Loading...

Follow The United States of Hockey on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook
or

Valid
Embed from Getty Images

It’s a little later than I would have liked to get this story up, but a late-tournament illness knocked me out of commission and the recovery took a little longer than I expected. Finally back on my feet, with a little distance from the tournament and a couple re-watches of some of the games and now we can finally wrap a bow on this tournament.

The silver medal always feels a little empty with it coming in defeat. You could tell by the looks on the U.S. players’ faces just how empty a feeling it was for them, falling just short of the gold medal thanks to a late goal from Finland after a valiant American comeback. However, the U.S. closed out the 2010s on an unprecedented four-year medal streak earning a gold, two bronzes and this year’s silver. Additionally, the Americans medaled in seven of the last 10 years, earning three golds, a silver and three bronze medals. It is a significant development in USA Hockey’s World Junior history, one that shouldn’t be overshadowed by the loss.

The tide has turned in the way the U.S. approaches this tournament and has dramatically turned in the expectations teams can enter it with. The U.S. has won 12 medals total at this event. Considering seven have come in the last 10 years, the shift is dramatic. It’s a credit to the improving and deepening player pool, to the standard set forth by the late Jim Johannson and the expectations the players have for themselves now.

While gold should basically be the expectation in any tournament the U.S. enters, I thought the 2019 version of Team USA overachieved thanks to strong goaltending, timely scoring and a really solid piece of coaching. This roster did not have the speed or the skill of some of the more recent U.S. entries at the World Juniors, but they managed to reach the final by dispatching a very, very talented Russian squad and fell just short against a Finnish team that found its game at the right time. The Americans were not the best or most talented team in the tournament, nor were the Finns, but that just goes to show you that nothing is a given in this tournament anymore. Everyone else is just good enough now to force each team to bring its best or suffer the fate of an early exit.

So with all of that as the setup, here’s a look at the 2019 U.S. National Junior Team with positional and player-by-player analysis.

Goaltenders

I thought this was going to be a position of strength for the U.S. going into the tournament and it absolutely was. The U.S. had three guys they could have had start games for them and ended up utilizing Kyle Keyser and Cayden Primeau, while young Spencer Knight was an active observer, getting a few games as a backup on the bench but not seeing the ice. Primeau ended up taking the reins and performed at an exceptionally high level when USA needed him most.

Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals/BOS): Keyser started against Slovakia and Sweden in the preliminary round, finishing 1-0-1-0. He was an absolute star in the tournament opener as Slovakia gave USA a pretty big scare. Against Sweden, USA looked awful to start and left Keyser out to dry a little too often. That said, I thought Keyser acquitted himself well on the biggest stage of his young career. He wasn’t as battle-tested as Primeau and may have also come down with an illness that cost him a chance at being the guy in the medal round, but that was unconfirmed. Either way, he was capable when called upon even if his statline (.872 save percentage) doesn’t look amazing.

Spencer Knight (U.S. National U18 Team/2019): The top draft-eligible goalie for 2019 may not have gotten into a game, but he’s the front-runner for the starting gig next year and probably the year after that. Being at the World Juniors, even as an observer, should serve the young netminder well even though it was quite a layoff of games for him.

Cayden Primeau (Northeastern/MTL): I can’t really say enough about Primeau’s performance throughout the WJC. He played against Kazakhstan and Finland in the preliminary round and ended up getting the start in the quarterfinals and held onto the job from there. He finished with a .937 save percentage over five starts, allowing only eight goals over that span. Primeau was the single biggest reason the U.S. servived a dogfight with Russia in the semis and was doing all he could to give Team USA a chance in the final. He made a lot of tough saves look routine with his excellent technique and positioning. Primeau is such a smooth goalie and as much as I liked him in viewings last year, I thought he was at his absolute best in the last two games of the tournament. He’s a big kid with a natural talent for the position and you can tell he really works on his craft. I think he’s become a big-time goalie prospect over these last two years and will only get better.

Defense

Embed from Getty Images

The point of biggest concern for me was the defense and I think that also proved true in this tournament. The depth was not where it needed to be for the U.S. to roll three pairs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the drop-off after Team USA’s top two defensemen — Quinn Hughes and Mikey Anderson — was significant enough that it made it difficult for the U.S. to do much when either of those two weren’t on the ice. That said, each defenseman had bright spots in the tournament and the two guys eligible to return next year — K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelsson — will have gained some valuable experience playing in some high-pressure situations. In the end, I think the U.S. needed more of a puck-moving element on the back end. There weren’t a ton of great options outside of the guys they picked, but the lack of skill on the back end was notable, particularly against the best teams in the tournament.

Mikey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth/LAK): Though he did not earn a selection to the media all-star team, Anderson was one of two Americans that got my vote for inclusion. He played major minutes in the tournament, playing a team high average of 22:31 per game, and always seemed to step up in the big moments. He got the offense cooking in a really bogged down game against the Slovakians, scoring the game’s first goal. Anderson scored the first goal in the dramatic four-goal comeback against Sweden, too. He always seemed to come through in key situations for the Americans. If there’s one complaint for his tournament, he took three penalties and they usually came after he got beat, which didn’t happen a ton. I came away from this tournament with a much better appreciation for Anderson’s offensive tools and respect for his character as both a captain and top defenseman. He had a really good tournament, finishing with five points.

Quinn Hughes (Michigan/VAN): Despite only recording two assists, I thought Quinn Hughes was a game-changing player for Team USA. He was the team’s best player over the course of the entire gold-medal game, creating rushes and opportunities with his superior skating ability. There were so many instances where he was able to extend plays and reset things when the U.S. was getting out of sorts just by skating pucks out of trouble. There were some miscues and turnovers which comes with the style Hughes plays, but I thought he was a significantly positive influence on a team that really didn’t have as skilled or as quick a team as in years past. His semifinal was probably his worst game, but Hughes averaged over 22 minutes a night otherwise and made a ton of plays that probably should have ended in the back of the net had some of his teammates been a little sharper with their receptions of his passes.

Phil Kemp (Yale/EDM): Kemp didn’t always have an incredibly noticeable tournament, but he doesn’t have a very noticeable game in general. That’s not his style. He is a defense-first player and that stood out in particular in the final. I thought he was great defensively in that game, maybe one of USA’s most reliable defenders in that one. Kemp just doesn’t provide a lot of offense and that’s going to make it harder for him to make an NHL impact down the line. He can make a good first pass and reads plays well, and there’s little doubt his defensive sense is of the high-end variety. If he can develop a smoother offensive game, he’ll have a better chance down the line and I think he would have helped USA more if he was a bigger support of their transition game. In the World Juniors, you can really benefit from players like Kemp, especially in tight games like the final and semifinal. In those kinds of contests, he was more than adequate.

K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin/Yale): Miller had a bit of an uneven tournament and didn’t make as much of an impact offensively, but he also dealt with illness right in the middle. He even missed a game due to the apparent stomach flu that battered the Swedish lineup and caught a few of the U.S. players as well. Miller had one assist in the tournament and essentially played bottom pairing minutes throughout the tournament. That said, I thought he and Mattias Samuelsson got some key shifts in the final when the game was still in the balance. He defended very well in the tournament and handled the puck well for the most part. Miller is still just scratching the surface of his ability. His physical presence is getting more pronounced and I think he could be an absolute force in this tournament next year. If I was giving a letter grade for his performance, it’s probably a C+ or maybe a B- grading on the health curve.

Dylan Samberg (Minnesota Duluth/WPG): He was essentially USA’s No. 3 defenseman in the tournament, getting significant minutes with Mikey Anderson. As a returning player, I had pretty high expectations for Samberg and I don’t think he met them. That said, he played well for stretches of the tournament and then there were others where he was a step behind and not managing the puck well. The game against Sweden and I think the gold-medal game were two of the performances I wish I could give him a do-over for. The Sweden game was overwhelming for him, while I had some serious puck-management concerns about him in the final. His ice-time went down in the third period of that game as the U.S. turned to Miller and Samuelsson more because Samberg kept turning the puck over. I’ve seen Samberg enough times to know how good he is as a defenseman, but I also thought this tournament showed that there’s still plenty he needs to work on before taking the next step.

Mattias Samuelsson (Western Michigan/BUF): I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been a pretty big Samuelsson fan since last season. I think there’s a lot more offense in his game than he’s shown in recent years. His role certainly didn’t put him in a position to produce here, but he also had zero points and didn’t get a lot of shots through. Defensively, I thought he was good for the most part. When he’s engaged physically, he can be an intimidating presence. That happened in a few games, but I would have liked to see him push the envelope even more. There were some instances in this tournament where I thought the pace got to him, but there were also games where I thought he stepped up and played a really mature, smart game. Overall, I think Samuelsson is better than what he showed at the World Juniors, but it wasn’t a disappointing tournament by any means for him.

Jack St. Ivany (Yale/PHI): Team USA’s seventh defenseman, it was hard for Ivany to get ice in the tournament. He averaged 5:37 a game and it was pretty clear that the coaching staff couldn’t put him out there in key situations. It wasn’t all bad for St. Ivany, as he played against Finland in the prelims with Miller out sick and he performed really well in that game. In the others, however, he had some issues picking up the rush and wasn’t able to get much going offensively. St. Ivany was one of the guys they didn’t have in the summer camp and I think sometimes those players get some advantages when it comes to making the team, despite the risk of not knowing. The one thing that summer camp does is it shows how a player can handle the pace and pressure of top players. The gap between the ECAC and the World Juniors is a big one and I’m not sure St. Ivany could manage it.

Forwards

Embed from Getty Images

The U.S. had to deal with Jack Hughes missing three games and did they ever miss him while he was out. The team was faster and better with Hughes in the lineup. It also gave them more flexibility to play with lines, which Mike Hastings did until the very last game. I don’t know that the U.S. ever found the right mix, but the fact that they were able to continually throw lines in the blender and get some sort of results is really good. Had Hughes been 100 percent and if he had been able to get some more chemistry in time for the medal round, the U.S. may have found more success in scoring in some of those key situations. In the end, they basically fell one goal shy of gold and they had some big-time performers up front — some expected and some not.

Evan Barratt (Penn State/CHI): Coming into the tournament as the NCAA’s leading scorer, Barratt had a great start to the tournament. He was Team USA’s best forward and maybe their best player against Slovakia, scoring a goal. That ended up being the only goal he scored in the tournament. It was a big one at the time, but losing Barratt’s production down the stretch wasn’t great. He played a pretty heavy game and I liked how he got on opposing defensemen and had the confidence to push the puck into the zone on entries. I think the U.S. had big plans for Barratt and they kept throwing him out there, but the points didn’t materialize in a way for Barratt to maximize his expected impact for this team.

Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth/PHI): I think Cates had a bit of an uneven tournament for Team USA, but he got better as the event went on. He was at his best in the medal round, scoring a beauty of a goal against the Czech Republic and setting up both goals in the gold-medal game. Cates was given a pretty prominent role in the lineup, playing top six minutes for a lot of the tournament. Early on, I’m not sure his play warranted it as he seemed a step off and didn’t have much by way of significant offensive contributions. I really liked his progression, though. He plays hard.

Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s/SJS): I thought Chmelevski was one of USA’s best players in this tournament. He played hard every single game, worked for his offense and made some huge plays over the course of the tournament. He ended up with seven points, tied for second on the team. He scored and had the primary assist on both goals for Team USA in the final, he had some key setups in the big comeback for a point against Sweden and he made himself a threat. I think Chmelevski was viewed as a more defensive-minded center for this team, even though the U.S. staff was well aware of his offensive capabilities. They got him on the power play at times and I thought his game really opened up when he was with either Ryan Poehling or Jack Hughes. Chmelevski is a legit prospect who I think has a substantial NHL future as he combines his skill with a great work ethic. I came away from this tournament with an even greater appreciation for him as a player, and I already thought he was pretty darn good.

