After taking a look at the U.S. National Junior Team as a whole and detailing the play of the forwards, it’s time to close the book on the 2014 World Juniors with the final looks at Team USA’s defense and goaltending. After coverage that dates back to June when the initial summer evaluation camp roster was named, this is the last piece on the tournament.
It’s always bittersweet when the coverage of one tournament ends, but with the Olympics on the horizon, there is plenty to look forward to in international hockey.
When it came to the 2014 U.S. National Junior Team, they had to find a way to make up for the losses of three defensemen from last year’s team that were eligible to return. Guys like Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones, currently plying their trade in the NHL, are irreplaceable. Meanwhile, Patrick Sieloff, still recovering from a staph infection, would have brought some great leadership and solid shutdown minutes to the roster.
Team USA counteracted those significant losses by building a very balanced defense corps that allowed for versatility in the lineup and had enough talent to roll the pairings throughout the tournament regardless of opponent.
The goaltending was an expected strength for Team USA coming into the tournament with Jon Gillies and Anthony Stolarz the top goaltenders in their respective leagues. Gillies ended up taking the reins and was dealt a mix of bad luck and allowed a few ill-timed rebounds that blemished his tournament a bit. Even with a few miscues, it’s hard to hang the early exit on goaltending.
Coming up after the jump, a look at Team USA’s defense and goaltending.
Players listed in alphabetical order. Draft rights in parenthesis, tournament stats after each capsule.
Thatcher Demko (2014) — Demko did not dress in a game for Team USA as the third-stringer. He will be eligible to return to the team next year and is the likely front runner to start. Even though he didn’t play, there’s a lot that can be learned in that role. Demko might not have enjoyed spending Christmas and New Year’s collecting dust, but his being in the building and watching the tournament and being around the team will help him prepare for what is likely his net next year.
Jon Gillies (CGY) — Gillies started four out of the five games and closed out the tournament with some uninspiring numbers. I’ve been asked a few times about what I thought of Gillies at the tournament and every single time this is what I’ve said: He didn’t lose Team USA any games, he just didn’t win them any either. What I mean by that is that sometimes you need your goalie to make a save he shouldn’t make in those tight games and steal a few goals. The U.S. got that against Slovakia, but not against Canada or Russia. I don’t think there were too many goals in the tournament he shouldn’t have given up, but rebound control seemed to be a major issue from start to finish, which is somewhat uncharacteristic in his play. Both of Russia’s first two goals in the quarterfinal came off of rebounds, at least one of which you’d have expected him to corral. That said, it’s hard to pin those 5-on-3 power play bombs from Nikita Zadorov on Gillies who may never have even seen those pucks. I don’t think Gillies played poorly. He wasn’t great, but he didn’t cost the U.S. anything in this tournament I don’t think. He’s still a pretty remarkable goaltending prospect. His size and calm demeanor in the net are going to carry him a long way. 4 GP, 2-0-0-2, 2.77 GAA, .892 SV%, 0 SO
Anthony Stolarz (PHI) — Stolarz only got one start and it was against Germany. He earned the shutout without having to do too much, but he made some nice saves along the way on 15 shots. The backup goalie can be really important in this tournament and by all accounts, Stolarz handled that job well. You have to be ready just in case, but when the net isn’t yours, you have to be a good teammate. All three goaltenders had a really solid relationship, which was refreshing to see. I’m sure Stolarz wanted to play more, but was gracious in taking a back seat. After watching Stolarz in both camps and in his one tournament start, I think the maturation of his game is notable. He was so raw in Lake Placid two years ago and when he started out at Nebraska-Omaha, but he’s flourishing as he puts his natural tools to good use. His quickness combined with a 6-6 frame could make him an elite goaltender one day. He has a long way to get there, but he’s already come quite a ways from being just a big goalie. 1 GP, 1-0-0-0, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%, 1 SO
Will Butcher (COL) — I thought Butcher actually had a pretty phenomenal tournament and excelled in the role he was asked to play. The only goal against he was on the ice for was the empty-netter against Russia. He may have been sheltered a bit in his usage, but when he was on the ice, he was able to bring an offensive element without being a liability. Butcher was very good as a power play quarterback and his skills at the offensive blue line kept a lot of plays alive. He finished tied for third on the team with five points, including a pair of power-play goals. Butcher moved the puck very well, he jumped into the offensive zone and got deep when they needed him to and his instincts were just all-around solid. Butcher should be a huge part of next year’s team as he is eligible for another crack at the World Juniors. He was paired with Steven Santini for much of the tournament, which also allowed Butcher to take a few chances here and there. They very well could be a top pairing for Team USA next World Juniors. 5 GP, 2-3–5, 2 PIM, E
Connor Carrick (WSH) — Part of Team USA’s top pairing defensively, Carrick joined Brady Skjei as Team USA’s primary shutdown pairing. Despite the fact that Carrick has good offensive instincts and puck-moving abilities, his best work came in the defensive zone. Using his physical strength in puck battles and sealing off the net-front, Carrick was really solid in his own end. He also aided the transition game a lot by getting pucks up ice quickly and every now again got into the offensive foray. He was robbed on a breakaway against Canada, which was probably his standout offensive moment in the tournament. Despite the fact that he had more of a shutdown role, he ended up with three assists and was helping generate some chances. His defensive game has come a long way in the last few years and he showed that he can compete against top competition and make it tough for them to score. 5 GP, 0-3–3, 4 PIM, +7
Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) — Grzelcyk ended up being named one of Team USA’s best three players of the tournament and though his tourney ended on a rather sour note, he was quite good over the five games. Grzelcyk blew a tire and turned the puck over for Russia’s empty-net goal, which was just a tough break. Grzlecyk however was a weapon for Team USA on the blue line. He made the team more dangerous offensively on the ice and finished second on the team with six points and also had 19 shots on goal, second among all players. His speed and puck smarts were certainly on display in this tournament. Grzelcyk doesn’t waste a lot of shots out there, he finds lanes very well and was a force on the power play. There were a few miscues in the defensive zone and when he and Jaccob Slavin were paired together on occasion, it didn’t go so well for Tea USA. That said, Grzelcyk played mostly well defensively and his offensive tools loomed very large in this tournament. He had a few chances late against Russia to tie the game, but good saves by Andrei Vasilevski kept those out of the net. I think this was an important tournament for Grzelcyk and a step forward for him in his development. He’s always been an intriguing prospect to me and I think he’ll remain so as he continues on in his development. 5 GP, 2-4–6, 2 PIM, +1
Ian McCoshen (FLA) — McCoshen ended up being the only Team USA skater to end up without a point and was one of two players to finish the tournament with a minus-1. He ended up switching off a lot with Jaccob Slavin on the pairing with Matt Grzelcyk and I thought unquestionably that pairing was better defensively with McCoshen on it. Other than that, I thought we’d see more offense out of McCoshen. He has a terrific shot, but only managed to get two on net in five games. Part of that may have been due to Grzelcyk handling the offensive duties on that pairing, but this was a very difficult tournament to judge McCoshen on. I think there were a few times he struggled with the pace a bit, but mostly he was capable. He is eligible to return next year and I’m sure he’ll end up playing a more prominent role, but based on what I saw in camp from him and at BC, I figured McCoshen would be a big-minutes, every situation defenseman and that just didn’t materialize in this tournament. 5 GP, 0-0–0, 4 PIM, -1
Steven Santini (NJD) — Santini’s play at the World Juniors seemed like a continuation of what he did at the U18s last year en route to best defenseman honors in that tournament. When it comes to pure defensive defensemen, there aren’t many players that have come through the U.S. system that are as effective as Santini. He wasn’t perfect in this tournament, but there weren’t a lot of times you had to worry about him at all. Santini is mobile, physical and while he doesn’t put up a lot of points, he moves the puck well out of the zone and has confidence in his feet to get him out of trouble. He laid some of the biggest hits of the tournament, and even scored a goal as a net-front guy on the power play while Team USA was experimenting. Santini was on the ice for two goals against, one of them was the first 5-on-3 PPG Russia scored. Nothing came easy for the other team when he was on the ice at even strength. His defensive capabilities made Will Butcher better, too, as Butcher had a little more freedom with Santini back there. I would not be surprised if Santini is the minutes-eating top defenseman on next year’s team. He’s more than capable to play a big-time role and face top lines. 5 GP, 1-0–1, 4 PIM, E
Brady Skjei (NYR) — As Team USA’s primary shutdown defenseman, Skjei did not disappoint. He played big minutes and made a good duo with Carrick against opponent’s top lines. There were a few miscues here and there, but those are to be expected when a player is used the way Skjei was. The majority of his tournament was very good as he did a nice job sealing off the net front, being physical deep in the zone and using his high end skating to his advantage. Skjei made a few plays in the tournament that really impressed me in USA’s transition game. He relies on his feet to get him out of trouble in the D zone and does it so well that he gives himself the time to make the right play with a pass up ice after clearing the way. Skjei was also physical and was able to be physical without taking a single penalty in the tournament. That’s pretty impressive for the competition he was taking on. I think Skjei still has some development ahead, but he played the way you’d expect a top-pairing guy to play. He didn’t really hurt Team USA and he made things tougher on the opposing forwards. 5 GP, 0-1–1, 4 PIM, +5
Jaccob Slavin (CAR) — I had been familiar with Slavin a bit from his USHL days and only got to see him a few times playing for Colorado College, so I wasn’t sure how he would do in this tournament. After a really good pre-tournament camp and with his play in Malmo, I’m intrigued about what he can be in the future. I thought Slavin did a fine job as a seventh defenseman, coming in to boost the offense when the U.S. needed some spark. He rotated a lot with Ian McCoshen going with Matt Grzelcyk. I think in the defensive zone, Slavin had two noticeable miscues with pucks that ended up as goals. I don’t think he was put in the best position on the plays, but against Canada and Russia, he was unable to get pucks out that ended up as even-strength goals against. Aside from those, I thought he was fine. Slavin did a nice job jumping into the play and getting involved a lot in the offensive zone. His goal against the Czech Republic basically iced that game in the second period. He has good size and I think his puck-moving capabilities are really sound. 5 GP, 1-1–2, 0 PIM, +1
That’s it for the 2014 World Junior Championship. Thanks again for following along and checking out the site. I will have some Olympic coverage here, but the bulk of my work on Sochi is going to be found at CBSSports.com’s Eye On Hockey Blog. Hope you’ll check that out as well.
Thanks again for sticking with the coverage throughout and I wish you a happy and healthy 2014.