This post has been edited to reflect additions to the roster made on Dec. 10.
When Team USA convenes for training camp on Dec. 15, joining the 15 forwards (detailed here) will be nine defensemen and three goaltenders. Since the team can carry three goalies, they’re all safe. Thursday defenseman will be cut before the World Junior Championship starts on Dec. 26.
Team USA’s strength coming into the tournament is in its goaltending. Jon Gillies and Anthony Stolarz are among the leaders in their respective leagues and have growing track records of success. Gillies was on last year’s team as a backup and would appear to be the favorite to take the No. 1 role again this time around.
Don Lucia wouldn’t commit to a starter during today’s teleconference however, leaving the door slightly ajar for Stolarz to wrest some minutes from Gillies. Thatcher Demko, a late 1995-born player will be the team’s third goalie and will gain some valuable experience for the next WJC, for which he’d be favored to start.
If the U.S. has any hopes at medaling this year, the goaltending is crucial.
On D, there is a lot of uncertainty. There are no returning players on the back end thanks to Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba preoccupied with NHL duties and Patrick Sieloff going down with an infection earlier this year.
With only one cut to make, it’s going to be a very interesting competition on defense.
Coming up after the jump a look at all three goalies and eight defensemen invited to camp.
Thatcher Demko (2014) — Boston College — As the youngest player in college hockey this year, Demko has held his own pretty well. He has only made five appearances due to injury and splitting duties with the more experienced Brian Billet. That said, Demko has international experience and in the games he has played for BC this year (save for one really bad one) has looked very much ready for this level. He is unlikely to be needed very much as it seems as though Gillies and Stolarz will get the looks for the No. 1 job, but if either goes down with injury, Demko should be ready. Demko is an A-rated prospect by NHL Central Scouting for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Jon Gillies (CGY) — Providence College — The presumed starter for Team USA coming into camp, Gillies has done nothing to detract from that status during his sophomore year at Providence. The 6-5, 215-pound netminder has been sensational once again with a 10-1-2 record, .945 save percentage, 1.81 goals-against average and three shutouts. He is once again one of the best goalies in all of college hockey. Gillies was only OK at the summer camp in Lake Placid, but he did have some nice moments. That shouldn’t cause too much concern however. Having been to the World Juniors and being a part of a championship team, Gillies has some great experience to pull from. However, if he is to be the starter, there’s more pressure on him than ever before in his career. This is a big moment for Gillies in his development. It’s up to him to either seize it or wilt under some of the strongest competition he’ll have ever faced. Expect Team USA’s D to give up a fair amount of shots, too.
Anthony Stolarz (PHI) — London Knights — Another behemoth netminder, Stolarz comes in at 6-6, 220. He had a solid showing in the summer camp and is off to a really strong start to his first full OHL season. He joined the Knights halfway through last year and did pretty well for himself. Right now, Stolarz has an OHL-best .929 save percentage and is third with a 2.39 goals-against average. He is quick and athletic and may still need some refining, but the talent is clear. The big thing Stolarz will have to do to push for some starts is to keep things simple and not try to do too much in the net. I still think Gillies will edge him out for the No. 1 job, but there’s a lot left to play out over three exhibition games leading up to the tournament. The U.S. is lucky to have such talent between the pipes.
*LS – left shot, RS – right shot
Will Butcher (COL) — LS — University of Denver — After a really strong showing at the summer camp, I was not surprised to see Butcher named to this roster despite light production in the early goings of his freshman year at DU. He does have three goals and an assist so far. A gifted puck-mover with some sleek skating ability, was probably one of the most consistent Dmen in the Lake Placid camp. He’s going to be in a real battle for a final roster spot on this team, though, I believe. Anthony DeAngelo is a similar player having a huge year in the OHL so far. Butcher is a little more of a known commodity coming out of the NTDP and playing in the last two World U18 Championships. That familiarity helps, but DeAngelo is going to get a real honest look. If Butcher can manage some of the risk inherent in his offensive-minded style and show adequate defensive play in camp, he’s going to have a good shot at making the final roster.
Connor Carrick (WSH) — RS — Hershey Bears — One of two players with NHL experience on the roster, Carrick scored his first NHL goal earlier this season while with the Washington Capitals. He’s remained somewhat productive at the AHL level with Hershey as well and was hands down the best defenseman at the summer camp in Lake Placid. He has four points in 13 games in the AHL this season and should relish an opportunity to play within his own age group again. Carrick is a strong puck-mover, with a physical side and solid defense. His offensive sense has really improved and he picks his spots really well, which is so important on the big ice. He was part of the 2012 U.S. Under-18 Team defense that allowed just four goals in an entire tournament. Expect him to play in top four role for Team USA and be relied on for some solid minutes.
