After taking a look at the team as a whole and examining how everything happened and what we can learn from it, there’s a far simpler task ahead. It’s time to look at how the individuals performed under the bright lights of the World Junior Championship.
When you take a look at the whole group, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint where the failures or successes were as so much needs to be accomplished as a group to have success in a short tournament. Looking at the individual tells some of that story as well, but a player either had a good tournament or he didn’t. You can also see the elements in a player’s game that will translate well in future tournaments or in that player’s career.
The one thing I always try to caution people about is judging a player in the big picture based on the painfully small sample size of a tournament like the World Junior Championship. This U.S. team via an early exit only played five games. It’s hard to tell a big story in a five-game sample. So if a player didn’t perform well or struggled at this tournament in some capacity, it’s not necessarily an indication of what that player is as a prospect and where he may be going.
So with that in mind, I’ll keep the focus mainly on the tournament, but with other viewings in mind I’ll add some thoughts here and there about the bigger picture as well. Here’s a look at Team USA’s 13 forwards.
Players listed in alphabetical order, NHL rights in parenthesis. Tournament stats follow each player capsule.
Riley Barber (WSH) — Team USA’s captain had himself a pretty strong tournament overall, I thought. He scored a goal in each of the four preliminary games, surpassing his WJC total from 2013 and added two assists, including one in the quarterfinal game against Russia. Early in the tournament, Barber looked like he would be able to put the team on his back at times and was too strong and too fast for a lot of the opponents. He looked a little less dominant in games against Canada and Russia, but was a factor. His skating ability and finish were certainly notable. I really liked how he carried himself in camp and in his comments after the tournament. Barber never made excuses for what happened to the team and put the onus on them for what happened. The growth I’ve seen in Barber in the last two years as a player is nothing short of remarkable. He always had talent, but he keeps pushing his game to another level. The skating and his ability to drive the net or get off the right shot makes him a very dangerous player going forward. With what he’s done at Miami University and now in two World Junior Championships, he is a guy to watch for sure. 5 GP, 4-2–6, 0 PIM
Andrew Copp (WPG) — Centering the line that was consistently Team USA’s most dangerous is certainly no small feat. Copp was dominant physically and with his speed early in the tourney and remained a factor in the last two games as well. He didn’t manage to score any goals, but did end up with five assists, which tied him for the team high. Copp showed some touch to go along with his gritty style. His speed isn’t that natural quickness of skill players, but he skates with power and wins a lot of races. Copp was overpowering opponents a lot and winning a lot of puck battles. He was excellent in the faceoff dot until the last two games when he was on more equal footing with other centermen. For me, Copp was Team USA’s most effective center in all three zones and made the 2014 edition of The Grind Line go. They weren’t just there as a shutdown group, they were looked to for offense as well. Copp really helped make that happen and that was why he was one of Team USA’s best three players as named by the staff after the tournament. Considering where Copp was a year ago at this time, still finding his way in college hockey, he’s grown into a really intriguing pro prospect. 5 GP, 0-5–5, 2 PIM
Tommy Di Pauli (WSH) — Di Pauli was on Team USA’s fourth line and at times found himself rotating in and out. He also saw time on the PK and on a lot of shifts gave Team USA a spark with some energy. Di Pauli was effective in the role he was asked to play, finished the tournament with three assists and was a guy the coaches could throw into a lot of different situations confidently. I think there’s actually quite a bit more for Di Pauli to tap into as a player in the next few years as he gets some more offensive responsibility. I liked what he was bringing skill-wise on top of very sound defensive play. He plays hard every shift and does his job in all areas of the ice, so he’s got a really good base to continue to build his game on. This tournament was another step forward for him. 5 GP, 0-3–3, 2 PIM
