MINNEAPOLIS — A roster of 22 players hoping to make the U.S. National Junior Team will play Minnesota State University’s hockey team in Mankato tonight. According to head coach Don Lucia, tonight’s match-up represents a critical evaluation point in paring down the roster of 29 players brought to Minnesota to compete for spots.
“It’s extremely important,” Lucia said of the game, as it concerns players on the bubble to make the team. “They have to show that they’re deserving of a spot. We have some thoughts on guys, but until you actually drop the puck and see that type of environment, it’s that last evaluation. The evaluation isn’t just tonight, it’s part of it, but this is that final evaluation. There’s good players that aren’t going to be with us as we leave tomorrow.”
Lucia said the hope is to get down to 26 players before leaving for the remainder of the training camp, which will be held in Sweden. He also said that could change. It is likely two forwards and a defenseman will be sent home tomorrow morning. That will leave three cuts to make once the camp heads overseas.
Coming up after the jump, more from Lucia as well as the lineup and some thoughts on what to watch for.
“We want to start to forge the identity of our team,” Lucia explained as another point of emphasis for the game against Minnesota State. “We also know some key guys that are going to be on our team aren’t going to be playing tonight. It’s safe to assume the guys that won’t be playing tonight will be on the plane to Sweden tomorrow.”
Those players not playing tonight, who already have a ticket punched to Sweden are defenseman Matt Grzelcyk and forwards Nic Kerdiles, Riley Barber, Danny O’Regan, Andrew Copp, J.T. Compher and goaltender Thatcher Demko.
All of those players are highly likely to make the final roster as well, but Lucia did not want to say as much. He didn’t want to say anyone has made the team until they get through the rest of the camp.
Here’s what the forward lines will look like at least to start the game and in no particular order.
Stefan Matteau – Vince Hinostroza – Henrik Samuelsson
Adam Erne – Jack Eichel – Ryan Hartman
Tyler Motte – Quentin Shore – Hudson Fasching
Ryan Fitzgerald – Zach Stepan – Thomas DiPauli
Defense will look like this to start:
Will Butcher – Connor Carrick
Brady Skjei – Brett Pesce
Ian McCoshen – Anthony DeAngelo
Jaccob Slavin – Steven Santini
The goalies will split the action with Jon Gillies playing the first half and Anthony Stolarz playing the second.
Power-play units could potentially look like this as these were frequently utilized in practice:
Ability on special teams is going to be important for every player as Lucia wants a roster that has the versatility and depth to allow him some flexibility during the tournament.
“As we start to assemble, you’re looking at guys to playing on the power play and those that kill,” said Team USA’s head coach. “If we think we’re going to have six guys on the power play and penalty kill, it’s just not going to happen. To me, every guy has to be in our mind be able to do one or the other. We don’t want a guy that’s not going to be good enough on the power play, but really can’t kill. You’re going to need that versatility.”
The camp has remained lively as players continued to jockey for their roles on this team. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the game goes. I will be in Mankato providing some live analysis as well as a full recap post game.
The game is available on a pay-per-view basis through Minnesota State via a live America One stream. It is also airing on Charter cable in Minnesota and I believe it may be simulcast in other areas as well, so check your local listings. Your best bet will probably be the stream, which you can learn more about here.
What to Watch For
– Obviously, the big thing is watching the bubble players. All four centers in the lineup tonight would appear to have a lot on the line and plenty to prove. With O’Regan and Copp sitting, each of the four in the game tonight will likely have to play a variety of roles to make it all work.
– Jack Eichel is one of those four centers. The fact that he’s playing with Erne and Hartman shows that the staff really wants to see how he can play if given a top-six role.
Here’s what Lucia had to say about Eichel: “If he’s going to be on our team, he’s not going to be a fourth line player. We want to put him with guys that can score and see if he can play in that role for us. He’s been getting better everyday, like a lot of guys. He’s getting more comfortable. It’s more for a younger player that wasn’t at our camp this summer, we’ll be a little more patient with him and make sure he gets a good look to play in that type of role.”
Based on that, Eichel is likely going to be given every chance to make the club, so expect him on the plane to Sweden tomorrow. That said, he needs to prove he can play with those guys at a high level and tonight is a good opportunity to do just that.
– The defensive pairing of Connor Carrick and Will Butcher is one to watch tonight. They are both very good puck movers and seem to have some really nice chemistry. Butcher in particular looks particularly locked in, in this camp. He has been making some really nice plays on power play drills and showing some really good jump.
– I think tonight could be a big night for Jaccob Slavin, Anthony DeAngelo and Brett Pesce, who I believe are the closest to the bubble on D at least at this point, though it is tough to know for sure. The D group has all looked pretty good in practices, but they’re only practices.
Pesce is going to be part of an intriguing pairing with Brady Skjei tonight and that could be a potential shut-down blueline for Team USA if both make it. DeAngelo is with Ian McCoshen, who has been a steady performer, while Slavin has been working with Steven Santini.
– Henrik Samuelsson and Stefan Matteau on the wings with Vince Hinostroza is a line with some intrigue. That could be a potential second or third line group and should get an opportunity to be more offensive tonight. Hinostroza is the smallest center in camp, so putting two power wingers with him can help make up for that. It should be a very physical, gritty line with scoring pop, which can be extremely effective in international play. We’ll see how they gel tonight.
– At forward, I think the most pressure could be on Ryan Fitzgerald, Quentin Shore, Zach Stepan and Tyler Motte. They’ll all likely get some PK duty tonight and will have to show they can play a role to make the team.
– As always, watching special teams is helpful for learning systems and who can potentially play those roles in Malmo.
– Tommy DiPauli and Ryan Hartman are both coming off of injuries and time off, as is Hinostroza. They all appear to be healthy and up to game speed, but getting some reps tonight should be helpful as well.
– The goaltending tandem with the Gillies and Stolarz will be interesting. I think the coaching staff wants to get these two as many game reps as possible to see what they have to work with. Both have looked strong in camp. That might mean less work for Thatcher Demko, who is likely to be the No. 3 anyway.
It’s about time to hit the road for Mankato. You can follow along on Twitter, or check back here after the game for complete analysis.