Logan Cockerill (Boston University/NYI): He only had one assist, but it was a big one — on Oliver Wahlstrom’s goal against Russia in the semis. What Cockerill also had, however, was a lot of speed. He pressured defenders with his ability to get around them and his ability to get in on the forecheck. He played with a ton of energy and there were times where I was hoping we’d see even more of him. For long stretches of that gold-medal game, he was one of USA’s most active forwards. The stat sheet doesn’t do him justice as I think Cockerill really picked up his game when it mattered most.

Jack Drury (Harvard/CAR): He started the tournament as the 13th forward and may have been No. 12 on the depth chart when it was all said and done. That said, I thought Drury played effectively in the minutes he was given. He killed some penalties and made some defensive plays over the course of the tournament. He finished without a point, however, which included some time in the medal round playing on Jack Hughes’s wing. Drury isn’t a great skater, which I think limits his ability to produce, but I think his work ethic and hockey sense are up there with anybody’s.

Joel Farabee (Boston University/PHI): I thought Farabee was one of USA’s most consistent players from the start of the tournament to the end. He has good skill and speed, which was evident a lot during the tournament. Farabee also has that well-established work ethic where he’s not above getting into the hard areas to make plays. He averaged nearly 18 minutes a game as a top-line forward for the U.S. and finished the tournament with five points. He could play in just about any situation, against anyone. He’s eligible to return next year and I could see him doing so in a leadership role in 2020.

Jack Hughes (U.S. National Under-18 Team/2019): There seemed to be a sentiment out there that Jack Hughes didn’t have a great World Juniors. However, under the circumstances, I thought he was pretty good — sometimes great. He is the only U.S. player who had a point in every game he played. Granted, he missed three games with injury, but he made a positive impact in every game he played. The nature of Hughes’s injury was never made public, but coming back for the games that mattered and playing as well as he did was a good sign and also shows how competitive the 17-year-old is. There was no one more upset he wasn’t playing than him. Had he been 100 percent, I think you would have seen bigger points and some signature moments for Hughes, but that’s all part of the “what if” game now. Make no mistake, Hughes played well and was a continual threat when he was on the ice.

Tyler Madden (Northeastern/VAN): One of the better puckhandlers on Team USA, Madden was really good at getting pucks into the zone. He played a lot and at times was one of USA’s most dangerous offensive threats. He only finished with four points, though. He did score twice against Finland in the prelims, but I thought he became less effective in the harder games. It’s not that he was making soft plays by any means, because I think he showed some improved competitiveness and tenacity in tight games. It’s just that his style of game didn’t work as well against teams like Russia and the improved Finland in the gold-medal game. That’s not to say it won’t later, but it’s just that he still needs to hone his craft and work on finishing plays off because he has the moves to create plenty of offense. Overall, I think this was a really strong and positive tournament for Madden who showed that he has taken some big steps forward from last season.

Josh Norris (Michigan/OTT): Team USA’s No. 1 center and top faceoff man, Norris was utilized in just about every situation. He could provide offense, he could provide a defensive stop. He just was whatever the U.S. needed him to be. Norris finished the tournament with six points while averaging nearly 19 minutes a game as USA’s most utilized forward. I think the maturity in Norris’s game has allowed him to become more productive without losing the well-rounded aspects of his game. He can play the game at a fast pace and has shown tremendous progression from last year to this year, only increasing his value to Ottawa after acquiring him as part of the Erik Karlsson trade.

Jay O’Brien (Providence/PHI): O’Brien didn’t take a shift in the medal round for Team USA, though he did dress for the games. He was the 13th forward and the U.S. didn’t really find a spot to get him in. That said, O’Brien’s early-tournament play didn’t really give them much of a reason. I don’t want to call it a wasted spot because I can understand why O’Brien was there. He was one of Team USA’s more effective forwards in the summer camp, but his early showings at Providence and his early play at the WJC show there’s a lot of work to be done there. He’s still only a few months removed from prep hockey. The physical tools are there for him to be a really good player. He just needs to keep adjusting to the pace, especially when it comes to puck decisions. O’Brien isn’t making those plays at a high enough level yet, but that could come with a lot of development time at Providence.

Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State/MTL): Team USA’s leading scorer in the tournament, Poehling was also responsible for one of this team’s signature moments. He helped engineer one of the greatest comebacks in World Junior history as Team USA erased a 4-0 deficit with the last three goals coming off of Poehling’s stick in the final 6:30 of regulation. Poehling was named a tournament all-star and the MVP after finishing with eight points. Four of those eight points came in that epic showdown with Sweden. Beyond the points, I thought Poehling was a pretty consistent, reliable presence. He created chances, made some really nice plays and I think he’s shown that his skill level has grown majorly since his draft season. He’s not going to blow anyone away with any one thing that he does, but I think Poehling has a star quality about him. He talked a lot about the heart of the team through tears after the gold-medal game and I think he’s one of the guys that embodied that heart. He had some great chances in the final, and they just didn’t drop for him. Overall, I think Poehling had a pretty remarkable tournament.

Jason Roberton (Niagara IceDogs/DAL): Tied for second on Team USA with seven points, I think Robertson had a pretty interesting tournament. Four of his seven points came against Kazakhstan, but he was an impact player for USA throughout the tournament. I think the U.S. needed more goals from him, but he..

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Embed from Getty Images

VANCOUVER — The U.S. finished preliminary play with a 3-0-1-0 record, beating Slovakia, Kazakhstan and Finland, while dropping a thriller against Sweden.

Through four games, it’s still hard to get a read on this U.S. team. They have only just begun starting to establish an identity. They look a lot like recent U.S. teams, but I’m not sure we’ve seen them play like any of the teams that contributed to USA’s unprecedented streak of medals in three consecutive years.

Part of the problem is that the team’s most skilled forward has played just one game as Jack Hughes has missed three consecutive games with an undisclosed injury. Not having a difference-maker like him in the lineup changes the complexion of the team and the potency of the offense. Additionally, the U.S. has been dealing with illness over the last few games. Whatever the ailment may be, it also felled Sweden who happens to be staying in the same hotel as the Americans in Victoria. USA defenseman K’Andre Miller missed the game against Finland and I’m told Oliver Wahlstrom was limited against Finland as he also was sick. He only took one shift in the third period before not returning.

So knowing all of that, it’s hard to say that we know what this U.S. team is or isn’t. We may have seen some glimpses of how they can play, however, in their 4-1 win over Finland to close out preliminary round play. It was not a dominant showing, but it was effective, efficient and the team did all of the things it needed to do to get the right result. Whether a similar effort will be enough against some of the tournament heavies remains to be seen, but the U.S. has done little to dissuade anyone from believing them to be a legitimate contender where not one team here has stepped out to stake a claim as the undisputed best team. Sweden is probably the only one that has come close to this point, even though Russia is the team with 12 of a possible 12 points coming out of preliminary play.

Now Team USA will take on the Czech Republic in a crossover quarterfinal. The Americans earned the right to stay in Victoria, getting a day of rest without traveling across to the B.C. mainland via ferry and bus. They’ll play at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NHL Network, squaring off against a team that has struggled to find its way. It will be a rematch of last year’s bronze medal game where the U.S. absolutely rolled, but it’s a new year with new teams and anything can happen at the World Juniors.

Before we get there, however, I wanted to assess where Team USA is at through four games at the World Juniors, specifically how the players have fared and how their roles have changed over time. So here’s a quick player-by-player breakdown, stats and a brief preview of Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup.

Goalies

Embed from Getty Images

Believed to be a position of both strength and depth for the Americans, that has held true so far. Both Kyle Keyser and Cayden Primeau have started two games for Team USA. And though he has not played, the U.S. has dressed Spencer Knight twice. Primeau is going to start the quarterfinal, but they know they have a guy they can turn to in Keyser should Primeau falter. It’s a good position to be in.

Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals/BOS): Though his numbers may look a little underwhelming over his two starts, Keyser got some tough assignments and performed very well. He stopped all but one shot against Slovakia in a game that had no business being as tight as it was here, and was hung out to dry multiple times against Sweden. He has shown, however, that this stage is not too big for him and he has been unrattled. He’d certainly like to be the No. 1 guy, but Primeau has performed just a bit better. Once again, I think the U.S. can have faith in either player. Stats: 2 GP, 1-0-1-0; 2.95 GAA, .872 SV%

Cayden Primeau (Northeastern/MTL): Primeau started games against Kazakhstan which was not much of a test and he ended up allowing two goals, and rose to the occasion of the much bigger games against Finland. Against the Finns, he made 27 saves and was tested at various stages of the game where he had to be sharp. He never once looked rattled, but did pop out a few rebounds that caused some problems. Aside from that, Primeau looked like the more polished of the two goaltenders and as Hastings said after the win over Finland, Primeau has made their decision on who to start much tougher. It turned out that the game won him the job. Stats: 2 GP, 2-0-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .927 SV%

Spencer Knight (U.S. Under-18 Team/2019): Knight dressed to back up Primeau in both of his starts, but has not played otherwise.

Defensemen

Embed from Getty Images

Based on what we’ve seen out of the U.S. defensemen so far, the team seems to have enough depth to compete, but if they’re going to contend, the blue line has to be better. Quinn Hughes and Mikey Anderson have carried a heavy load and have been USA’s two best defenders. That’s what you would expect out of a couple of returning players of their ability. After those two, however, the performance has been uneven at times and sometimes it’s been just plain not good enough.

Hughes and Anderson have been the ice time leaders with both playing on average three to four minutes more than the next closest defenseman in average time on ice, Dylan Samberg. The U.S. is better when these two are on the ice and probably at their best when they’re on the ice together. The only defenders who did not look overmatched against Sweden were Hughes and Anderson. Everyone else struggled with the pace of the game and it wasn’t until one of Hughes and Anderson was out there basically every other shift that the U.S. was able to push the pace enough to get Sweden back on its heels.

Against Finland, the blue line looked much improved, with Jack St. Ivany stepping into a more substantial role with Miller out sick and handling himself well despite limited action in previous games. As long as Miller is healthy, St. Ivany likely goes back into the seventh defenseman role getting a few shifts here and there.

This group took big steps between Sweden and Finland, but the games only get tougher and faster. The big bodies they brought to this tournament have to use that Sweden game as the barometer for how things go next and they have to figure out what went wrong and get it fixed to have a chance against other top teams in this tournament.

Mikey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth/LAK): I have been very impressed with Anderson’s role as both a leader and stabalizing force for this team. He says the right things after games, he has the respect of his teammates and he’s led by example on the ice. He’s been playing big minutes and in all situations as the second power play unit point man and a top penalty killer. Anderson is a really good skater, but has had moments where some of his reads put him behind the play. Aside from that, I think he’s proven to be reliable at both ends of the ice.

Quinn Hughes (Michigan/VAN): Hughes only has two assists so far in the tournament, which some might view as a problem seeing as he’s such an offensive-minded player. But the points only tell part of the story about the way Hughes plays. Also, it’s important to note that he’s second on the team with 17 shots on goal. He’s getting chances, the puck just isn’t bouncing for him yet. Beyond that, Hughes has been everything the U.S. needs him to be. His ability to get the puck out of the zone and up the ice is unparalleled by anyone else on the team. His skating remains elite and unique, baffling defenders who think they’ve got him locked down. There have been some costly turnovers, which I think will always be in Hughes’s game, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. USA is better when he’s on the ice, period. That’s why he leads the team with an average of 22:24 per game and is in all of the big situations.