Anthony DeAngelo — RS — Sarnia Sting — DeAngelo has had an utterly remarkable year for the Sarnia Sting after being a mid-camp cut this summer in Lake Placid. He definitely earned his way back into consideration with what he has done in the OHL. In just 27 games this year, he has put up 39 points including nine goals. He is 14th in the OHL scoring race overall and by far tops among defensemen — 11 points clear of his closest competitor. With some dynamic offensive capabilities, DeAngelo is clearly a strong candidate to make Team USA. His defense is only OK and that’s where he may find a real challenge in a guy like Will Butcher. Also, we’ve seen a lot of top-producing players go dry at the WJC. It’s hard to believe, but the jump from any of the North American junior leagues to the WJC is still a gigantic one. A good showing in camp, where he makes good decisions and helps stoke the offense is going to put DeAngelo in a really good position to make the club.
Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) — LS — Boston University — The agonizing last cut from last year’s team, Grzelcyk actually traveled with the U.S. squad to Ufa as an injury to Connor Murphy delayed the final selection. Team USA even played a game before the final decision was made. The U.S. brass decided to go with Patrick Sieloff over Grzelcyk. Now it looks like Grzelcyk, who got off to a bit of a slow start at BU, is poised for a big role on this team. He has seven points for BU this season. A very smart, smooth-skating defenseman, Grzelcyk is sound in both ends. He is a terrific puck mover and doesn’t take too many risks out there. The 5-10, 175-pound rearguard thinks the game at a high level and is a natural when it comes to handling the pace the WJC throws at players. His poise is going to be a real asset to the U.S.
Ian McCoshen (FLA) — LS — Boston College — McCoshen has had no trouble transitioning to the college game this season at BC. He is probably the best two-way defender in this group. At 6-3, 206, he has good size and mobility. As he’s shown at BC, he can put up points, too, with eight this year including three goals. He has a physical edge to his game and a calm demeanor on the ice. There isn’t a lot of wasted movement with McCoshen, which is especially helpful on the big ice. Having played for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL for three years, he is adept to playing on the bigger ice sheet as they also used an Olympic size surface. I expect him to play top-four minutes on this squad and he could be used in a variety of situations. This could be a real eye-opening tournament for McCoshen, who was the first pick of the second round in the last draft.
Brett Pesce (CAR) — RS — University of New Hampshire — Pesce is a really strong defensive defenseman, which is why I think he’s in this camp. He could bring balance to this relatively mobile defensive corps and provide a stable shut-down guy for Team USA. There is the question of his ability to deal with the forwards that the WJC will throw at him as he seemed to struggle with the pace a bit in the summer camp. Pesce is a pretty smart player, though. At 6-3, 175, he also brings some needed size to this relatively small defensive group. If the U.S. decides to bring both Butcher and DeAngelo to keep with a more mobile defensive corps, that could leave Pesce out, but I don’t see that as a real strong possibility. The camp will be very important for Pesce to show he’s ready for the big challenge ahead at the WJC.
Steven Santini (NJD) — RS — Boston College — When the Devils spend their first pick on the draft (in the second round) on a defensive defenseman, you know there has to be some real talent there. That’s certainly the case with Santini. With Patrick Sieloff out, Santini becomes all the more valuable due to his knack for physical defensive play. On top of that, he is a strong skater who is very comfortable on a big ice surface in any zone. There’s not a ton of offense with Santini, but he can get the puck out of his zone well with a good first pass or his feet. At 6-2, 201, he has good size and physical strength. He was also the best defenseman at last year’s World Under-18 Championship when he was playing some ridiculous minutes against every team’s top line. He shut down some elite prospects while on the ice. I’m expecting Santini to make the team and play some solid minutes, maybe not top-four, but he’ll be available in a lot of key defensive situations, I’d assume.
Brady Skjei (NYR) — LS — University of Minnesota — The only first-round pick on Team USA’s blue line this year, Skjei made it to this stage of the selection process last season, but wasn’t quite ready. He is this year and among Team USA’s left-shot invitees, he is the best defender. A high-end skater with good size and some physicality, Skjei offers a potential top-two pairing defensive defenseman with enough offense to get by. He has four points this year at Minnesota and is a plus-9 on the nation’s best team. Having his own head coach on the bench for Team USA should help his usage a bit as I’d expect him to get big minutes anyway. The only thing Skjei has to be careful about, and this got him into some trouble at the summer camp a few times, is not trying to do too much. Because of that excellent skating ability, sometimes he’ll try to be the one-man breakout and sometimes it works. When it doesn’t it can mean trouble for his goalie. Assuming Skjei can manage that risk and pick his spots well, he is an asset on D who will definitely help the team a lot.
Jaccob Slavin (CAR) — D-LS — Colorado College — As I mentioned above, I haven’t gotten to see Slavin much, but as the camp announcement drew nearer, his was a name I kept hearing pop up as a potential surprise invite. I was a little surprised not to see him on the final roster based on that. Yet here he is now. Slavin has also dealt with some injuries this year, so the U.S. staff likely waited to see if he’d be good enough to go. He has seven points in just 10 games as a freshman this year, which is obviously really solid. It’s especially good on a team that has really, really struggled to generate any kind of offense. His seven points tie him for the team lead. Slavin is a lanky 6-3, 195-pound defenseman with good mobility and range. His puck-moving has always been a strong tool for him as he posted 30 or more points in his last two USHL seasons. He also has some international experience, having played in the Ivan Hlinka and World Junior A Challenge.
For more thoughts on the roster: