Back for a limited time only, I’ll be providing some thoughts on Team USA in the build-up to the 2019 World Junior Championship starting today with the camp roster.
Team USA’s bid to improve on a bronze-medal finish and extend an unprecedented three-straight medals streak alive will start in Everett, Wash., with the start of training camp. USA Hockey announced the 29-player preliminary roster that will be whittled down to 23 before the World Juniors begin on Dec. 26 in Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.
This should be an interesting group for Team USA, with several available returnees from last year’s squad. As the Americans in this age group showed during the summer camp, they’re going to be a fast-paced team that can get involved physically and should have more than enough skill throughout the lineup.
That said, there is going to be a Brady Tkachuk-sized hole in the lineup as the Americans are not expecting to get the Ottawa Senators forward. He was a dominant force in last year’s tournament and is now having an incredible start to his NHL season. Team USA simply does not have an adequate replacement for a player with Tkachuk’s skill-set, but they’re going to be able to supplement with some decent depth.
So let’s take a look at the roster.
GoaltendingEmbed from Getty Images
I think the battle for Team USA’s No. 1 goalie position is wide open. They have three solid goaltenders, but the decision from who should be the guy is far from easy. If we’re looking purely at talent, underager Spencer Knight might be the best option. But Kyle Keyser has been a star for the Oshawa Generals this year and will be coming into the tournament with one of the best save percentages in the OHL. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau has played in some high-pressure, high-level games for Northeastern over these last two seasons — most notably during the Huskies’ historic 2017-18 campaign. It’s not the simplest of calls.
Kyle Keyser, Oshawa Generals (BOS): Keyser had a decent showing at the team’s camp this summer, showing why the Boston Bruins awarded him a contract despite his never being drafted. The Coral Springs, Fla., native has the best save percentage among primary starters in the OHL with a .931 mark. Keyser, however, has no international experience and had a tougher time during last year’s OHL playoffs. This would be the biggest stage he’s played on yet. Still, when you’ve got a guy coming into the tournament playing as well as Keyser is, he is very much in the conversation as the No. 1.
Spencer Knight, U.S. National U18 Team (2019-eligible): The Spencer Knight hype train has left the station and it’s picking up steam. The 17-year-old is widely considered one of the best American goalie prospects in some time, at least since John Gibson went in the second round in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. That said, one NHL scout told me, emphatically, that Knight will be the best goalie the NTDP has ever produced. Now the question becomes how much faith Team USA puts in him on the big stage of the World Juniors. He did play in last year’s World U18 Championship as Team USA finished with the silver medal. Knight didn’t have his best showing there, but playing a schedule that includes USHL, NCAA and international opponents this year, Knight has a .924 save percentage while splitting time with Cameron Rowe. I also thought Knight had the best performance of the goalies I saw in Kamloops at the summer camp.
Cayden Primeau, Northeastern University (MTL): Of the goaltenders available, Primeau may have the best overall resume at this point, going back to his USHL days. Now in his sophomore season at Northeastern, Primeau’s numbers haven’t been spectacular — though still very good. It’s just not the incredible .931 he had as a freshman last season in backstopping Northeastern to a Beanpot title and NCAA tournament berth. He’s been on relatively big stages in his young collegiate career. He also has a fair amount of international experience, having played in the Ivan Hlinka tournament and putting together a stellar performance in the 2016 World Junior A Challenge. He also was a backup for the gold-medal team at the 2017 World U18 Championship. That all will help, but I don’t know that it has locked him into the No. 1 spot just yet. Hard to argue with his track record, though.
DefensemenEmbed from Getty Images
This is an area where I think USA lacks. Both Canada and Sweden have particular advantages among their blue lines. That said, the U.S. got a lot out of a shallower group last year and should expect a bump in performance from each of their returnees including Quinn Hughes, Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson. As has been a growing trend, the U.S. is heavy on left-shot defensemen. There just isn’t an overly strong crop of righties in the mix, but they did manage to bring in some intriguing options to camp to see if there’s a fit. The good news for the Americans is that they have a few lefties on the roster who are more than capable of playing their off side. Here’s a look at the D corps.
Mikey Anderson, Minnesota Duluth (LAK): As both a returnee from last year’s team and a left-shot defenseman who essentially always plays on his off-hand side for UMD, Anderson is a virtual lock to make Team USA. Anderson has solid two-way capabilities, which will come in handy. It also doesn’t hurt that his regular D partner at Minnesota Duluth is Dylan Samberg. I’d expect them to stay together for Team USA, likely as the second pairing. I would not be surprised to see them get a lot of tough matchups. Anderson has three goals and three assists so far this season.
Michael Callahan, Providence (ARI): One of the more surprising adds to the camp roster, Callahan wasn’t invited to the summer festival. In fact, his teammate Ben Mirages was invited and made it through the first round of cuts. Ultimately, the team may have found a more desirable option in Callahan. Providence is one of the best defending teams in the country and having a player with Callahan’s skill set could help on the PK. I’ve only seen him a little bit, so it’s hard for me to say one way or the other how strong his chances are, but he has good size, good mobility and he’s another defensive-minded guy to bring into the mix to see if there’s a decent fit.
Ty Emberson, Wisconsin (ARI): Another guy who makes the camp despite not being invited to Kamloops over the summer, Emberson certainly earned his shot to be in this camp. First off, he’s a right-shot defenseman, which is a big plus. Additionally, he’s been seeing his role continually expand at Wisconsin, playing on both the PK and power play. He’s also often partnered with fellow camper K’Andre Miller, being the more steady and stable guy while Miller tries to take more chances up ice. It’s worked very well for the former NTDP teammates so far. I just was at Wisconsin last weekend and I thought Emberson has played very well in the three live viewings I’ve had this season. He’s a really good skater and while he’s not a guy who compiles points, he moves the puck very confidently.
Quinn Hughes, Michigan (VAN): A returning player, the highest-drafted player on the team and one who may be playing some of his best hockey right now. Hughes was USA’s most dominant player at the Kamloops camp after seeing his role diminished during last year’s bronze-medal run. Heck, he ended up playing more at the Men’s Worlds than he did at the WJC (and played extremely well). This time around, Hughes should be one of the most utilized defensemen, running the top power-play unit and playing a substantial role in Team USA’s ability to transition out of its zone. He will also probably be the player under the most scrutiny during the tournament with anxious Canucks fans and Vancouver media following him perhaps even as fervently as they follow Team Canada.
Joey Keane, Barrie Colts (NYR): Having had a chance to review and reflect a little more, I feel like I really missed the boat on Keane last year despite overtures to the contrary in the scouting community. I started coming around late, but it was probably too late. After seeing him at the end of last season on video and watching him up close at Kamloops, this is one impressive all-around defenseman. He has good offensive tools, but what impresses me most about Keane is his gap control and ability to close on forwards quickly. Keane has good footwork and puts pressure on, can get involved physically and can be an all-situations player for Team USA. He’s one of the guys I feel like should be a lock for this team and for my money is the most talented among right-shot players on USA’s roster.
Phil Kemp, Yale (EDM): A no-frills shutdown defenseman, Kemp has both size and hockey sense. He could be a low-lineup defenseman who sees a lot of power-play time for USA. You just shouldn’t expect much in the way of points. That’s why I don’t know if Kemp’s position is completely safe. He can capably move the puck, but is not a puck-mover. He is such a smart player, though, and has some cachet at USA Hockey as a former NTDP captain and U18 gold medalist. Kemp made it all the way to the final game in Kamloops and is probably being given every chance to make the team, but with the number of blueliners in there and Kemp’s somewhat one-dimensional nature, I haven’t penciled him in on the final roster just yet. If he makes it, I could see him in lower minutes and on the PK.