Phil Kemp (Yale/EDM): Kemp essentially is the U.S. No. 6 defenseman in terms of ice time. He plays a fair amount with Hughes and is used a lot on the penalty kill, which has always been a strong part of his game. Kemp is a defense-first guy, who tends to use his size well and has a good defensive stick. There have been times where I think he’s struggled to adjust to the speed and has had a little trouble here and there defending on the rush. He’s played to his identity as a defense-first guy who can make a decent first pass.

K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin/NYR): Miller has had some highs and lows in this tournament. He’s been solid for the most part, averaging 16:47 per game and often playing with Mattias Samuelsson. He can defend well and there have been a few instances where he let some of his offensive game show. He’s still figuring it out. One of the concerns was his game against Sweden and just getting lost in his own zone at times. He is a fine skater, but the pace seemed to eat him up a few times. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to redeem himself like so many others did against Finland as he was out sick. I still think he can be relied upon, but there have to be some lessons learned from that Sweden game. I’ve watched him several times live over the course of this season and that was the most negative viewing I’ve had of him, so I know there’s a lot more in his game that we’ve yet to see at the WJC.

Dylan Samberg (Minnesota Duluth/WPG): As one of the returning players, I think the expectations are a bit higher for a guy like Samberg. He’s been the team’s No. 3 defenseman and sees time on the PK and can draw some tough matchups. While I liked his performance against Slovakia, I’ve thought he’s only been OK otherwise. He’s too good a skater to get beaten on the rush as he has some times and I think his puck management has been suspect so far. Part of the harsher views I’ve had is because I’ve really liked Samberg as a player and prospect in terms of his growth over the last two years. I think he’s got more skill than he’s shown and I think he’s a smart player. I think we’ll see him a lot more with Anderson the rest of the way here and that’s probably a good thing for him.

Mattias Samuelsson (Western Michigan/BUF): I had Samuelsson graded out as a first-round talent last year. At times at WMU, he’s looked every bit that good and other times you wonder. This tournament has been up and down for Samuelsson. He’s played his game, which is aggressive defensively, physical and just enough offense to give teams something to consider when he’s on the ice. Like some of USA’s other blue liners, I thought he got exposed by the pace of the Sweden game, but then recovered well and played solidly against the Finns. But that was a slower game. He’s going to be an important player in the medal round because I think he can give you solid minutes, but I’d be a little curious as to how he’ll perform against teams that can push the pace more. That said, he can be an intimidating presence on the back end and he has been at times here.

Jack St. Ivany (Yale/PHI): It’s been a tougher tournament to gauge St. Ivany because of his role. He’s the seventh defensemen and hasn’t done a ton to suggest he should be more than that. He was on for both goals against scored by Kazakhstan and generally hasn’t shown much of the puck-moving capabilities I’ve seen him showcase at other times. He did play well against Finland in elevated ice time, making more confident plays, but I still think he’ll be parked on the bench a bit. He was a very interesting addition to the camp and while I haven’t seen Yale a ton this year, he’s stood out in the games I have seen on tape. I think he’ll continue to play only if the U.S. is shorthanded.

Forwards

Embed from Getty Images

In general, USA’s forwards have been pretty strong. They have had moments of inconstency and the offense has had bouts of inconsistency. It’s tough to judge fully without Jack Hughes, who undoubtedly would have helped. But you look at the way others have stepped up, particularly Ryan Poehling, Tyler Madden and Jason Robertson in Hughes’s absence. Evan Barratt and Josh Norris have been hard-driving centers that have shown versatility. Meanwhile, the depth of the lineup probably could have been better at times.

Still, the U.S. took 10 of a possible 12 points from the prelim round because their forwards scored at the right times. Now they have to really pour it on in the quarters.

Evan Barratt (Penn State/CHI): As one of Team USA’s top two centers, Barratt has played a significant role in Team USA’s attack. He’s only managed one goal, however, despite a team-leading 20 shots on net. Despite not producing a ton, Barratt has been one of the tone setting forwards, giving effective shifts particularly in his forechecking and putting pressure on opposing defense. While Barratt is not an overly fast player, he has shown an ability to play with some pace here and has put pressure on opposing defenders. He also has a physical edge and some power in his game that makes him more of a handful.

Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth/PHI): Cates has had a bit of an up-and-down tournament for me. There hasn’t been much by way of offense, but he’s done a solid job on the penalty kill and providing some energetic shifts. He has no points and I think he’s struggled to find his offensive game at the pace this team needs to play at. He continues to contribute with his defensive game and he can push the pace as well. I think he had his best game against Finland and if that’s a sign of things to come, he’ll be able to make more of an impact on the tournament as a result.

Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s/SJS): My appreciation for Chmelevski has only grown since his performance at the summer evaluation camp and he’s done even more in this tournament. While he is Team USA’s fourth-line center essentially, he can play in all situations. He’s on the power play and was a major factor in USA’s comeback against Sweden as he assisted on USA’s first two goals in that dramatic third period. What I like about Chmelevski is that he has the confidence in his puck skills to take defenders on one-on-one, to carry the puck into the zone and to make passes in traffic. Take a look at his backhand saucer to Oliver Wahlstrom on Ryan Poehling’s first goal against Sweden. Unreal play. What I think USA needs out of Chmelevski more is just a bit more consistency. I thought he was a little less effective against Finland in his offensive game, but his tenacity on defense remains a key attribute. He has a goal and two assists so far in the tournament.

Logan Cockerill (Boston University/NYI): Cockerill’s role has fluctuated some on Team USA. He’s mostly been a bottom-six forward who can provide some speed in the lineup and get some tough matchups here and there. I don’t know that he’s been effective in any one specific way, but he certainly hasn’t hurt the U.S. He has yet to find the score sheet.

Jack Drury (Harvard/CAR): Drury started the tournament as the team’s 13th forward. Now he’s essentially the 12th, getting bottom line minutes and playing fine when he’s put out there. You’ll see him on the PK from time to time and he’s taken some hard shifts. He hasn’t really been put in a position to produce offensively, but his value to this team was always in his ability to defend. He hasn’t hit the score sheet and is a minus-2.

Joel Farabee (Boston University/PHI): I think Farabee has quietly been one of USA’s most impactful forwards. He’s given them some really strong shifts. There have been some lapses in his play from time to time, but generally I think he’s been pretty good. He is third on the team with five points and plays a style that really fits Team USA’s identity. Farabee plays the game fast and he is able to push the pace, making it tougher on opposing defenses. He also can make plays with high-end hockey sense and vision. He’s made some really nice passes that have led to goals. I think this has been a very strong tournament overall for him.

Jack Hughes (U.S. Under-18 Team/2019): It’s been disappointing that Hughes has been out for every game but one. No one feels worse about it than he does. Having only played against Slovakia, he showed what he brings to the table for this team. He makes USA faster and more dangerous in the offensive zone and should play a significant role in the offense going forward. Hughes will play his second game of the tournament in the quarterfinal against the Czech Republic. The U.S. is going to have to protect him a bit to make sure there are no injuries as he’ll certainly have runs taken at him, but if he’s back at even close to 100 percent, he’ll be one of USA’s best forwards. He had one assist in his only game so far

Tyler Madden (Northeastern/VAN): One of the bigger surprises of the tournament, Madden has seized a top-six role with this team and has earned every bit of his playing time. He has some dynamic puck skills and I think he’s shown better quickness overall in this tournament. He is becoming more of a driver when he’s on the ice, too. He has three goals and an assist and I think he’s actually progressively gotten better as time has gone on. The one thing I want to see from him going forward is just becoming a little better at finishing off his plays. He does such a great job on entries and beating defenders, but I want to see him get more shots and finish more passes. But I’m seeing a player on an upward trajectory as a prospect.

Josh Norris (Michigan/OTT): One of Team USA’s most trusted centerman, Norris has shown his versatility in this tournament. he’s made a lot of plays at both ends of the ice and is often out there for the key draws. He has taken 68 faceoffs and won 62 percent of them. He also has a goal and three assists. His ability to play with pace and be aggressive at both ends makes him the kind of player USA wants to emulate in their style of play. He hasn’t been a dominant force by any stretch, but he’s been very good and looks every bit the part of a returning player.

Jay O’Brien (Providence/PHI): O’Brien has seen his role go from minimal to essentially non existent as the 13th forward who may get a handful of shifts in the game. At this point, he hasn’t done enough to show he should be getting more ice time. While he is a fantastic skater, the pace of the tournament has seemed a little overwhelming at times. O’Brien is only a few months removed from prep school. He’s going to need a lot of time to get his game up to speed. It’s been the same thing at Providence this year. I think he made this team on how well he played in the summer camp and he’s still trying to get there. As a late 1999, he won’t return to the WJC, but he has room to grow at Providence where they’ve had great success with prospects that were more of projects like Mark Jankowski.

Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State/MTL): An offensive force for USA, Poehling has had to bounce around the lineup as a result of Jack Hughes’s injury. Having started on the wing, he’s been back at center more with Hughes out. I wonder how that will change with Hughes back in. Either way, Poehling has been solid. He has a tournament-leading eight points heading into the playoff round and a signature moment with the natural hat trick against Sweden. He also had a really nice goal against Finland. The growth from last year to this year is truly impressive.

Jason Robertson (Niagara IceDogs/DAL): Robertson has shown in this tournament that what he’s doing in the OHL this year is no fluke. He’s always had offensive tools, but now he’s becoming more polished. He’s not an amazing skater, but he’s on pucks quickly and he reads the play really well. He has enough skill to beat defenders, but he’s especially good at getting his shot off. He finally scored against Finland, which Mike Hastings said Robertson called before he went on the ice. “He said, ‘I’m getting one tonight, boys,'” Hastings told the media after the Finland game. It was only a matter of time because he had some great chances throughout. He is second on Team USA with six points with a goal and five assists. I think he’s been an ideal top-line player for the U.S. and an impressive performer.

Oliver Wahlstrom (Boston College/NYI): When you look at Wahlstrom’s stat line, it doesn’t wow you, but I’ve liked him a lot in this tournament. Especially since he’s an 18-year-old, he has been a bigger threat offensively than some guys with another year of WJC eligibility to go can be. He has a goal and two assists, but what I’ve liked most about Wahlstrom is that he’s playing smarter. He’s not trying to do too much like I saw earlier in the year at Boston College. He’s selective with his shots and he’s made some really nice plays to open up other players. He assisted on Poehling’s first and second goals against Sweden and I thought they were A-plus plays from a guy who loves to direct pucks to the net. I think Wahlstrom could be better here, but he’s showing more maturity and I’ve liked him in general.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Embed from Getty Images

It’s a little later than I would have liked to get this story up, but a late-tournament illness knocked me out of commission and the recovery took a little longer than I expected. Finally back on my feet, with a little distance from the tournament and a couple re-watches of some of the games and now we can finally wrap a bow on this tournament.

The silver medal always feels a little empty with it coming in defeat. You could tell by the looks on the U.S. players’ faces just how empty a feeling it was for them, falling just short of the gold medal thanks to a late goal from Finland after a valiant American comeback. However, the U.S. closed out the 2010s on an unprecedented four-year medal streak earning a gold, two bronzes and this year’s silver. Additionally, the Americans medaled in seven of the last 10 years, earning three golds, a silver and three bronze medals. It is a significant development in USA Hockey’s World Junior history, one that shouldn’t be overshadowed by the loss.

The tide has turned in the way the U.S. approaches this tournament and has dramatically turned in the expectations teams can enter it with. The U.S. has won 12 medals total at this event. Considering seven have come in the last 10 years, the shift is dramatic. It’s a credit to the improving and deepening player pool, to the standard set forth by the late Jim Johannson and the expectations the players have for themselves now.

While gold should basically be the expectation in any tournament the U.S. enters, I thought the 2019 version of Team USA overachieved thanks to strong goaltending, timely scoring and a really solid piece of coaching. This roster did not have the speed or the skill of some of the more recent U.S. entries at the World Juniors, but they managed to reach the final by dispatching a very, very talented Russian squad and fell just short against a Finnish team that found its game at the right time. The Americans were not the best or most talented team in the tournament, nor were the Finns, but that just goes to show you that nothing is a given in this tournament anymore. Everyone else is just good enough now to force each team to bring its best or suffer the fate of an early exit.

So with all of that as the setup, here’s a look at the 2019 U.S. National Junior Team with positional and player-by-player analysis.

Goaltenders

I thought this was going to be a position of strength for the U.S. going into the tournament and it absolutely was. The U.S. had three guys they could have had start games for them and ended up utilizing Kyle Keyser and Cayden Primeau, while young Spencer Knight was an active observer, getting a few games as a backup on the bench but not seeing the ice. Primeau ended up taking the reins and performed at an exceptionally high level when USA needed him most.

Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals/BOS): Keyser started against Slovakia and Sweden in the preliminary round, finishing 1-0-1-0. He was an absolute star in the tournament opener as Slovakia gave USA a pretty big scare. Against Sweden, USA looked awful to start and left Keyser out to dry a little too often. That said, I thought Keyser acquitted himself well on the biggest stage of his young career. He wasn’t as battle-tested as Primeau and may have also come down with an illness that cost him a chance at being the guy in the medal round, but that was unconfirmed. Either way, he was capable when called upon even if his statline (.872 save percentage) doesn’t look amazing.

Spencer Knight (U.S. National U18 Team/2019): The top draft-eligible goalie for 2019 may not have gotten into a game, but he’s the front-runner for the starting gig next year and probably the year after that. Being at the World Juniors, even as an observer, should serve the young netminder well even though it was quite a layoff of games for him.

Cayden Primeau (Northeastern/MTL): I can’t really say enough about Primeau’s performance throughout the WJC. He played against Kazakhstan and Finland in the preliminary round and ended up getting the start in the quarterfinals and held onto the job from there. He finished with a .937 save percentage over five starts, allowing only eight goals over that span. Primeau was the single biggest reason the U.S. servived a dogfight with Russia in the semis and was doing all he could to give Team USA a chance in the final. He made a lot of tough saves look routine with his excellent technique and positioning. Primeau is such a smooth goalie and as much as I liked him in viewings last year, I thought he was at his absolute best in the last two games of the tournament. He’s a big kid with a natural talent for the position and you can tell he really works on his craft. I think he’s become a big-time goalie prospect over these last two years and will only get better.

Defense

Embed from Getty Images

The point of biggest concern for me was the defense and I think that also proved true in this tournament. The depth was not where it needed to be for the U.S. to roll three pairs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the drop-off after Team USA’s top two defensemen — Quinn Hughes and Mikey Anderson — was significant enough that it made it difficult for the U.S. to do much when either of those two weren’t on the ice. That said, each defenseman had bright spots in the tournament and the two guys eligible to return next year — K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelsson — will have gained some valuable experience playing in some high-pressure situations. In the end, I think the U.S. needed more of a puck-moving element on the back end. There weren’t a ton of great options outside of the guys they picked, but the lack of skill on the back end was notable, particularly against the best teams in the tournament.

Mikey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth/LAK): Though he did not earn a selection to the media all-star team, Anderson was one of two Americans that got my vote for inclusion. He played major minutes in the tournament, playing a team high average of 22:31 per game, and always seemed to step up in the big moments. He got the offense cooking in a really bogged down game against the Slovakians, scoring the game’s first goal. Anderson scored the first goal in the dramatic four-goal comeback against Sweden, too. He always seemed to come through in key situations for the Americans. If there’s one complaint for his tournament, he took three penalties and they usually came after he got beat, which didn’t happen a ton. I came away from this tournament with a much better appreciation for Anderson’s offensive tools and respect for his character as both a captain and top defenseman. He had a really good tournament, finishing with five points.

Quinn Hughes (Michigan/VAN): Despite only recording two assists, I thought Quinn Hughes was a game-changing player for Team USA. He was the team’s best player over the course of the entire gold-medal game, creating rushes and opportunities with his superior skating ability. There were so many instances where he was able to extend plays and reset things when the U.S. was getting out of sorts just by skating pucks out of trouble. There were some miscues and turnovers which comes with the style Hughes plays, but I thought he was a significantly positive influence on a team that really didn’t have as skilled or as quick a team as in years past. His semifinal was probably his worst game, but Hughes averaged over 22 minutes a night otherwise and made a ton of plays that probably should have ended in the back of the net had some of his teammates been a little sharper with their receptions of his passes.

Phil Kemp (Yale/EDM): Kemp didn’t always have an incredibly noticeable tournament, but he doesn’t have a very noticeable game in general. That’s not his style. He is a defense-first player and that stood out in particular in the final. I thought he was great defensively in that game, maybe one of USA’s most reliable defenders in that one. Kemp just doesn’t provide a lot of offense and that’s going to make it harder for him to make an NHL impact down the line. He can make a good first pass and reads plays well, and there’s little doubt his defensive sense is of the high-end variety. If he can develop a smoother offensive game, he’ll have a better chance down the line and I think he would have helped USA more if he was a bigger support of their transition game. In the World Juniors, you can really benefit from players like Kemp, especially in tight games like the final and semifinal. In those kinds of contests, he was more than adequate.

K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin/Yale): Miller had a bit of an uneven tournament and didn’t make as much of an impact offensively, but he also dealt with illness right in the middle. He even missed a game due to the apparent stomach flu that battered the Swedish lineup and caught a few of the U.S. players as well. Miller had one assist in the tournament and essentially played bottom pairing minutes throughout the tournament. That said, I thought he and Mattias Samuelsson got some key shifts in the final when the game was still in the balance. He defended very well in the tournament and handled the puck well for the most part. Miller is still just scratching the surface of his ability. His physical presence is getting more pronounced and I think he could be an absolute force in this tournament next year. If I was giving a letter grade for his performance, it’s probably a C+ or maybe a B- grading on the health curve.

Dylan Samberg (Minnesota Duluth/WPG): He was essentially USA’s No. 3 defenseman in the tournament, getting significant minutes with Mikey Anderson. As a returning player, I had pretty high expectations for Samberg and I don’t think he met them. That said, he played well for stretches of the tournament and then there were others where he was a step behind and not managing the puck well. The game against Sweden and I think the gold-medal game were two of the performances I wish I could give him a do-over for. The Sweden game was overwhelming for him, while I had some serious puck-management concerns about him in the final. His ice-time went down in the third period of that game as the U.S. turned to Miller and Samuelsson more because Samberg kept turning the puck over. I’ve seen Samberg enough times to know how good he is as a defenseman, but I also thought this tournament showed that there’s still plenty he needs to work on before taking the next step.

Mattias Samuelsson (Western Michigan/BUF): I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve been a pretty big Samuelsson fan since last season. I think there’s a lot more offense in his game than he’s shown in recent years. His role certainly didn’t put him in a position to produce here, but he also had zero points and didn’t get a lot of shots through. Defensively, I thought he was good for the most part. When he’s engaged physically, he can be an intimidating presence. That happened in a few games, but I would have liked to see him push the envelope even more. There were some instances in this tournament where I thought the pace got to him, but there were also games where I thought he stepped up and played a really mature, smart game. Overall, I think Samuelsson is better than what he showed at the World Juniors, but it wasn’t a disappointing tournament by any means for him.

Jack St. Ivany (Yale/PHI): Team USA’s seventh defenseman, it was hard for Ivany to get ice in the tournament. He averaged 5:37 a game and it was pretty clear that the coaching staff couldn’t put him out there in key situations. It wasn’t all bad for St. Ivany, as he played against Finland in the prelims with Miller out sick and he performed really well in that game. In the others, however, he had some issues picking up the rush and wasn’t able to get much going offensively. St. Ivany was one of the guys they didn’t have in the summer camp and I think sometimes those players get some advantages when it comes to making the team, despite the risk of not knowing. The one thing that summer camp does is it shows how a player can handle the pace and pressure of top players. The gap between the ECAC and the World Juniors is a big one and I’m not sure St. Ivany could manage it.

Forwards

Embed from Getty Images

The U.S. had to deal with Jack Hughes missing three games and did they ever miss him while he was out. The team was faster and better with Hughes in the lineup. It also gave them more flexibility to play with lines, which Mike Hastings did until the very last game. I don’t know that the U.S. ever found the right mix, but the fact that they were able to continually throw lines in the blender and get some sort of results is really good. Had Hughes been 100 percent and if he had been able to get some more chemistry in time for the medal round, the U.S. may have found more success in scoring in some of those key situations. In the end, they basically fell one goal shy of gold and they had some big-time performers up front — some expected and some not.

Evan Barratt (Penn State/CHI): Coming into the tournament as the NCAA’s leading scorer, Barratt had a great start to the tournament. He was Team USA’s best forward and maybe their best player against Slovakia, scoring a goal. That ended up being the only goal he scored in the tournament. It was a big one at the time, but losing Barratt’s production down the stretch wasn’t great. He played a pretty heavy game and I liked how he got on opposing defensemen and had the confidence to push the puck into the zone on entries. I think the U.S. had big plans for Barratt and they kept throwing him out there, but the points didn’t materialize in a way for Barratt to maximize his expected impact for this team.

Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth/PHI): I think Cates had a bit of an uneven tournament for Team USA, but he got better as the event went on. He was at his best in the medal round, scoring a beauty of a goal against the Czech Republic and setting up both goals in the gold-medal game. Cates was given a pretty prominent role in the lineup, playing top six minutes for a lot of the tournament. Early on, I’m not sure his play warranted it as he seemed a step off and didn’t have much by way of significant offensive contributions. I really liked his progression, though. He plays hard.

Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s/SJS): I thought Chmelevski was one of USA’s best players in this tournament. He played hard every single game, worked for his offense and made some huge plays over the course of the tournament. He ended up with seven points, tied for second on the team. He scored and had the primary assist on both goals for Team USA in the final, he had some key setups in the big comeback for a point against Sweden and he made himself a threat. I think Chmelevski was viewed as a more defensive-minded center for this team, even though the U.S. staff was well aware of his offensive capabilities. They got him on the power play at times and I thought his game really opened up when he was with either Ryan Poehling or Jack Hughes. Chmelevski is a legit prospect who I think has a substantial NHL future as he combines his skill with a great work ethic. I came away from this tournament with an even greater appreciation for him as a player, and I already thought he was pretty darn good.

Logan Cockerill (Boston University/NYI): He only had one assist, but it was a big one — on Oliver Wahlstrom’s goal against Russia in the semis. What Cockerill also had, however, was a lot of speed. He pressured defenders with his ability to get around them and his ability to get in on the forecheck. He played with a ton of energy and there were times where I was hoping we’d see even more of him. For long stretches of that gold-medal game, he was one of USA’s most active forwards. The stat sheet doesn’t do him justice as I think Cockerill really picked up his game when it mattered most.

Jack Drury (Harvard/CAR): He started the tournament as the 13th forward and may have been No. 12 on the depth chart when it was all said and done. That said, I thought Drury played effectively in the minutes he was given. He killed some penalties and made some defensive plays over the course of the tournament. He finished without a point, however, which included some time in the medal round playing on Jack Hughes’s wing. Drury isn’t a great skater, which I think limits his ability to produce, but I think his work ethic and hockey sense are up there with anybody’s.

