As soon as the World Junior tournament ends for the United States, it's an annual tradition here to take a quick look at what next year's US World Junior team could look like.
Here's last year's post. Everyone on the US roster got mentioned except for Will Butcher and Danny O'Regan. This year, I'll go a little further out on a limb and give my best guess at who makes the final roster as well.
Next year's tournament will be in Canada, with games split between Toronto and Montreal. Here is a look at the pool of prospects that could wear the red, white, and blue.
(* indicates a returning player. I can't think of a healthy, available returning player to not be selected since Bobby Ryan in 2007. Man, that guy has some rough luck with USA Hockey. EDIT: Forgot about Mitch Wahl in 2010. So there's precedent, but not much.)
Under Consideration: Thatcher Demko*, Alex Nedeljkovic, Evan Cowley, Brendan Burke, Devin Williams, Chris Birdsall, Blake Weyrick, Edwin Minney, Hunter Miska, Brandon Halverson, Drew Vogler
Thatcher Demko is pretty much the presumed starter here. He's got lots of experience internationally with USA Hockey, and was on this year's team to gain experience for next year. Nedeljkovic is right there with him, and because he's a '96, is eligible for the 2016 tournament. The US always likes to have a returning goalie on the roster--especially now that three can go--and Nedeljkovic is the best option right now.
That leaves the third spot up for grabs. Cowley and Burke are the most intriguing name of the bunch. Both are very much in the mold of Anthony Stolarz, in that they're big, raw goalies with loads of potential.
Best Guess: Demko, Nedeljkovic, Cowley
Under Consideration: Ian McCoshen* Will Butcher*, Steve Santini*, Anthony DeAngelo, Tommy Vannelli, Noah Hanifin, Anthony Florentino, Michael Brodzinski, Jack Glover, Keaton Thompson, Zach Werenski, Jack Daugherty, Josh Jacobs, Connor Clifton, Scott Savage, Ryan Mantha, Aaron Haydon, Michael Downing, Gage Ausmus, Jonathan MacLeod, Blake Siebenaler
Picking the defense next year should be a little easier, with nearly half the defense returning, compared to this year, where all seven spots were up for grabs. You could maybe even add DeAngelo into that group, since he made the preliminary roster, but was cut right before the team left for Sweden. It's always been a complicated relationship between DeAngelo and USA Hockey though, so that's far from a given.
The other notable thing about this group is how much deeper the selection pool is for '96 and '97 birthdates than in the '95 pool. Some of that may be the standard regression every age class goes through. Perhaps some of those '96s that look like studs on paper will struggle to adapt to college hockey the same way some of the '95s are currently, but there's still a lot of really exciting options, and with only three to four spots to fill, this group should be a strength.
There's also a pretty good chance '97 Noah Hanifin at least gets a long look, and likely makes the team. There were a few people that wanted USA Hockey to give him a chance for this year's tournament. That probably wasn't feasible after only playing the NTDP U17 schedule this year, but Hanifin will be called up to the U18s for the second half of this season, and will play in the World U18s, and get some college experience with the NTDP U18s next year. He has the potential to work his way into the conversation with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel as the top prospect for the 2015 Draft. In a different year, Hanifin's NTDP teammate Zach Werenski might also get a look, but with Hanifin almost being a lock, I can't see the US taking two seventeen-year-olds.
Best Guess: McCoshen, Butcher, Santini, DeAngelo, Hanifin, Glover, Clifton
Under Consideration: Jack Eichel*, Adam Erne*, Hudson Fasching*, JT Compher, Tyler Motte, Connor Hurley, Justin Bailey, Mike McCarron, Nick Schmaltz, Dylan Larkin, John Hayden, Taylor Cammarata, Jimmy Lodge, Cole Cassels, Anthony Louis, Chase DeLeo, Sonny Milano, Sean Malone, Colin White, Kyle Connor, Paul Bittner, Evan Allen, Trevor Moore, Tyler Kelleher, Anders Bjork, Jeremy Bracco, Luke Kirwan, Kevin Labanc, Nick Magyar, Alex Tuch
Jack Eichel's late birthdate is a huge plus here, because being in the 2015 Draft, it's guaranteed that he'll be available for next year's tournament. Erne's is maybe an NHL risk, but not a huge one, and he might be replaceable. There's only three returnees, but Compher and Motte are basically returning forwards after being cut this year due to some extenuating circumstances.
Like on defense, there's a little more high-end talent among the younger kids. Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Larkin are potential first round picks this coming summer. Guys like Mike McCarron, Connor Hurley, and Justin Bailey were high draft picks last summer, though haven't lit the world on fire this year.
Taylor Cammarata, Jimmy Lodge, and Cole Cassels were three guys that some thought should have gotten an opportunity this year. They likely will next year though.
As we saw this year, and in previous years, it's likely an uphill climb for smaller forwards that specialize offensively like Trevor Moore, Tyler Kelleher, and Jeremy Bracco. Smaller forwards like Anthony Louis and Chase DeLeo bring more of a gritty two-way game though, and would be good candidates to play on a third or fourth line.
There's some intriguing options among the 2015 NHL Draft eligibles as well. Kyle Connor has been great in the USHL this year. Paul Bittner is a big, raw kid as well that could contribute in a variety of different roles. The only one I see making it though is NTDP center Colin White, who has really been great this year. He can play center, plays both ends of the ice pretty well, and should be a really solid addition to the team. He'll be a mid first round draft pick in 2015.
Best Guess: Eichel, Erne, Fasching, Compher, Motte, McCarron, Larkin, Schmaltz, DeLeo, Louis, Lodge, Cassels, White
I like the look of this team better than this past team. That doesn't necessarily mean it will translate to better results, but it's a good start. There's a good mix of returning, older players, and talented younger players. The World Juniors is always going to come down to which team can get a few bounces at the right time and take advantage of those opportunities, but this US team should definitely be in the mix to take home the gold.
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