The United States will have home ice advantage for the first time ever at the World U18 Championships. This event is one of the major measuring sticks for the NTDP program, especially since all but one of the players on this year's team is from the NTDP. There will be a lot of pressure on this US team to perform.
The US easily won their first exhibition against Germany 9-0. They looked impressive, but it's hard to draw too many conclusions from a thrashing of an overmatched opponent. They also had an impressive 4-3 win over a good Sweden team.
The US will try to combine a deep, highly energetic forward corps, with a few key defenseman, and hopefully some timely goaltending in order to win the tournament.
Players to Watch: #4 D Cam Fowler, #11 F Jeremy Morin, #15 F Drew Shore, #17 Ryan Bourque
Individual player write-ups are after the jump.
(Note: All rankings in parenthesis are from the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term rankings for North American skaters)
Goaltending isn't supposed to be one of the strong areas for the US team, after Brandon Maxwell, their top '91 born goalie prospect, was kicked off the U18 team for accosting a teammate. That left the US team with Adam Murray, who is unranked for the draft, and Jack Campbell, who will be a top goaltending prospect for the 2010 draft. Murray started against Germany, and didn't let anything get past him, but he wasn't really ever tested. Campbell was sensational against the Swedes and could be a surprise shot in the arm for the US team.
Some of the skaters for the US:
Cam Fowler(2010 eligible): Fowler is probably the top defenseman in this tournament. He'd be a top five pick in this year's draft, and should probably be in the top 3 for next year. He's a fantastic skater and is great at reading the play. The US will really lean on him in this tournament.
Jeremy Morin(21): Apparently he played in the first period against Germany, but he didn't play in the second half of the Germany game or in the Sweden game, so I didn't get to see him.
Drew Shore (32, Denver commit): Shore was really low in the Mid-term rankings, but lately, a lot of people have had him in the mid-first round. I'd put him in about the middle of those two extremes. He's a big guy with great skills, but he's not your prototypical power forward that is really going to bang around. He's more of a skill player, though against Germany, he showed a nice willingness to work his way into the slot with the puck to get a better shot even though it meant taking a lot of contact.
Chris Brown(29, Michigan commit): I've always been very impressed with what Brown brings to the table. He's not a huge offensive threat, but he's a big guy that will skate well, throw his weight around on both ends of the ice and create havoc in front of the net. He's maybe not a first round draft pick just because he won't provide a lot of offense, but he'll be a solid second or third round pick.
Ryan Bourque(61): He's a very small forward, which I don't think helps his future as an NHL player, but he's a very talented player that should be an offensive leader for the US team.
William Wrenn(47, Denver commit): Wrenn is just a quiet, steady performer. He won't blow you away with his skill, but plays a solid, very physical brand of defense.
Kenny Ryan(65, Boston College commit): He's really made the transition from more of a skill player to a gritty hard-working forward with a little bit of skill quite nicely. Does a good job of making little plays to get the job done.
John Henrion(151, New Hampshire commit): One of the talented speedy, high-energy lower line guys for the US. Very talented, but sometimes falls in love with his shot from the perimeter, which is good, but isn't going to beat most goalies at this level.
Jason Zucker(2010 eligible, Denver commit): Zucker is just an all-around smart hockey player. He understands the game really well and is a very solid player in all facets of the game. It seems like he wins every battle for the puck. He should make a nice contribution to this team despite being one of the younger guys.
Adam Clendening(2011 eligible): He's really developed over the past year with the NTDP. He's a good skater and has excellent hands for a defenseman. He should turn into a great offensvie defenseman.
Jon Merrill(2010 eligible, Michigan commit): He's got a ton of talent and potential, and played a pretty responsible defensive game, but I think in order to take the next step, he needs to become more aggressive. He was paired with Cam Fowler and the difference between the two is that Fowler always looks like he wants the puck on his stick, whereas Merrill always looks like he's trying to get rid of the puck as quickly as possible. He was much better in the Sweden game, and actually scored a goal in the third period off a nice shot from the point.
Phillip Samuelsson(59, Boston College commit): He was responsible for two of Sweden's three goals. His ice time should be fairly limited in this tournament.