Jack Eichel (2015) — The Eichel Hype Machine is definitely still humming along rather well after a solid performance. As an under-ager Eichel averaged a point-per-game with a goal and four assists in the tournament. He centered Team USA’s second line and was probably Team USA’s most skilled forward overall in the tournament. His size, skating and puck skills were all on display throughout the event. Eichel won a ton of puck battles with bigger players, at times he seemingly had the puck glued to his stick while fighting through checks. I liked the patience he showed in a lot of situations, letting lanes open for him and giving his linemates time to me themselves available for feeds. There were a few youthful errors here and there and every now and again Eichel would try to force a shot through that he shouldn’t have, but those are things that will get erased with some time and experience. For the role he was asked to play and where he is as a player, I thought he did really well. Having the experience from this year is going to put him in a position for an even more prominent role next season. It was a very big week for a player who can’t even be drafted until 2015. 5 GP, 1-4–5, 0 PIM
Adam Erne (TBL) — As a player that was expected to be a go-to source for offense in a top-six role, Erne didn’t really deliver in that regard. You can see the tools in terms of his speed and physical strength and Erne did manage 13 shots on net in the tournament, but he lacked an ability to create much for himself and never really seemed to mesh with his linemates in Jack Eichel and Ryan Hartman. Finishing with only one assist was well below expectations and probably below Erne’s own expectations as well. I never thought Erne lacked the competitiveness or willingness to do a lot of the harder things on the ice, which is where I’m encouraged. He’s going to be back next year and with this year of experience, he’s probably going to have to be a key guy next time around. I chalk this one up to a bit of a tough week as opposed to Erne having played poorly. He did show some flashes of really good moments, but wasn’t able to string enough of them together this time around. 5 GP, 0-1–1, 0 PIM
Hudson Fasching (LAK) — I thought Fasching was the breakout player of the tournament for Team USA. His power forward presence on Team USA’s most effective line with Andrew Copp and Stefan Matteau for much of the tournament was really fun to watch materialize. Fasching was Team USA’s best forward below the faceoff dots in the offensive zone. He was able to create some offense with his ability to shield the puck and good enough hand skills to make a few moves. Fasching was rarely beaten in puck battles and made a lot of really good decisions with the puck. He finished with four points, but it feels like he had a hand in more than four goals with the way he was able to establish a presence in the offensive zone so few U.S. players could. If this is where his game is compared to last year, I wonder if he has another gear yet to get to. If he does, Fasching is going to be a really high-end prospect. As of right now, he’s approaching that level already with his increased foot-speed, refining puck skills and that already massive frame. He’s eligible to return next year and very well could be a big-time player for the U.S. in 2015. 5 GP, 2-2–4, 2 PIM
Ryan Hartman (CHI) — Unfortunately, the lasting image of Ryan Hartman’s World Juniors may be him sticking out his stick from the bench as Russia celebrated his empty-net goal, which was a very poor decision on his part and dangerous as well. Now, since this is an assessment on his play… I thought Hartman was pretty good for much of the tournament. I’m not sure if he was quite 100 percent while playing after returning from an injury earlier in the month. He’s got some good puck skills, but I thought particularly earlier in the tournament, the puck was jumping on him a bit and he may not have had as much confidence in his ability to handle it. Hartman definitely got better as the games wore on and when he was able to get into his game, he really excelled. He’s a tough guy to play against, from his physical style to his strength on the puck when he has it. Hartman did a nice job of fighting for offense, too. He just plays hard and really complimented Jack Eichel well by making himself available a lot. As a second-year guy, he did a lot of good things. Hartman may have expected to dominate a little more, but I think he was a threat a lot and plays a game that is going to translate really well to the NHL. 5 GP, 2-2–4, 4 PIM
Vince Hinostroza (CHI) — Over the first four games I thought Hinostroza got better and better. He played on the fourth line almost the whole tournament, but he made that line more offensively threatening when on the ice. He showed some great puck skills and speed throughout the tournament and used the big ice really well. He has a really high motor and it seems to get going even better when he has the puck. Hinostroza made some nice plays throughout the tournament and had his breakout game against Germany with four points. He only managed one more the rest of the tournament, but given the role he was asked to play I thought he was fine. Hinostroza did end up struggling a bit against Russia and saw his icetime dwindle in that game, but taking the whole of the tournament, I thought Hinostroza showed he belonged and that he has a very bright future as well. 5 GP, 3-2–5, 0 PIM
