Minnesota State — The Mavericks were expected to run through the WCHA this year with a lot of returning players from last year’s team, but that hasn’t happened. Stepan was expected to be one of the top freshmen players in the country as well, but with just a goal and an assist through six games, it’s not going as planned. Though he had a pretty solid camp this summer, Stepan needed to have a better start and could be playing his way out of contention for this year’s squad.
Thomas Di Pauli — LW — Notre Dame — This isn’t really Di Pauli’s fault. He was actually playing pretty well, but the big winger has missed the last five games with injury, including what could have been a big evaluation game with Don Lucia on the other bench this weekend. If Di Pauli returns soon, he’s a guy that could be a strong candidate for Team USA’s shut-down line with some tremendous defensive capabilities. Him getting hurt makes for a tougher decision though if they can’t get a good look at him before the roster is announced.
Stefan Matteau — LW — Albany — With just one point in 12 professional games so far, it’s tough to gauge Matteau at this time. I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s fading from contention just yet. His NHL and AHL experience are valuable. Another point of encouragement is that he’s kept his penalty minutes down this year. That was a big concern about his game last time around and could have been why he was left off the team. Matteau has size and the type of power game the U.S. could use. Still, the lack of production has to be a point of concern.
Underagers on the Rise
Nick Schmaltz — F — Green Bay — After a record-setting performance at the World Junior A Challenge, Schmaltz is bound to get some interest. He had 12 points in four games, including a tournament record-tying eight assists. He was clearly on another level from players there. The thing about Schmaltz, however, is that a player under the age of 18 making the World Junior team from outside the NTDP makes the team. As impressive as Schmaltz’s performance was at the WJAC, it’s a big, big, big jump to the WJC from there. Not only that, but it’s increasingly rare that a player makes the club while currently playing in the USHL. The last to do it was Danny Kristo in 2010, but he was a known commodity to USA Hockey having played in two World U18 Championships previously while at the NTDP. I believe Schmaltz has earned consideration, but would not be stunned to see him left off the pre-tournament camp roster. Can’t eliminate him from consideration outright though.
Jack Eichel — C — U.S. National U18 Team — Coming off a solid seven-point performance at the U18 Four Nations Cup, Jack Eichel now has 20 points in 12 games. That’s a pretty high scoring clip for the U18 year. He had to miss time with injury, but looks as good as ever. Of the under-age players, I think Eichel would probably end up the most likely to make the team, if any do at all. He’s a strong center with good skating and skill. Though the NTDP also plays in the USHL, the fact that they play college competition is part of the separating factor. It helps prepare them a bit more for the level of play at the World Juniors, so that’s why I think Eichel has an advantage, if only a small one over outside under-age players. The young 1996-born player is not even draft eligible until 2015, so if he were to make the team, it would be a huge boost to him in this early stage.
There’s really no reason to count anyone out at this point, but the clock is ticking and a lot of the decisions aren’t getting any easier. This could be a very interesting camp roster when it is announced in early December.