Joel Farabee (Boston University/PHI): I thought Farabee was one of USA’s most consistent players from the start of the tournament to the end. He has good skill and speed, which was evident a lot during the tournament. Farabee also has that well-established work ethic where he’s not above getting into the hard areas to make plays. He averaged nearly 18 minutes a game as a top-line forward for the U.S. and finished the tournament with five points. He could play in just about any situation, against anyone. He’s eligible to return next year and I could see him doing so in a leadership role in 2020.

Jack Hughes (U.S. National Under-18 Team/2019): There seemed to be a sentiment out there that Jack Hughes didn’t have a great World Juniors. However, under the circumstances, I thought he was pretty good — sometimes great. He is the only U.S. player who had a point in every game he played. Granted, he missed three games with injury, but he made a positive impact in every game he played. The nature of Hughes’s injury was never made public, but coming back for the games that mattered and playing as well as he did was a good sign and also shows how competitive the 17-year-old is. There was no one more upset he wasn’t playing than him. Had he been 100 percent, I think you would have seen bigger points and some signature moments for Hughes, but that’s all part of the “what if” game now. Make no mistake, Hughes played well and was a continual threat when he was on the ice.

Tyler Madden (Northeastern/VAN): One of the better puckhandlers on Team USA, Madden was really good at getting pucks into the zone. He played a lot and at times was one of USA’s most dangerous offensive threats. He only finished with four points, though. He did score twice against Finland in the prelims, but I thought he became less effective in the harder games. It’s not that he was making soft plays by any means, because I think he showed some improved competitiveness and tenacity in tight games. It’s just that his style of game didn’t work as well against teams like Russia and the improved Finland in the gold-medal game. That’s not to say it won’t later, but it’s just that he still needs to hone his craft and work on finishing plays off because he has the moves to create plenty of offense. Overall, I think this was a really strong and positive tournament for Madden who showed that he has taken some big steps forward from last season.

Josh Norris (Michigan/OTT): Team USA’s No. 1 center and top faceoff man, Norris was utilized in just about every situation. He could provide offense, he could provide a defensive stop. He just was whatever the U.S. needed him to be. Norris finished the tournament with six points while averaging nearly 19 minutes a game as USA’s most utilized forward. I think the maturity in Norris’s game has allowed him to become more productive without losing the well-rounded aspects of his game. He can play the game at a fast pace and has shown tremendous progression from last year to this year, only increasing his value to Ottawa after acquiring him as part of the Erik Karlsson trade.

Jay O’Brien (Providence/PHI): O’Brien didn’t take a shift in the medal round for Team USA, though he did dress for the games. He was the 13th forward and the U.S. didn’t really find a spot to get him in. That said, O’Brien’s early-tournament play didn’t really give them much of a reason. I don’t want to call it a wasted spot because I can understand why O’Brien was there. He was one of Team USA’s more effective forwards in the summer camp, but his early showings at Providence and his early play at the WJC show there’s a lot of work to be done there. He’s still only a few months removed from prep hockey. The physical tools are there for him to be a really good player. He just needs to keep adjusting to the pace, especially when it comes to puck decisions. O’Brien isn’t making those plays at a high enough level yet, but that could come with a lot of development time at Providence.

Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State/MTL): Team USA’s leading scorer in the tournament, Poehling was also responsible for one of this team’s signature moments. He helped engineer one of the greatest comebacks in World Junior history as Team USA erased a 4-0 deficit with the last three goals coming off of Poehling’s stick in the final 6:30 of regulation. Poehling was named a tournament all-star and the MVP after finishing with eight points. Four of those eight points came in that epic showdown with Sweden. Beyond the points, I thought Poehling was a pretty consistent, reliable presence. He created chances, made some really nice plays and I think he’s shown that his skill level has grown majorly since his draft season. He’s not going to blow anyone away with any one thing that he does, but I think Poehling has a star quality about him. He talked a lot about the heart of the team through tears after the gold-medal game and I think he’s one of the guys that embodied that heart. He had some great chances in the final, and they just didn’t drop for him. Overall, I think Poehling had a pretty remarkable tournament.

Jason Roberton (Niagara IceDogs/DAL): Tied for second on Team USA with seven points, I think Robertson had a pretty interesting tournament. Four of his seven points came against Kazakhstan, but he was an impact player for USA throughout the tournament...

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Embed from Getty Images

VANCOUVER — The U.S. finished preliminary play with a 3-0-1-0 record, beating Slovakia, Kazakhstan and Finland, while dropping a thriller against Sweden.

Through four games, it’s still hard to get a read on this U.S. team. They have only just begun starting to establish an identity. They look a lot like recent U.S. teams, but I’m not sure we’ve seen them play like any of the teams that contributed to USA’s unprecedented streak of medals in three consecutive years.

Part of the problem is that the team’s most skilled forward has played just one game as Jack Hughes has missed three consecutive games with an undisclosed injury. Not having a difference-maker like him in the lineup changes the complexion of the team and the potency of the offense. Additionally, the U.S. has been dealing with illness over the last few games. Whatever the ailment may be, it also felled Sweden who happens to be staying in the same hotel as the Americans in Victoria. USA defenseman K’Andre Miller missed the game against Finland and I’m told Oliver Wahlstrom was limited against Finland as he also was sick. He only took one shift in the third period before not returning.

So knowing all of that, it’s hard to say that we know what this U.S. team is or isn’t. We may have seen some glimpses of how they can play, however, in their 4-1 win over Finland to close out preliminary round play. It was not a dominant showing, but it was effective, efficient and the team did all of the things it needed to do to get the right result. Whether a similar effort will be enough against some of the tournament heavies remains to be seen, but the U.S. has done little to dissuade anyone from believing them to be a legitimate contender where not one team here has stepped out to stake a claim as the undisputed best team. Sweden is probably the only one that has come close to this point, even though Russia is the team with 12 of a possible 12 points coming out of preliminary play.

Now Team USA will take on the Czech Republic in a crossover quarterfinal. The Americans earned the right to stay in Victoria, getting a day of rest without traveling across to the B.C. mainland via ferry and bus. They’ll play at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NHL Network, squaring off against a team that has struggled to find its way. It will be a rematch of last year’s bronze medal game where the U.S. absolutely rolled, but it’s a new year with new teams and anything can happen at the World Juniors.

Before we get there, however, I wanted to assess where Team USA is at through four games at the World Juniors, specifically how the players have fared and how their roles have changed over time. So here’s a quick player-by-player breakdown, stats and a brief preview of Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup.

Goalies

Embed from Getty Images

Believed to be a position of both strength and depth for the Americans, that has held true so far. Both Kyle Keyser and Cayden Primeau have started two games for Team USA. And though he has not played, the U.S. has dressed Spencer Knight twice. Primeau is going to start the quarterfinal, but they know they have a guy they can turn to in Keyser should Primeau falter. It’s a good position to be in.

Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals/BOS): Though his numbers may look a little underwhelming over his two starts, Keyser got some tough assignments and performed very well. He stopped all but one shot against Slovakia in a game that had no business being as tight as it was here, and was hung out to dry multiple times against Sweden. He has shown, however, that this stage is not too big for him and he has been unrattled. He’d certainly like to be the No. 1 guy, but Primeau has performed just a bit better. Once again, I think the U.S. can have faith in either player. Stats: 2 GP, 1-0-1-0; 2.95 GAA, .872 SV%

Cayden Primeau (Northeastern/MTL): Primeau started games against Kazakhstan which was not much of a test and he ended up allowing two goals, and rose to the occasion of the much bigger games against Finland. Against the Finns, he made 27 saves and was tested at various stages of the game where he had to be sharp. He never once looked rattled, but did pop out a few rebounds that caused some problems. Aside from that, Primeau looked like the more polished of the two goaltenders and as Hastings said after the win over Finland, Primeau has made their decision on who to start much tougher. It turned out that the game won him the job. Stats: 2 GP, 2-0-0-0, 1.50 GAA, .927 SV%

Spencer Knight (U.S. Under-18 Team/2019): Knight dressed to back up Primeau in both of his starts, but has not played otherwise.

Defensemen

Embed from Getty Images

Based on what we’ve seen out of the U.S. defensemen so far, the team seems to have enough depth to compete, but if they’re going to contend, the blue line has to be better. Quinn Hughes and Mikey Anderson have carried a heavy load and have been USA’s two best defenders. That’s what you would expect out of a couple of returning players of their ability. After those two, however, the performance has been uneven at times and sometimes it’s been just plain not good enough.

Hughes and Anderson have been the ice time leaders with both playing on average three to four minutes more than the next closest defenseman in average time on ice, Dylan Samberg. The U.S. is better when these two are on the ice and probably at their best when they’re on the ice together. The only defenders who did not look overmatched against Sweden were Hughes and Anderson. Everyone else struggled with the pace of the game and it wasn’t until one of Hughes and Anderson was out there basically every other shift that the U.S. was able to push the pace enough to get Sweden back on its heels.

Against Finland, the blue line looked much improved, with Jack St. Ivany stepping into a more substantial role with Miller out sick and handling himself well despite limited action in previous games. As long as Miller is healthy, St. Ivany likely goes back into the seventh defenseman role getting a few shifts here and there.

This group took big steps between Sweden and Finland, but the games only get tougher and faster. The big bodies they brought to this tournament have to use that Sweden game as the barometer for how things go next and they have to figure out what went wrong and get it fixed to have a chance against other top teams in this tournament.

Mikey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth/LAK): I have been very impressed with Anderson’s role as both a leader and stabalizing force for this team. He says the right things after games, he has the respect of his teammates and he’s led by example on the ice. He’s been playing big minutes and in all situations as the second power play unit point man and a top penalty killer. Anderson is a really good skater, but has had moments where some of his reads put him behind the play. Aside from that, I think he’s proven to be reliable at both ends of the ice.

Quinn Hughes (Michigan/VAN): Hughes only has two assists so far in the tournament, which some might view as a problem seeing as he’s such an offensive-minded player. But the points only tell part of the story about the way Hughes plays. Also, it’s important to note that he’s second on the team with 17 shots on goal. He’s getting chances, the puck just isn’t bouncing for him yet. Beyond that, Hughes has been everything the U.S. needs him to be. His ability to get the puck out of the zone and up the ice is unparalleled by anyone else on the team. His skating remains elite and unique, baffling defenders who think they’ve got him locked down. There have been some costly turnovers, which I think will always be in Hughes’s game, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. USA is better when he’s on the ice, period. That’s why he leads the team with an average of 22:24 per game and is in all of the big situations.

Phil Kemp (Yale/EDM): Kemp essentially is the U.S. No. 6 defenseman in terms of ice time. He plays a fair amount with Hughes and is used a lot on the penalty kill, which has always been a strong part of his game. Kemp is a defense-first guy, who tends to use his size well and has a good defensive stick. There have been times where I think he’s struggled to adjust to the speed and has had a little trouble here and there defending on the rush. He’s played to his identity as a defense-first guy who can make a decent first pass.

K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin/NYR): Miller has had some highs and lows in this tournament. He’s been solid for the most part, averaging 16:47 per game and often playing with Mattias Samuelsson. He can defend well and there have been a few instances where he let some of his offensive game show. He’s still figuring it out. One of the concerns was his game against Sweden and just getting lost in his own zone at times. He is a fine skater, but the pace seemed to eat him up a few times. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a chance to redeem himself like so many others did against Finland as he was out sick. I still think he can be relied upon, but there have to be some lessons learned from that Sweden game. I’ve watched him several times live over the course of this season and that was the most negative viewing I’ve had of him, so I know there’s a lot more in his game that we’ve yet to see at the WJC.