K’Andre Miller, Wisconsin (NYR): The continued growth Miller has shown from his sophomore year of high school, which was his first year playing defense, to now is nothing short of remarkable. Miller is now in his fourth season as a blueliner after two solid years of development at the NTDP. He’s playing substantial minutes for Wisconsin and has shown some improved offensive capabilities. As his confidence grows, so too has his game, as he’s become a much more effective two-way defenseman. He’s one of the physically strongest and biggest players in this group. Additionally, Miller is the top scoring freshman in the nation following last weekend. He wasn’t able to participate in the summer camp due to illness, but I have a hard time seeing him not making the final roster based on his play to date.
Dylan Samberg, Minnesota Duluth (WPG): Samberg played his way into a more substantial role for Team USA as the World Juniors wore on last year. Only a year removed from playing high school hockey at the time, he showed a maturity and stability in his game that made his number easy to call in key situations. It should be more of the same this year as Samberg is likely going to log significant minutes against tough competition, probably with his regular D-partner Mikey Anderson. Should he play big minutes, Team USA would likely want to see some points from him as well. Sandberg isn’t exactly an offensive defenseman, but he moves the puck extremely well and I think the ice is going to open up for him a bit more at this level.
Mattias Samuelsson, Western Michigan (BUF): The log jam among quality left-shot defenseman on this team is further complicated by Samuelsson, who is already a top-pairing defenseman for Western Michigan as a true freshman. I still think he has more offensive tools than he’s been able to show in his career. He has six points through his first 14 collegiate games — a respectable mark in the tough NCHC. Samuelsson is probably best known, however, for his physicality. He is already built like a pro defenseman at 6-4, 218. He also has good mobility for a big guy and tends to keep everything in front of him. I think there’s a strong likelihood he makes the final roster in a shutdown role.
Jack St. Ivany, Yale (PHI): One of the surprises of the roster unveiling, St. Ivany is a big right-shot defenseman who can move the puck pretty well. I really liked him in the USHL last season and thought he was a standout at last year’s World Junior A Challenge. He has six points through his first nine collegiate games and offered the U.S. a chance to get a really good look at another righty that might fit into what they’re trying to do. St. Ivany wasn’t in the summer camp, so it’s going to be all about proving he can hang with this group and the pace they want to play at.
ForwardsEmbed from Getty Images
I really can’t overstate how much this team is going to miss Brady Tkachuk. There isn’t really anyone like him in the system that can do what he does. That said, I think there is enough to work with here for the U.S. to put together a contending team in Vancouver. It all starts with Jack Hughes and there’s really nice center depth down the middle with Josh Norris, Ryan Poehling and Jack Drury among the most likely to be pivots for USA. There’s also a good mix of skill, speed and work ethic, with an emphasis more on skill. Jason Robertson and Oliver Wahlstrom are natural scorers, Joel Farabee and Sasha Chmelevski are do-everything kind of players. Now Team USA just has to find the right mix and the right kind of depth to make sure there’s always someone to pick up the slack if the scoring drops.
Evan Barratt, Penn State (CHI): Currently the top scorer in the NCAA with 25 points through the Nittany Lions’ first 15 games, Barratt is unlikely to play a top-line role for the Americans. That said, his ability to produce on top of playing a more hard-nosed brand of hockey is going to make him an important asset when it comes to scoring depth and making sure the U.S. is more effective at imposing their will on their opponents. Barratt had a solid camp in Kamloops, but now he’s becoming a high-end power center in college hockey. I think it’s more likely he plays wing for this group, potentially on the third line. I also think his spot on the final roster is pretty safe.
Noah Cates, Minnesota Duluth (PHI): Cates was one of the more pleasant surprises for me at the summer camp. He’s versatile, which is why I think he’s got a great shot at making the team and being used in a variety of roles for Team USA. He plays with speed and good energy and might provide some additional scoring depth. I could see him potentially being on the third or fourth line should he make the final roster. Cates currently has six points through 14 games for the talented UMD Bulldogs.
Sasha Chmelevski, Ottawa 67s (SJS): I think Chmelevski did a ton to endear himself to the coaching staff during his time in Kamloops. You can put him on your top line or your fourth line and he’ll just do whatever is needed. I was so impressed with his defensive tenacity. Meanwhile, he’s a top scorer in the OHL — tied for 11th in the league — with 36 points in 27 games. You can put him at center or on the wing and get really good minutes from him no matter what. I think he’s a lock for the final roster and could be a very important player if Team USA is to make a run.
Logan Cockerill, Boston University (NYI): Speed is the name of the game with Cockerill who will be one of Team USA’s quickest forwards if he makes the final cut. Like many of Team USA’s forward options, he hasn’t been overly productive to start his sophomore season with five points in 12 games for the Terriers. That said, he showed some solid skill at the camp in the summer and I thought he really developed into a reliable winger during the second half at BU as the Terriers turned their season around and earned a tournament berth. While not the biggest guy, Cockerill’s ability to play with pace and get in behind defenders gives him a decent shot. I haven’t written him in pen on the final roster, but I think he has a pretty strong chance.
Cole Coskey, Saginaw Spirit (2019-eligible): This is the one player I didn’t have on my radar at all. I didn’t really hear much about him as an option, which is kind of unusual. At the same time, I think Coskey is a pretty solid addition to bring into camp just to see. I think his chances might be a little slimmer, but he is having a strong year in Saginaw. I saw Coskey last season live and he didn’t do a ton that jumped out at me, but he’s bigger and physically strong. I could see him scratching and clawing his way into a depth role, but it’s going to be a tougher battle for him.
Sean Dhooghe, Wisconsin (2019-eligible): He’s one of the smallest players in college hockey, but he continues to endear himself to teammates, fans and coaches with his compete level and overall character. I think if Dhooghe makes the team, it’s as a 13th forward with an opportunity to help in the scoring department while not being a drag on the team with limited ice time. He has been a producer in international tournaments in the past, played admirably in camp, and had a hot start to his sophomore season at Wisconsin. He has seven goals and three assists for the Badgers. I watched him last week and he had a fair game. I think he has to prove he can offer some offense for the Americans to take him.
Jack Drury, Harvard (CAR): I think Drury can be the team’s fourth-line center as a reliable shot-blocker, penalty-killer with a touch of offense. He’s going to need to show the American coaching staff that he can play at high speed and close on pucks quickly. He’s not the most amazing skater, but he is exceedingly smart with his positioning and anticipation. I liked him a lot at the team’s camp and he’s stood out in the few Harvard games I’ve watched on film this year. Drury also has a pretty good shot and has enough offensive tools where he’s not just a grind-it-out center. That’s a huge advantage and a big reason I think he’s on the final roster. Drury has 12 points through his first 11 collegiate games with Harvard.
Joel Farabee, Boston University (PHI): A Swiss Army knife kind of player, Farabee has good skill, excellent speed and an unrelenting motor on the ice. His numbers at BU are not blowing anyone away right now, but I’ve watched a few of their games and Farabee is creating some quality chances for the Terriers. He has seven points in 13 games and I think is probably Team USA’s best option as a top-line left winger. To me, he’s a lock for the final roster and should be an offensive catalyst for this team, especially with the quality of Team USA’s center depth this year.
Jack Hughes, U.S. National Under-18 Team (2019-eligible): What’s left to say that hasn’t already been said? He’s going to be Team USA’s youngest skater, but he’s also going to be their most important. By far the most talented player on the team, Hughes has speed, puck skills, hockey sense and creativity in bunches. He is going to be a constant target of opposing teams and everyone is going to try to slow him down. Hughes has routinely beaten the extra focus put on him and even though everyone knows about him now, he’s still producing at a ridiculously high clip against college, international and USHL competition. He has 45 points in 23 games and hasn’t been held off the score sheet since Nov. 1. In his most recent international tournament, the U18 Five Nations, Hughes scored 16 points over four games. This is his time to shine on the biggest stage of his young career.