Nic Kerdiles (ANA) — Kerdiles ended up as Team USA’s leading scorer and I really liked what he and Riley Barber were able to accomplish together as wings on the top line. He showed some good offensive instincts throughout and was able to create with his size and getting to the hard areas. Kerdiles took quite a few nasty hits in this tournament, with a couple from behind, but he just kept coming back, which was great to see. Kerdiles seemed to be better in those tighter-checking, more competitive games, registering points in each of Team USA’s three relatively close games. Kerdiles isn’t an overly flashy player and when he focuses on playing that north-south game, he’s really tough to contain due to his size and strength on the puck. You can see why Wisconsin is so much better when he’s in the lineup. 5 GP, 2-5–7, 4 PIM
Stefan Matteau (NJD) — For a lot of the tournament, Matteau was excellent. His physical strength and speed were factors in every single game. He scored three goals, including a big one against Russia in the first period. As much as his skills were a factor, the penalties he took were as well. Matteau took five minors, one in each game. If we were looking solely on talent, Matteau’s tournament was exceptional. Those minors were costly, however. Canada and Russia scored power-play goals with Matteau in the box. It was an area of his game that was a big reason he was the last cut last year, so it’s hard to ignore in any evaluation of how he played this year. Again, the strength, the toughness and the speed all show why he has a potential to be a very good NHL player in the future, so the penalties don’t mar his NHL future, but it’s an area he has to clean up going forward for sure. When he, Andrew Copp and Hudson Fasching were going, though, they were an absolute force. Teams didn’t know how to handle them. 5 GP, 3-1–4, 10 PIM
Danny O’Regan (SJS) –O’Regan was handed a lot of responsibility as the center for Team USA’s top line. He did get injured in the tournament and missed the Germany game. He managed just one goal in the tournament and no assists, despite playing with two of the better offensive players on the squad. That was definitely below expectations for a player who has become a pretty solid playmaker at the collegiate level. The U.S. needed more out of him and I’m not sure if he was at 100 percent in those last two games or not, but he didn’t register much of an impact in either. I don’t even think he played poorly, there just wasn’t a lot to show for his efforts. Barber and Kerdiles are guys you’d want to do the heavy lifting offensively for the top line and O’Regan complimented them pretty well, but the line wasn’t as effective as it could have been, particularly in late-game situations. 4 GP, 1-0–1, 4 PIM
Quentin Shore (OTT) — Shore played a fourth-line role for Team USA and was somewhat limited in the impact he could make, but he did have some really nice moments in the tournament. He was solid in defensive situations and was a good penalty-killer. Shore is not the fleetest of foot, which was noticeable at times in the tournament, but he still managed to be effective. Shore had a few good efforts on draws as well, particularly against Russia when he won seven of nine faceoffs. I was a little surprised Shore ended the tournament without a goal, but he did only manage five shots. He has a really solid release, but I think in his role, the offensive side of his game was significantly curtailed. Tough tournament to judge completely, but Shore was solid when called upon and did a lot of little things really well in terms of getting engaged in the defensive zone. 5 GP, 0-2–2, 0 PIM
Zach Stepan (NSH) — Stepan had to sit out a game after getting injured in the first game of the tournament. He was mostly Team USA’s 13th forward and even saw some spot duty on the top line when O’Regan was hurt. The thing I liked about Stepan is that no matter what line he was on, he helped bring a different look to that whole trio. He showed off some solid skating ability and quietly put up two assists. I still struggle finding out what kind of player Stepan is going to be, but I think he could develop into a highly productive college player and may yet have more of an offensive ceiling to reach for a pro career. He only had three shots in the tournament, but I think once Stepan gets more comfortable, he’ll be better at finishing off plays. He was able to get the puck up ice, but struggled with the decision-making when he had a little more time and space. Getting injured early in the tournament may have thrown him off a bit to start, but I liked what he brought when he was on the ice and the versatility he afforded the coaching staff with the lineup. There’s a lot of upside there for sure. 4 GP, 0-2–2, 0 PIM
Coming soon, the conclusion of our 2014 World Junior coverage with a look at the defensemen and goaltenders.