Dylan Samberg (Minnesota Duluth/WPG): As one of the returning players, I think the expectations are a bit higher for a guy like Samberg. He’s been the team’s No. 3 defenseman and sees time on the PK and can draw some tough matchups. While I liked his performance against Slovakia, I’ve thought he’s only been OK otherwise. He’s too good a skater to get beaten on the rush as he has some times and I think his puck management has been suspect so far. Part of the harsher views I’ve had is because I’ve really liked Samberg as a player and prospect in terms of his growth over the last two years. I think he’s got more skill than he’s shown and I think he’s a smart player. I think we’ll see him a lot more with Anderson the rest of the way here and that’s probably a good thing for him.

Mattias Samuelsson (Western Michigan/BUF): I had Samuelsson graded out as a first-round talent last year. At times at WMU, he’s looked every bit that good and other times you wonder. This tournament has been up and down for Samuelsson. He’s played his game, which is aggressive defensively, physical and just enough offense to give teams something to consider when he’s on the ice. Like some of USA’s other blue liners, I thought he got exposed by the pace of the Sweden game, but then recovered well and played solidly against the Finns. But that was a slower game. He’s going to be an important player in the medal round because I think he can give you solid minutes, but I’d be a little curious as to how he’ll perform against teams that can push the pace more. That said, he can be an intimidating presence on the back end and he has been at times here.

Jack St. Ivany (Yale/PHI): It’s been a tougher tournament to gauge St. Ivany because of his role. He’s the seventh defensemen and hasn’t done a ton to suggest he should be more than that. He was on for both goals against scored by Kazakhstan and generally hasn’t shown much of the puck-moving capabilities I’ve seen him showcase at other times. He did play well against Finland in elevated ice time, making more confident plays, but I still think he’ll be parked on the bench a bit. He was a very interesting addition to the camp and while I haven’t seen Yale a ton this year, he’s stood out in the games I have seen on tape. I think he’ll continue to play only if the U.S. is shorthanded.

Forwards

Embed from Getty Images

In general, USA’s forwards have been pretty strong. They have had moments of inconstency and the offense has had bouts of inconsistency. It’s tough to judge fully without Jack Hughes, who undoubtedly would have helped. But you look at the way others have stepped up, particularly Ryan Poehling, Tyler Madden and Jason Robertson in Hughes’s absence. Evan Barratt and Josh Norris have been hard-driving centers that have shown versatility. Meanwhile, the depth of the lineup probably could have been better at times.

Still, the U.S. took 10 of a possible 12 points from the prelim round because their forwards scored at the right times. Now they have to really pour it on in the quarters.

Evan Barratt (Penn State/CHI): As one of Team USA’s top two centers, Barratt has played a significant role in Team USA’s attack. He’s only managed one goal, however, despite a team-leading 20 shots on net. Despite not producing a ton, Barratt has been one of the tone setting forwards, giving effective shifts particularly in his forechecking and putting pressure on opposing defense. While Barratt is not an overly fast player, he has shown an ability to play with some pace here and has put pressure on opposing defenders. He also has a physical edge and some power in his game that makes him more of a handful.

Noah Cates (Minnesota Duluth/PHI): Cates has had a bit of an up-and-down tournament for me. There hasn’t been much by way of offense, but he’s done a solid job on the penalty kill and providing some energetic shifts. He has no points and I think he’s struggled to find his offensive game at the pace this team needs to play at. He continues to contribute with his defensive game and he can push the pace as well. I think he had his best game against Finland and if that’s a sign of things to come, he’ll be able to make more of an impact on the tournament as a result.

Sasha Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s/SJS): My appreciation for Chmelevski has only grown since his performance at the summer evaluation camp and he’s done even more in this tournament. While he is Team USA’s fourth-line center essentially, he can play in all situations. He’s on the power play and was a major factor in USA’s comeback against Sweden as he assisted on USA’s first two goals in that dramatic third period. What I like about Chmelevski is that he has the confidence in his puck skills to take defenders on one-on-one, to carry the puck into the zone and to make passes in traffic. Take a look at his backhand saucer to Oliver Wahlstrom on Ryan Poehling’s first goal against Sweden. Unreal play. What I think USA needs out of Chmelevski more is just a bit more consistency. I thought he was a little less effective against Finland in his offensive game, but his tenacity on defense remains a key attribute. He has a goal and two assists so far in the tournament.

Logan Cockerill (Boston University/NYI): Cockerill’s role has fluctuated some on Team USA. He’s mostly been a bottom-six forward who can provide some speed in the lineup and get some tough matchups here and there. I don’t know that he’s been effective in any one specific way, but he certainly hasn’t hurt the U.S. He has yet to find the score sheet.

Jack Drury (Harvard/CAR): Drury started the tournament as the team’s 13th forward. Now he’s essentially the 12th, getting bottom line minutes and playing fine when he’s put out there. You’ll see him on the PK from time to time and he’s taken some hard shifts. He hasn’t really been put in a position to produce offensively, but his value to this team was always in his ability to defend. He hasn’t hit the score sheet and is a minus-2.

Joel Farabee (Boston University/PHI): I think Farabee has quietly been one of USA’s most impactful forwards. He’s given them some really strong shifts. There have been some lapses in his play from time to time, but generally I think he’s been pretty good. He is third on the team with five points and plays a style that really fits Team USA’s identity. Farabee plays the game fast and he is able to push the pace, making it tougher on opposing defenses. He also can make plays with high-end hockey sense and vision. He’s made some really nice passes that have led to goals. I think this has been a very strong tournament overall for him.

Jack Hughes (U.S. Under-18 Team/2019): It’s been disappointing that Hughes has been out for every game but one. No one feels worse about it than he does. Having only played against Slovakia, he showed what he brings to the table for this team. He makes USA faster and more dangerous in the offensive zone and should play a significant role in the offense going forward. Hughes will play his second game of the tournament in the quarterfinal against the Czech Republic. The U.S. is going to have to protect him a bit to make sure there are no injuries as he’ll certainly have runs taken at him, but if he’s back at even close to 100 percent, he’ll be one of USA’s best forwards. He had one assist in his only game so far

Tyler Madden (Northeastern/VAN): One of the bigger surprises of the tournament, Madden has seized a top-six role with this team and has earned every bit of his playing time. He has some dynamic puck skills and I think he’s shown better quickness overall in this tournament. He is becoming more of a driver when he’s on the ice, too. He has three goals and an assist and I think he’s actually progressively gotten better as time has gone on. The one thing I want to see from him going forward is just becoming a little better at finishing off his plays. He does such a great job on entries and beating defenders, but I want to see him get more shots and finish more passes. But I’m seeing a player on an upward trajectory as a prospect.

Josh Norris (Michigan/OTT): One of Team USA’s most trusted centerman, Norris has shown his versatility in this tournament. he’s made a lot of plays at both ends of the ice and is often out there for the key draws. He has taken 68 faceoffs and won 62 percent of them. He also has a goal and three assists. His ability to play with pace and be aggressive at both ends makes him the kind of player USA wants to emulate in their style of play. He hasn’t been a dominant force by any stretch, but he’s been very good and looks every bit the part of a returning player.

Jay O’Brien (Providence/PHI): O’Brien has seen his role go from minimal to essentially non existent as the 13th forward who may get a handful of shifts in the game. At this point, he hasn’t done enough to show he should be getting more ice time. While he is a fantastic skater, the pace of the tournament has seemed a little overwhelming at times. O’Brien is only a few months removed from prep school. He’s going to need a lot of time to get his game up to speed. It’s been the same thing at Providence this year. I think he made this team on how well he played in the summer camp and he’s still trying to get there. As a late 1999, he won’t return to the WJC, but he has room to grow at Providence where they’ve had great success with prospects that were more of projects like Mark Jankowski.

Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State/MTL): An offensive force for USA, Poehling has had to bounce around the lineup as a result of Jack Hughes’s injury. Having started on the wing, he’s been back at center more with Hughes out. I wonder how that will change with Hughes back in. Either way, Poehling has been solid. He has a tournament-leading eight points heading into the playoff round and a signature moment with the natural hat trick against Sweden. He also had a really nice goal against Finland. The growth from last year to this year is truly impressive.

Jason Robertson (Niagara IceDogs/DAL): Robertson has shown in this tournament that what he’s doing in the OHL this year is no fluke. He’s always had offensive tools, but now he’s becoming more polished. He’s not an amazing skater, but he’s on pucks quickly and he reads the play really well. He has enough skill to beat defenders, but he’s especially good at getting his shot off. He finally scored against Finland, which Mike Hastings said Robertson called before he went on the ice. “He said, ‘I’m getting one tonight, boys,'” Hastings told the media after the Finland game. It was only a matter of time because he had some great chances throughout. He is second on Team USA with six points with a goal and five assists. I think he’s been an ideal top-line player for the U.S. and an impressive performer.

Oliver Wahlstrom (Boston College/NYI): When you look at Wahlstrom’s stat line, it doesn’t wow you, but I’ve liked him a lot in this tournament. Especially since he’s an 18-year-old, he has been a bigger threat offensively than some guys with another year of WJC eligibility to go can be. He has a goal and two assists, but what I’ve liked most about Wahlstrom is that he’s playing smarter. He’s not trying to do too much like I saw earlier in the year at Boston College. He’s selective with his shots and he’s made some really nice plays to open up other players. He assisted on Poehling’s first and second goals against Sweden and I thought they were A-plus plays from a guy who loves to direct pucks to the net. I think Wahlstrom could be better here, but he’s showing more maturity and I’ve liked him in general.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

The first day of competition at the World Junior Championship came to a close after three tight matchups and one comical blowout.

The U.S. National Junior Team avoided an early scare, using a third-period comeback to earn a 2-1 win over a Slovakia squad that got some spectacular goaltending. In other action, Sweden defeated Finland 2-1; the Czech Republic squeaked past Switzerland in overtime, 2-1; and Canada rolled over Denmark 14-0 (I am totally fine with Mr. Worldwide, but if I hear Pitbull’s ‘Don’t Stop The Party’ 14 times in the span of two hours again, my ears will start bleeding).

But we’ll focus on the U.S. first and I have a few other thoughts on the rest of the tournament that I’ll share a little later. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Alright, so if you don’t know, I’m starting the tournament observing games in Vancouver. I’ll get to Victoria later in the week to catch USA’s two biggest games — against Sweden and Finland. I did, however watch Team USA’s game on TV and have rewatched it with fewer distractions around.

Based on what I saw, the game didn’t look a lot different than many first games of the tournament. That was Team USA’s first game with that lineup all in there. They hadn’t made cuts prior to the last pre-tournament game and I think that showed. With the new administration led by John Vanbiesbrouck, getting every bit of information they could out of the camp process was prudent. You just have to be that much more prepared for that first game when you finally do have the full roster.

Speaking of the full roster, here is how USA lined up in their first game:

There was some disjointedness to start. The U.S. owned the puck for most of the game, but they weren’t crisp enough to finish chances and complete plays. There was some poor puck management and a few times lost puck battles and puck races nearly cost them. Slovakia’s lone goal came off of a play where USA had numbers and still lost the board battle.

The power play looked fine for the most part. Even when it wasn’t firing on all cylinders, they were generating good chances. Oliver Wahlstrom and Jason Robertson had a few chances to get their elite shots off. The puck moved around the zone well. But it really came alive during the third period when Mikey Anderson’s shot from the center point flew into the upper left corner. That goal came on the heels of some expert puck movement and great use of the open ice, particularly by young Jack Hughes.

The important thing is that the U.S. got better in the third period. When they had to make plays, they did. Evan Barratt’s confident backhander for the go-ahead goal was a thing of beauty and an ample reward for a game in which I thought he was a driver for Team USA.

The Americans also got to see what Kyle Keyser was all about. He made key stops throughout the game, some of which where he showed his athleticism and ability to battle and then a key penalty shot save that basically sealed up the win for the U.S.

