It's become an annual tradition here that once the World Juniors is over, we turn our attention to what the US roster will look like for the following year's World Junior tournament. In past years, I've been about 75/25 between rock solid projection and hilarious wrongness. Next year's team should be a pretty good one, with a lot of returning players, and lots of other very good options.
The big question here is whether or not Jack Campbell will be available for a third straight World Juniors. Campbell not being available would mean not only would he make the Stars team, but also probably be their clear-cut number one starter, which I think is a bit of a stretch. I'd be very surprised if Campbell wasn't next year's starting goalie.
Andy Iles is also available to return. Usually it's a given that a returning player will make the squad, but goalie is a bit of a different animal. Mac Carruth and Michael Houser were two goalies that are currently having nice years, and were given a long look by USA Hockey for this year. If they continue to play well next year, they may get another long look.
The other option, since next year will finally be Campbell's last year, is that they look at grooming one of their '93 born goalies for the 2013 tournament. The most obvious candidates would be NTDP goalies John Gibson and Matt McNeely, followed by OHL goalie Matt Mahalak, and goalies Matt Morris and John Keeney, who are doing well in the USHL this year.
Jon Merrill, Derek Forbort, and Justin Faulk all return from this year's team, and the '92 group at the NTDP was labeled the best the program has ever produced.
Also from that NTDP team, Adam Clendening just missed out on making the team this year, and is likely a pretty strong bet to make it next year. Jarred Tinordi and Stephen Johns were two players that people thought had a shot at making this year's team, but both played below expectations this year and were left at home. With another year to develop, they should both get a very long look. Northeastern's Jamie Oleksiak surprised a lot of people at the final camp, and just missed out on making the squad this past year. OHL defenseman Austin Levi and Brandon Archibald will also likely be in the mix. Minnesota's Justin Holl has had a quiet year jumping straight from high school to college hockey, but could play his way into consideration with a strong start to his sophomore year.
USHL defenseman Scott Mayfield could be a high draft pick this summer, and will likely get a chance to prove himself at the summer tryout camp. Options are fairly limited from the '93 age group. Robbie Russo and Connor Murphy are the most likely to get looks, and it would be nice to prep some younger players for the future, but I don't know if it's worth leaving off a more deserving candidate. The wild card here is if USA Hockey will look at anyone from the '94 age group, which could be just as good as the '92s were. Nick Ebert and Jacob Trouba are two players that could potentially contribute at the end of the roster.
The US has a pretty good core of returning forwards again. Nick Bjugstad, Charlie Coyle, Emerson Etem, and Jason Zucker are all eligible to return, and all four should be available next year. That still leaves nine different forward spots to fill, so there will be lots of opportunities for players to step up.
Matt Nieto, Rocco Grimaldi, Brandon Saad and Connor Brickley were all invited to the final camp, but just missed out on making the team, and all four should be pretty safe bets to make the team next season.
There aren't a ton of other strong candidates from the '92 age group playing college hockey this year. Former first round pick Kevin Hayes is an obvious choice. Some NTDP alums like Michael Mersch, Nick Shore, Bryan Rust, Bill Arnold, and Luke Moffatt may get a look as well. Jimmy Mullin is having a nice year in the USHL and played well at the World Jr. A challenge, and could be a candidate, likely depending on how he starts out at Miami.
There is a strong group of Americans in the OHL that may get a look from the '92 age group, including Shane Prince, who was one of the league's top scorers so far this year, and former first round draft pick Austin Watson. Brampton's Phil Lane may also draw consideration.
There's an interesting group of candidates among the '93 birthdates. Seth Ambroz and Shane McColgan have long been at the top of this group, but their stock seems to be dropping in recent months. There's a perpetual wait for Colin Jacobs to break out and live up to the enormous hype he's received. He's improved this year in the WHL, and by next year, maybe he will have made that next step. The one player who seems to be rapidly raising his stock is Plymouth's Stefan Noesen.
And there's another potentially interesting wild card from the '94 age group. Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk was the first overall pick in last year's OHL Draft and is scoring about a point per game this season. It sounds like Galchenyuk would have the option of playing for either the US or Russia in international play. If he decided to play for the US, it couldn't hurt the team to add a potential top 5 NHL draft pick into the mix.
I'm sure there's plenty of other good choices that I've left out, but this is a pretty good place to start from. This looks like another great team, and hopefully they should earn a third consecutive medal.