It's become a bit of an annual tradition here that once the United States is eliminated from the World Junior tournament, or, as is the case this year, has won the whole damn thing, we take a look at what next year's United States World Juniors roster might look like.
Last year's look at the team that would go on to gold is a bit of an interesting read. It's all "Who else is there behind Mike Lee?"(Turns out: Jack Campbell) and "I hope John Carlson will be available"(Turns out: he was) and "David Wohlberg could be more valuable than Derek Stepan"(Hey, you get what you pay for here)
Anyway, here's my first look at the group that could head to Buffalo to try and defend their gold medal and defend their home soil. Two things occurred to me as I started trying to piece this thing together. One, next year's team is going to have a lot more talent. And two, there are some pretty eerie parallels to the 2005 US World Junior team, which failed to medal on their home ice. Both teams were playing on US soil. Both teams had the goalie that led them to gold back on the team. Both were loaded at forward and not as strong on defense. Both avoided Canada in pool play. One big difference is the talent faced by the two. Canada had one of their greatest World Junior teams ever in 2005, and they probably won't next year, and Russia had two guys named Ovechkin and Malkin, and the Russkies definitely won't have that kind of talent next year.
As for the players themselves:
The two goalies for this team will be Jack Campbell(Sidenote: Jack is the first player from this year's team to cash in on his free lifetime pass from me by having a sarcastic "unless he's already in the NHL" edited out right here) and Who The **** Cares.They could back him up with a hat rack for all it matters. Campbell's emergence is good news since the '91 goalies in the US haven't been that impressive. Maybe they'd look at one of the '93-born goalies that have been stellar in international play this year like John Gibson or Matt McNeeley, but they'd have to do something pretty special to get on the ice next year. And not just like saving a baby from a burning building. Like saving two babies and a cute puppy from a burning building.
This is one area of concern for me. They only have two potential returnees from this year's team in Cam Fowler and John Ramage, and Fowler is a definite question mark because there's a possibility that he could be playing in the NHL next year. Personally, I think he might, which is bad news, because the '91 D on the NTDP was a pretty weak group as well.
I think John Ramage, Minnesota's Nick Leddy, and Denver's William Wrenn are all pretty much locks. Jon Merrill and Justin Faulk made it to the final round of cuts this year too, and they should pretty much be locks.
I really like NTDP defenseman Derek Forbort as well, and if he goes as high as I think he will in the NHL Draft, it will be tough(though not unheard of) for the US to pass on him. His NTDP blueline mates like Jarred Tinordi and Stephen Johns will also likely be under serious consideration. There's a couple other names of guys that I think could be in the mix, though I don't really know how they've been playing this year like BC's Brian Dumoulin and Patrick Wey or Mac Bennett in the USHL. They've all definitely shown that potential before though.
This gets made a litlte easier because there are six returning forwards from this year's team, which effectively makes half the forward lineup: Jerry D'Amigo, Jeremy Morin, Chris Kreider, Kyle Palmieri, Ryan Bourque, and Jason Zucker.
Chris Brown was the last forward cut from the team, and I doubt they'll leave him off again. Other NTDP alums from the '91 team would be Drew Shore, who I think would make it, and Kevin Lynch, who probably has a lot of work to do over the next year to prove he belongs on the team.
Zach Budish is another highly-drafted kid that some people thought could have been there this year and is pretty much a lock. Teammate Josh Birkholz has played well this year, though there have been rumors that he didn't exactly endear himself to USA Hockey while playing for a US team overseas a couple years ago. Another college player that has a pretty good shot would be Minnesota State's Tyler Pitlick, who has played well this year, and should be a high draft pick in this year's NHL Draft.
Out west, I'm not overly familiar with Mitchell Callahan, but he could be an intriguing option to give the team more grit. I don't know if he's the right fit for the faster, less physical international play, but he'd give the team some much needed toughness. Someone will probably suggest Everett's Tyler Maxwell as well, though I don't see him adding a lot.
From this year's NTDP team, Matt Nieto was one of the forwards, along with Jason Zucker, called up for the World U18 championships. Big forward Brandon Saad has also had a nice year.
There are somesolid options in the '93 age group as well. I mentioned Rocco Grimaldi as a candidate earlier this week, not just for his offense, but for the all-around intensity and energy he would bring. Kelowna Rocket Shane McColgan is a very special player that could be competing for one of the top spots in the 2011 Draft. And finally, big foward Seth Ambroz will be young, but will have two seasons of the USHL and half a season of college hockey under his belt, so he'll be as experienced as anyone. In a lesser year, all three of those guys could probably make the team, but likely one or two will get caught up in the numbers game.
So there you go. That's about 50 names, and I'm sure I forgot a couple solid candidates. Good luck trying to pare it down to the right 22 guys. Whichever team gets selected, they'll definitely have the talent to repeat as champions. It will be a matter of getting some timely goaltending and matching this year's team in terms of heart and tenacity.