All-in-all it was a game to build off of and probably not a lot more than that. I think there is still a lot more to learn about this U.S. roster and they didn’t come close to playing their best hockey. That’s often the case at the start of the tournament and there is something to the old adage that you want to get better as the tournament progresses. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

The U.S. has today off and then it’s a game against Kazakhstan on Friday. Their schedule is pretty backloaded, which means Team USA has to make sure Friday’s game isn’t just a lazy slopfest against an inferior opponent. Watching the way Canada rolled through Denmark, it was businesslike, cold and probably effective over the long term for them as well.

Here are some player notes from the game against Slovakia…

Evan Barratt (CHI): The first Penn Stater to make the U.S. National Junior Team made his presence felt immediately. Barratt is one of USA’s more physical and strongest players. He was good on the walls for the most part and provided good puck support. He also scored the game-winning goal and was the screen on Team USA’s game-tying goal with good net-front presence. USA had a hard time getting to the middle of the ice against Slovakia, who played very disciplined in their own end. Barratt scored his goal from the middle of the ice, surprising the goalie with a quick backhander. Barratt is using his size well and playing the exact style of game USA needed him to.

Jason Robertson (DAL): I thought Robertson was excellent over the course of the game in doing his job. He generated some great chances, earned a penalty shot and was at least a threat on the power play. The thing that stood out the most however is that he played with jump. His skating has improved over the last few years and he closed on pucks and showed some separation skill that was aided by quicker feet. He’s not going to win any speedskating contests, but his footwork is really helping open up his offensive game even more.

Ryan Poehling (MTL): A natural center playing on the wing, I thought Poehling rewarded the coaching staff for the decision they made to put him with Josh Norris and Jason Robertson. He is a natural playmaker and his heady-play showed the maturity he’s earned since the last time he was in this tournament. Poehling also did well on the walls and made patient plays. He and Robertson look like a good match, with Norris serving as the disrupter, giving his wingers more room to make plays.

Quinn Hughes (VAN): USA’s No. 1 defenseman, Hughes played 19:26 and got one shot on net. When the U.S. was down 1-0 in the third, I thought Hughes elevated his game even more. His ability to get the puck up ice and especially out of the U.S. zone remains one of his best qualities. He didn’t play a perfect game as he had a hard time hitting the net when he had some looks and there were a few turnovers that I think you just have to live with in the way Hughes plays. He also had a pretty decent defensive stick in the game, disrupting Slovakia’s attack at times. He is a key player and the coaching staff is letting him play his game.

Jack Hughes (2019): The 17-year-old’s World Junior debut ended with an assist and two shots on goal. That doesn’t necessarily indicate the impact he had on the game, though. The Slovkian team didn’t have many answers for the way Jack Hughes can navigate the offensive zone. He extends plays and give his linemates time to get open or chances for shooting lanes to open for himself. Some of his chances were blocked, but there were few outright giveaways. It was also very clear that Slovakia was trying to be extra physical with the young Hughes. He took some shots in the game, but the important thing is that he got right up from each one looking unfazed. He didn’t shrink a bit on the big stage, but he can and will play better.

Tyler Madden (VAN): I thought Madden had a really strong game. He finished with an assist and played with speed and skill. I think he’s gotten a lot better over the last year and is playing with some great confidence. He has make-em-miss skill, which is a huge benefit. The one area I’d like to see him clean up, and this is something I saw a lot last year and in Wednesday’s game — he has to finish those plays better. He makes the space for himself, but then he misfires on the pass or throws the puck into bad ice. If he can complete those plays, which we’ve seen him do plenty at Northeastern, he’s going to make a much bigger impact on this tournament. That said, seeing him create more ice for himself and making Evan Barratt a bigger threat in the process is huge for his game.

Mikey Anderson (LAK): The U.S. captain had a strong game that included some physical play and the important power-play goal. That goal came off of a nice shot with a little hesitation and through an Evan Barratt screen. Those are the moments you need your returning players to step up and he did in a big way. Anderson also had some tone-setting plays where he took the body and some nice up-ice rushes that showcased how he can be used in transition. He played 19:06 and was USA’s most utilized defensemen in the third period.

Kyle Keyser (BOS): His first start in a game that counted for Team USA at any level, Keyser showed he was ready for the challenge. Without him, the U.S. is likely looking at a really disappointing result. He didn’t face a ton of quality chances, but the ones he did he was all over. That included the penalty-shot save late in the game that basically put USA in the clear. Keyser finished with 13 saves and looked comfortable in the role he’s been given. Based on the way the schedule works out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keyser play a portion of the Kazakhstan game before being relieved in preparation for the game the following day against Sweden. Should the U.S. give either of their other goalies a look, that would probably be fine, but if Keyser’s the guy, you have to listen to him a bit in what he needs to be ready for the rest of the tournament.

Some other stray thoughts from Day 1

This is going to be a really fun year in terms of the players here. Canada has a loaded team, the Czechs managed to get some stars like Martin Necas (CAR), Filip Zadina (DET), Martin Kaut (COL) to return from last year’s fourth-place team. The Finns got some key returnees like Eeli Tolvanaen (NSH), Henri Jokiharju (CHI) and Urho Vaakanainen (BOS). Russia is going to be led by a superstar line of Klim Kostin (STL), Grigori Denisenko (FLA) and Vitali Kravtsov (NYR). The Americans have the Hughes brothers and a host of other high-profile prospects. Sweden’s D corps led by Erik Brannstrom (VGK) and Adam Boqvist (CHI) is going to be super entertaining. The list goes on. This is a great tournament this year and I think it will only get better as the players get more comfortable.

I am so excited to see this tournament play out and watch established stars thrive and new ones emerge. It’s what makes the WJC great. Yesterday was not a great showcase for the tournament, but the best is yet to come.

On Denmark’s 14-0 loss…

I know that there has been a lot of handwringing, as there often is when Canada blows out one of the bottom two teams. It’s understandable. Those games are not fun to watch and they make you feel bad. But here’s the thing. Denmark is in the World Juniors for the fifth straight season. Their players are being exposed to the best of the best the world has to offer and they have no delusions of grandeur. They want to win, but they also know that just staying in the top division is a victory.

The World Junior Championship is a TV event, which is why I think we often lose sight of the fact of where it actually stands in the pecking order of the hockey world. It is a nice measuring stick for teams, but for the nations that are struggling it gives them far more. It’s a learning experience, a development opportunity and the dividends won’t be paid off for several years.

The opportunities players get at the World Junior and U18 level get carried with them to the Men’s World Championship, to the Olympics and for a select few, the NHL. They get to see how close or how far they are away from teams and what they need to do to get there. For the coaching staff and management teams, it’s a chance to see which players are really part of their longterm future.

It is not fun, but I feel like it’s necessary. Denmark being in the top division this long is not a mistake or a fluke. It has been earned. They understand where they’re at, but they played for the right to learn these lessons. It is a source of pride for those players to keep the streak alive.

It’s not ideal for spectators, but while they still sell tickets and air those games on TV, they’re not really for us anyway.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Embed from Getty Images

The U.S. National Junior Team was finalized Sunday ahead of the 2019 World Junior Championship set to begin Dec. 26. The U.S. roster features 23 players — 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. All of the five returning players who were in camp made the roster, but the final list was not without a few minor surprises.

Here’s a look at Team USA’s final list as well as some thoughts on potential lineup configurations and thoughts on team configuration.

First off, the players that made the team listed with some different positional possibilities. THIS IS NOT A LINE CHART. I included the ones they used in pretournament later in this post. This is just a positional depth chart.

FORWARDS

Joel Farabee (PHI) – Jack Hughes (2019) – Oliver Wahlstrom (NYI)
Noah Cates (PHI) – Ryan Poehling* (MTL) – Jason Robertson (DAL)
Logan Cockerill (NYI) – Josh Norris* (OTT) – Tyler Madden (VAN)
Evan Barratt* (CHI) – Sasha Chmelevski* (SJS) – Jack Drury* (CAR)
Jay O’Brien (PHI)

*-Denotes center that could play wing

Embed from Getty Images

DEFENSE

Quinn Hughes (VAN) – Phil Kemp (EDM)
Dylan Samberg (WPG) – Mikey Anderson^ (LAK)
K’Andre Miller (NYR) – Jack St. Ivany (PHI)
Mattias Samuelsson (BUF)

^ – Denotes a left-shot D likely to play right side

GOALTENDERS

Kyle Keyser (BOS)
Cayden Primeau (MTL)
Spencer Knight (2019)

The final cuts:
D Joey Keane (NYR) D Michael Callahan (ARI), D Ty Emberson (ARI), RW Sean Dhooghe (2019), RW Cole Coskey (2019), Sammy Walker (TBL)

Analysis

The Cuts

We’ll get this one out of the way early because it’s usually the thing that gets the most attention, but this year there was very little in the way of controversy or surprise. That said, I fully expected Joey Keane to make the roster based on his season to date and strong performance at the summer evaluation camp. In the end, Keane was left off in favor of a right-shot defenseman that really came on strong and I think surprised USA Hockey’s brass a great deal. That would be Yale rearguard Jack St. Ivany, who had a very strong USHL season last year and is playing especially well for Yale as a freshman. While Keane is probably the better defender of the two, St. Ivany has size and is a little more sound when it comes to moving the puck up ice. In the end, I think he might be a better fit for the up-tempo style USA wants to play.

Outside of Keane, nothing really surprised me. Callahan, Walker, Coskey and Emberson were not part of the last summer camp and had an uphill battle to unseat players that had established themselves already. Obviously, St. Ivany and Tyler Madden, who each made Team USA were able to do that. It would have been hard for six different players to do that. Madden’s emergence as a potential top-six or at least top-nine winger pushed Dhooghe out of the picture, I think. I have a feeling that was one of the tougher cuts to make.

Dhooghe is a fan-favorite and the kind of player you love to root for as a true underdog who just continues proving people wrong. In the end, as good of a player and kid as Dhooghe is, they had some better options for the style they want to play. If Dhooghe was going to make it it would have probably been as a 13th forward, but I think that role will end up being played by Jay O’Brien who has a little more speed. Once I saw Dhooghe was scratched for last night’s game, that looked like the writing was on the wall. It’s unfortunate that he won’t get to test himself on this stage, but in the end, I can’t argue with the omission.

What is Team USA going to look like?

When the Americans play Slovakia to start the World Junior Championship on Boxing Day, it’s still a little unclear what they’re going to look like in terms of lineup and configuration. Here’s a look at the two lineups they went with in their 3-2 win over Russia and 6-2 win over the Czech Republic.

The first night, USA sat all of its returning players and started looking at different options of who could be on the wing and who could be down the middle. Sasha Chmelevski was used a lot on the wing during the summer camp in Kamloops, but had success down the middle in the pre-tournament. If that holds, the U.S. could put one of Ryan Poehling or Josh Norris on the wing to give the top two lines a little more offensive pop. Evan Barratt also reportedly had a strong game while put in an elevated role against Russia. That said, I still think he could be a benefit in a depth line to spread the scoring out a bit more.

Embed from Getty Images

I think Jack Hughes is locked in as the No. 1 or No. 2 center for the team. The rest kind of fills out as it needs to. I can’t recall a year where the U.S. had this many good options to center lines. They’ve had better overall talent down the middle before, but the sheer volume of natural centers on this roster is a huge weapon when it comes to making adjustments and figuring out how things work as the tournament progresses.

Additionally, one of the more positive developments of the pretournament games was the resurgence of Oliver Wahlstrom. Playing alongside former NTDP linemate Jack Hughes, he scored three goals over the two games and they weren’t just tap-ins. He’s floundered a bit at Boston College, but he’s always been and will continue to be an elite finisher. He’s got some of the best possible set-up men on this team to allow him to showcase that skill.

