The U.S. National Junior Team has been finalized ahead of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. As expected, the roster will feature the maximum of 23 players with three goalies, seven defensemen and 13 forwards.
Defenseman Chad Krys was the final player released from camp, making him the second would-be returnee to be cut from this team after Alex DeBrincat was let go two days earlier.
With the team finalized, some thoughts on the roster as a whole…
First off, using the line chart from Team USA’s 4-0 win over the Czech Republic in the final exhibition here’s what the skater lineup is probably going to look like when the Americans open the tournament against Latvia Monday.
Clayton Keller (ARI) – Colin White (OTT) – Tage Thompson (STL)
Jordan Greenway (MIN) – Luke Kunin (MIN) – Troy Terry (ANA)
Erik Foley (WPG) – Jack Roslovic (WPG) – Jeremy Bracco (TOR)
Kieffer Bellows (NYI) – Tanner Laczynski (PHI) – Joey Anderson (NJD)
Patrick Harper (NSH)
Caleb Jones (EDM) – Charlie McAvoy (BOS)
Ryan Lindgren (BOS) – Adam Fox (CGY)
Jack Ahcan (2017) – Casey Fitzgerald (BUF)
Joe Cecconi (DAL)
All three goalies made the team and based on the way they structured it in the exhibitions, my guess is that the depth chart will go like this:
Tyler Parsons (CGY)
Joe Woll (TOR)
Jake Oettinger (2017)
Parsons played the first exhibition game against Switzerland, while Woll took the entire second game, earning a shutout against the Czechs. Oettinger, who some have pegged as a potential first-round pick in this year’s draft, being the possible No. 3 goes to show just how deep Team USA is at this position this year. I maintain that all three would be a fine starter.
Now let’s talk about the roster…
The hockey world is still buzzing, snickering and snarking about the Alex DeBrincat cut. I still think he should be on the team, too, but I laid out the rationalization for the decision here.
There’s no doubt that Team USA is built to play fast, which is why you saw Troy Terry and Joey Anderson make it over DeBrincat. That said, the U.S. looks a little less dangerous offensively now, after having already lost Brock Boeser to injury and deciding to leave DeBrincat home.
Even with that said, the fact that they may have Kieffer Bellows as a fourth liner shows how committed this team is to having all four lines contribute offensively. Even better, Patrick Harper as a 13th forward gives the U.S. a dynamic offensive player to plug into the lineup in a variety of different ways. I have a feeling he will end up being a bigger factor in the tournament than his spot in the lineup currently suggests.
The one thing that is also notable about the U.S. setup from the Czech game is how flexible it is. What you see to start the tournament may not be what you see at the end of it.
This is just my opinion, but the way it is set up now is not necessarily the optimal offensive lineup.
That top line with Keller, White and Thompson is extremely deadly on paper, but if the U.S. isn’t getting the secondary scoring they need, it is easily mitigated with a lineup restructuring.
Keller is a natural center and has produced from that position at a high level throughout his career. Luke Kunin is definitely better as a two-way pivot, but has played right wing a lot recently for Wisconsin. Sliding those two guys around, with players like Bellows and Harper easily plugged into elevated roles with their offensive capabilities. Those are just a few of the ways that the U.S. can make adjustments if they need to.
Ideally, the U.S. will just be able to produce as constructed, but having such a flexible roster can be a huge key. Sometimes it’s not about who they bring, but the adjustments that are made over the course of the tournament. It’s hard to do because of how short the tournament is, but I like the options available to head coach Bob Motzko here.
The DeBrincat cut is going to be scrutinized a lot and I think it’s justified. But I also think this U.S. team still should be able to score a lot of goals with this group.
It was already known that the defense is going to be a weak spot for this team, but it was smart for the U.S. to go heavy on puck-movers.
Six of the seven defenseman on the roster I would qualify as above-average puck-movers at this level. Charlie McAvoy is going to be the minutes-eater that leads the blue line and sets the physical tone for the team. He has fine offensive abilities, but can he ever lay the boom, too.
Joe Cecconi is the lone blueliner that would be considered a true shutdown guy in my view. On the opposite end, Adam Fox and Jack Ahcan are the higher-end puck distributors, with Caleb Jones and Casey Fitzgerald possessing strong two-way capabilities. Ryan Lindgren hasn’t had amazing numbers at Minnesota this year, but can move the puck decently enough and has some quality defensive capabilities.
Some may have been surprised by Krys getting cut this year, but I was not among them. He was on the team last year as an underager and the tournament ate him up a little bit. I think he would be better with a year experience, but it looks like Ahcan beat him out. There’s a little more offensive potential in the St. Cloud blueliner and you can’t blame Motzko for sticking with a guy he knows and trusts.
The World Junior field this year is incredibly intriguing with the number of teams dealing with losses to the NHL. Finland lost its entire top line from last year’s gold medal team to the pros. Canada has quite a few would-be eligibles, but still has a very deep team. Russia was largely undaunted by NHL losses, but are always a medal threat, while Sweden very well could be the best team on paper heading into the tournament.
Those are the teams that are the biggest threats to gold and I think the U.S. has enough to match up with them. As we all know, the World Juniors can come down to one bad night or even a bad bounce.
The U.S. has a roster where the margin for error is pretty slim. I think they have enough offensive talent to produce in the tournament, but would feel more comfortable about it if DeBrincat was there.
The defense is going to be an area of concern, but if they’re able to excel in the areas of puck retrievals and clean zone exits, two things that pretty much every guy back there should be able to do fairly well, they’re going to mitigate some of the concerns about the group.
Goaltending, as always, is a big key. Picking the right guy to be the No. 1 is important, but they have not one, but two safety nets if things don’t go as planned there. A solid performance in net can cover up a lot of warts. They have three guys capable of that.
I don’t think anyone should view the U.S. as a favorite, but they are very much a contender as constructed.