Tyler Madden, Northeastern (VAN): One of the guys that had to earn his way onto this roster without being part of the summer evaluation camp, Madden has been excellent as a college freshman. I thought he faded down the stretch of last season in the USHL, but the rebound he’s had at Northeastern has been substantial. Madden has 11 points through 13 games so far and has showcased some solid skill. I also think his skating has improved a bit. One of the knocks on him during his draft year was being more consistent with his effort and being harder on pucks despite not being an overly big guy. I think he’s gotten physically stronger in the last year and the skill level hasn’t faded. He’s an interesting one to watch in camp for sure.
Josh Norris, Michigan (OTT): After the shock of being part of the Erik Karlsson trade, Norris has really stepped up his game in an expanded role with the Wolverines this year. He is second on Michigan to USA teammate Quinn Hughes with 17 points in 15 games while serving as the No. 1 center. He can play in the middle or on the wing for Team USA and is also a returnee from last year’s team. I think his position is safe, now it’s just a matter of finding where he’ll be most effective within this lineup.
Jay O’Brien, Providence (PHI): It’s been a relatively tough start to the college season for O’Brien, who has dealt with injury and a lack of production. I haven’t had a chance to watch a Providence game with him in the lineup yet, but I think he’s in this camp on the back of such a strong showing in Kamloops in August. O’Brien is a terrific skater and he had a nose for the net in camp, too. The question I have is with the time he’s missed this year and the fact he’s still trying to find his legs in the NCAA gets him ready for the tournament now. He proved in the summer that he can hang, but I think he has to prove himself all over again. If he can remind them of the guy from Kamloops, there’s a better chance he makes the team, potentially in a third-line or 13th-forward role.
Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (MTL): A returning player from last year’s team, Poehling should be a key guy this time around. I thought he was only OK for Team USA last year, playing more defensively and contributing some offensively. I think he’s better, stronger and a year smarter this year. I’ve watched a few SCSU games on film this year and I’ve really liked the way Poehling has played. He’s versatile and getting even more assertive at both ends of the ice. He has 15 points in 14 games for the Huskies and I could see him as either the second or third center for Team USA, playing in a variety of roles. An obvious lock to return.
Jason Robertson, Niagara Ice Dogs (DAL): Currently second in the OHL with 52 points in just 29 games, Robertson is playing exactly how Team USA will need him to in Vancouver. He is a natural goal scorer who can use his size well to score in a variety of ways. I think he’s going to end up as a top-six scorer for Team USA even though he had his ups and downs in Kamloops. There just aren’t a ton of forwards playing as well as Robertson is right now in USA’s player pool. Give him a good playmaking center like Hughes or Poehling and you should be able to count on Robertson to put the puck in the net at a pretty high rate at the WJC. His 27 goals also rank second in the OHL.
Oliver Wahlstrom, Boston College (NYI): After a tough summer camp and an even tougher start to his season at BC, Wahlstrom may end up making the team more on the basis of his body of work, which is substantial. He is a high-end goal scorer when he’s on and the U.S. probably can’t afford to keep someone with that skill set home this year. With only three goals and one assist in 12 games, I’d be a little concerned about Wahlstrom’s confidence. That said, most of BC’s team isn’t scoring aside from David Cotton. It’s been a weird year and I don’t think he has a center on that roster that can allow him to just get open and shoot. That’s going to be different on this team. Keep in mind that Team USA was in this very same position with Kieffer Bellows in 2013. He wasn’t producing a ton at BU, but they took him anyway and he scored two huge goals in the gold-medal game. Wahlstrom might do well getting a fresh start with Team USA.
Sammy Walker, Minnesota (TBL): I had started hearing Walker was potentially in the mix for Team USA when I went to Minnesota’s game against Michigan State on Black Friday. After watching that game, I instantly saw why. Walker has speed and creativity and a great on-ice work ethic. Bob Motzko, Team USA’s head coach over the last two years at the WJC, just raved about Walker’s character on top of his play. He also noted that he’s been one of the team’s most consistent freshmen. I could see him playing his way onto the roster after not being in camp over the summer. He just has to play exactly as he as at Minnesota where he’s produced nine points in 13 games.