Another thing that stands out about this roster is that there’s not a forward on here I would term as a defensive specialist per se. Sure, Jack Drury is a shot-blocking machine who is committed to strong play in his zone and on the PK, but he’s also been a producer in most of his stops. He can give you some production from a lower-lineup spot. Evan Barratt and Sasha Chmelevski can play a grinding style of hockey, but they’re also major producers in their respective leagues and have notable offensive tools.

This roster is not going to be defined by grit. It’s going to be defined by tempo and skill. Forwards will still have to fit into defined roles, but this roster is full of players who can do a lot of different things well. That’s a good position to be in.

Meanwhile on the blue line. My best guess at how they’ll lineup after the final cuts is probably at least similar to this:

Hughes-Kemp
Samberg-Anderson
Miller or Samuelsson-St. Ivany
Then Miller or Samuelsson as the No. 7.

Embed from Getty Images

Coming into the tournament I felt like the U.S. might have a bit of a weak point on the D. Now I’m less certain of that. I think this blue line has good balance with Hughes possessing the ability to dominate the tournament just as he appeared to dominate at the summer camp and in his only pre-tournament game. Get ready for a show.

Having a D corps with some big bodies that can skate should go a long way. Samuelsson and Kemp are steady defenders. K’Andre Miller is one of the top scoring freshmen in all of college hockey from the blue line. Samberg and Anderson were with the team last year and also helped Minnesota Duluth win a national championship last spring. St. Ivany has showcased excellent two-way skills and confident puck-moving abilities. Meanwhile Hughes brings the dynamic element. I think this group should be pretty steady and versatile.

Lastly, based on the way Team USA used their goaltenders in pre-tournament, I’m led to believe that Kyle Keyser will be the go-to guy between the pipes for Team USA at least to start. The Bruins prospect played the full game against the Czech Republic, while Spencer Knight and Cayden Primeau split the game against Russia.

I don’t know that I’d pencil Keyser in as the No. 1 the whole way at this point, but I’d say he’s at least in the driver’s seat.

Overall I think the U.S. staff built the kind of team they set out to build in August. This group has good speed up and down the lineup, with enough skill to keep defenses on their heels. They don’t have a ton of natural finishers, but players like Oliver Wahlstrom and Jason Robertson should expect a lot of chances to put up some points given the talented playmakers that dot this roster.

Having such a big blue line with that mix of dynamism Quinn Hughes provides gives the Americans a more balanced, trustworthy D corps. The defense is such a huge factor in triggering the U.S. transition game and I think every single player on the roster is capable of making those good outlet passes under pressure, which can be a constant state against top opponents.

In net, I think the U.S. is at the very least comfortable. There isn’t experience, but they have three guys playing very strongly coming into the tournament and have options if their first choice falters.

The U.S. is not going to come into the tournament as favorites, but they’re the best team in their group on paper and arguably second best in the tournament as a whole. I’ve got Canada pegged as clear favorites heading into the WJC, but this American roster probably gets as close as any other team.

I think this will be an entertaining team with a lot of potential for what should be a very competitive, challenging group stage and an even tougher playoff round.

Next stop for me is Vancouver. So I won’t be on site for Team USA’s tournament opener, but I will be in Victoria for the last two USA games and probably wherever they end up in the quarterfinals and beyond. I hope to have a few updates from out there. Thanks for checking back with the old blog. It’s been fun to bring it back for a little bit seeing as this U.S. team should be a lot of fun to follow.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Embed from Getty Images

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.

Goaltending

Embed 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.

Defensemen

Embed 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.

Forwards

Embed 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..

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Embed from Getty Images

Every coach who has ever coached an international tournament as at one point or another told his team that it is all about getting better in every game you play. The U.S. can’t say they’ve gotten better each time out, but they can say they had their best game to date when it mattered most. The Americans beat Slovakia 5-1 in the qualification round to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinal against the Czech Republic (The game will air Tuesday night at 10:10 p.m. ET.

The Americans played their most complete game from start to finish, making only a few errors and playing through maybe one or two lulls in play, which mostly came in the first period. Team USA was able to keep pressure on, got major contributions from their top line and Ryan Zapolski made some key saves early in the game. Special teams were better, too. A lot went right.

The thing that went most right was that Team USA has Troy Terry and Ryan Donato and other teams don’t. Donato scored two of the goals, while Terry had three assists. Their center, Mark Arcobello, also scored a goal off of a slick feed from Terry. Team USA’s top line has become very difficult to contain and they were buzzing in a big way in this one, having contributed to four of the five goals scored.

Another thing that I think is really important to bring up is that it is really, really difficult to beat the same team twice in the same tournament. You can’t play the same game twice and expect to win, basically. USA didn’t. Craig Ramsay is a great coach and you had to figure he was going to make some adjustments. Slovakia actually carried play for a good portion of the first period, but they started making mistakes in the second and the U.S. capitalized. Then they dominated the rest of the way.

This is a huge confidence booster, but the U.S. still has just two wins in the tournament and both are against Slovakia. The Czech Republic, which finished with the second best record overall in the preliminary round is going to offer a bigger challenge in the quarterfinal. So as good as Team USA was against Slovakia, they’re going to have to be even better against the Czechs.

So, some stray thoughts…

Donato and Terry were ridiculous. Seems like we say it every time. The college guys have been so good in the tournament and these two were at their best. I thought Donato’s play — while mostly good — has been a little uneven in the Olympics. The effort is always top notch and he can make plays others don’t, but we’ve seen some youthful errors with some turnovers and trying to force things. Today, he made smart play after smart play and even when he wasn’t scoring, he was involved in the play. He’s become a player teams have to be aware of at all times. Meanwhile, Terry’s ability to make plays and use his speed have made him next to impossible to contain. A good example of how well they’ve been playing came on USA’s first goal.

You can’t see all of it develop in this clip, but Matt Gilroy won a puck battle to start the transition, the puck bounced to Terry who made a tremendous pass to spring Terry, whose speed got him past the D. The goalie makes a nice save on Terry, but Donato gets himself to a good spot on the ice, while Terry and Gilroy managed to get just enough of the puck to get it to an open Donato whose finish was perfection.

"ANOTHER ONE." –@donatoryan, probably.

The Harvard guy puts @usahockey up on Slovakia in their elimination game! #WinterOlympics https://t.co/g0eF7osb79 pic.twitter.com/Rlpuh6po1V

— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2018

Also, the pass Terry made to Mark Arcobello for USA’s third goal was high-skill. His vision is off the charts. I can’t say enough about their games at this event. His four assists in the tournament lead Team USA.

Which Anaheim Ducks prospect has three assists through two periods for the United States of America in men's ice hockey? pic.twitter.com/d9CHvqMPaG

— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) February 20, 2018

Garrett Roe’s goal was huge for a few reasons. First, his line with Brian O’Neill and Broc Little has been buzzing throughout the tournament with little success on the score board. They deserved to be rewarded. O’Neill made it happen with his work along the boards and speed to the outside. He found Little with a drop pass and Little had the patience to get around a defender and send the puck to a wide-open Roe.

For one, it was a nice play from a line other than the Donato-Arcobello-Terry line. They need that line to help out a bit. Fact is, they’ve been a factor in games but Roe hadn’t really been, at least not offensively. His wings, Little and O’Neill had been doing most of the damage with their speed. They also did all the work to provide the golden opportunity for Roe, which he finished well. Maybe that goal is the spark they needed.

What a goal by @TeamUSA!

The fight from Brian O'Neill. The dish to Broc Little. Garrett Roe finishes to put the @usahockey men up 4-1! #WinterOlympics https://t.co/g0eF7oJMvJ pic.twitter.com/dCKVxjHK0p

— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 20, 2018

Bobby Sanguinetti had his best game of the Olympics. I have been a touch critical of the Sanguinetti and Ryan Gunderson pairing, but they were strong today. I thought Sanguinetti defended well and helped get the puck up ice a lot. He had more minutes than anyone with 20:37 of ice time. It was a great bounce back from a rough game against the Russians. He managed to be a factor in all zones.

Ryan Zapolski made some big stops. When The U.S. had to battle a bit, Zapolski was able to bail them out. He still looked a little shaky doing it, but the only goal that beat him was a laser through a screen on a power play. Everything else he managed to keep in front of him. The Jokerit netminder made 22 saves, some of which came after he got run into. It looked like he might have to come out and give way to Brandon Maxwell. After the game, Zapolski explained why he almost had to leave.

Ryan Zapolski says he couldn’t feel his hands and feet after that collision, figures it was a pinched nerve. He was scared but feeing came back.

— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) February 20, 2018

Yeah, that doesn’t sound good.

Before that happened, I thought Zapolski was fighting the puck a bit, as he has been for much of the tournament. That said, the players in front of him were protecting the net well to not allow second chances. He also was making the first stop, which hasn’t happened every game. Perhaps that will be a confidence booster for the goalie after the rough outing against OAR.

James Wisniewski came through on the power play. He is on the team for one reason and one reason only — to play on the power play. Wisniewski has not yet topped seven minutes of ice time in any game the U.S. has played, but he delivered in a big way against Slovakia. Wisniewski scored a power-play goal on an absolute bomb from the left faceoff circle. He also sprung Donato down the wing for the goal that made it 5-1. Wisniewski’s legs are pretty much toast, which is why he’s a power play only player right now, but he still has the puck skills and the mind geared for offense. I think there is plenty reason to be skeptical of giving roster spots to players who aren’t going to play a versatile role for you, but if Wisniewski can keep coming through like he did against Slovakia, then he proves USA’s brass right.

Bad penalties will be costlier against a better team. One area of the game where the U.S. wasn’t particularly strong was discipline. They only took three penalties, but two of them were fairly unnecessary. Both Brian Gionta and Jordan Greenway got slashing penalties. Greenway’s was the most poorly timed as it allowed the Slovaks some life with a late second-period power play that they scored on. What I liked, however, was that Greenway was put right back out there and had a great shift to close out the second alongside Gionta and Chris Bourque. That line has had its ups and downs throughout the tournament, but the good outweighed the bad in that particular game. Still, the U.S. can’t be taking careless penalties the rest of the way. The Czechs are better than the Slovakians at this tournament and if the U.S. wins that game, they’d likely play OAR again in the semifinal.

A win away from playing for a medal. Despite a 1-0-1-1 preliminary round, the U.S. is one win away from guaranteeing themselves a chance to play for a medal. This tournament has been wildly unpredictable. Only Sweden has a perfect record with three regulation wins and the Czechs have two regulation wins and one overtime win. Everyone else has lost at least one game. I don’t think any of use really knew what to expect with this tournament, but anything seems possible at this point. Having watched at least one game for most of the teams here, the U.S. certainly isn’t the best among them, but they have enough to compete. There’s no guarantee the U.S. will beat the Czechs, but I think it’s a good draw for them. If this team can play for a medal, even if it’s bronze, I think that’s a huge accomplishment. This is not an easy tournament for anyone.

Quick look ahead. The Czech Republic’s biggest win of the tournament was a shootout victory over Canada. The Czechs seem to like to play things slow. They managed to shut down the Canadians over the last two periods and won the shootout after Canada’s Maxime Noreau beat the goalie but not the post. In the Czechs’ first game, they narrowly beat host Korea, 2-1. All three goals in that game were scored in the first period. The Czech Republic closed out tournament play with a 4-1 win over a Swiss team that just lost to Germany in the qualification round. The Czechs can shut teams down and play a really boring game. The U.S. is going to have to jump on them early and try to dictate the pace of the game. It’s going to be a real tough one, especially with the Czechs getting some extra rest and USA playing games on back-to-back days.

The game is at 10:10 p.m. ET Tuesday night on CNBC.

Read Full Article
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview