Two players were released from Team USA’s training camp roster ahead of the 2014 World Junior Championship Sunday. The roster is not yet finalized for the tournament, however, as one more forward will have to be sent home, but the defense and goaltending positions are set.
Defenseman Brett Pesce and forward Henrik Samuelsson were the two players sent home as the roster now sits at 14 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies.
More on the cuts that were made as well as what Team USA may do next as it attempts to finalize the roster.
Samuelsson, who is a U.S.-Sweden dual citizen, had a hard time finding a role on the roster after being tried at multiple slots in the lineup. Never able to really establish himself in camp, Samuelsson ends up one of the odd men out up front. He has really good size and physicality, but the footspeed was probably a step behind the other flyers. Additionally, he wasn’t all that effective on the power play and did not appear to be a strong enough option on the PK. Head coach Don Lucia has been preaching the importance of special teams and having all players able to play on the power play or penalty kill. Without being able to show that versatility, Samuelsson was not a surprising cut. It’s unfortunate for the player as he has Swedish heritage and played professionally there briefly, but the Coyotes first-rounder is still a solid prospect. Just a tough roster to crack.
For Pesce, it may have been a bit of an issue of versatility. A gifted defender, Pesce showed some good instincts in his own zone and was an intriguing option to play a shutdown role. The UNH defenseman sometimes struggled with the pace of the competition however and didn’t have some of those extra puck skills like most of the other D in camp. Team USA is heavy on left-hand shots, but with Jaccob Slavin and Matt Grzelcyk showing flexibility in the lineup, they gave the U.S. two options that can play on just about any pairing. Pesce likely would have had to play protected minutes. His upside as a prospect remains high however as he develops his defensive style a bit more. The decisions on defense were always going to be tough and Pesce ended up just outside.
The U.S. still has one cut left to make before midnight on Christmas Day. The team doesn’t necessarily have to finalize its roster then, as long as it only registers 19 skaters with the IIHF. Leaving one spot open would mean two players would have to sit out, but it may be necessary.
The reason for the delay is some uncertainty with health problems according to Team USA’s general manager Jim Johannson, without naming names as to who is causing the hold up.
That said, wingers Adam Erne and Tyler Motte have not played since the team arrived in Sweden. Erne is an expected lock for Team USA’s top six, while Motte could play a defensive role, possibly even as a 13th forward.
Erne’s coach told French-language paper Journal de Quebec today that the winger was recovering from a concussion, but a USA Hockey spokesperson would not confirm that report.
Without knowing their readiness, Team USA has to wait to make a final decision. Losing Erne in particular would create a bit of a change in roster construction more than likely.
So the waiting game continues, but Johannson says the plan is to have the roster finalized before the team’s first game on Dec. 26. It’s certainly an inconvenience and one the U.S. knows all too well.
Last year, the defensemen were not finalized until after Team USA’s final game as the team awaited improvement in the status of Connor Murphy, who was hurt in the pre-tournament camp. He ended up being healthy enough to play and Matt Grzelcyk ended up being sent home with Patrick Sieloff being added to the roster. It was a bit of an uncomfortable situation, but a necessary one to finalize the team and it’s tough to second guess after a gold-medal win.
So we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. It’s obviously not ideal, but that’s why they travel to Europe heavy a few players. We’ll have more as the situation develops.