Last night, we gave our initial reaction to the first three cuts made by the US World Junior team. But what does that mean for the US team going forward? The team will now head to Kingston, Ontario for some more pre-tournament exhibition games to help make the decision on the final four cuts to the team.
So who is likely to be among the last four players cut? It's hard to say for sure, but last night's cuts were a bit instructive on the type of team that Mark Osiecki is trying to build. Here's how the final roster could shake out:
One of the cuts at forward will likely come at the center position. Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and JT Compher are pretty much established up the middle, leaving that fourth line center spot up for grabs between Chase De Leo and Cole Cassels. That's bad news for Cassels because De Leo had an excellent game against Boston University, netting a goal and two assists.
"De Leo, Anthony Louis and Sonny Milano, they like playing together. They had great jump. They're little buzzsaws out there and they did very well," said US head coach Mark Osiecki after the game.
There's the possibility of keeping Cassels as the extra forward. You can never be too deep at the center position. But the US also has the ability to slide some wingers like Dylan Larkin into the center spot if they really needed to. Cassels two linemates from Friday's exhibition were sent home after the game, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he was let go fairly soon as well.
That leaves one more forward to be cut. Prior to Friday's exhibition game, I would have said NTDP forward Jeremy Bracco was most likely on the chopping block, because that's the type of decision the US usually makes in this tournament.
But sending home two grinding power forwards like Erne and McCarron is a pretty serious statement from Mark Osiecki about the type of team the US is going to be. I absolutely loved this quote from his post-game press conference:
"The one thing that we are talking about is maintaining possession of the puck and being very creative in the offensive zone. Our best defense is probably going to be having the puck, and that is still evolving."
That's very good news for a player like Bracco. With Louis drawing praise for his play against BU, he's likely earned a spot. Tyler Motte has been playing on the top line with Jack Eichel all week, which likely helps his chances. That probably leaves forward Miles Wood on the outside looking in. Wood has acquitted himself well at camp, and proven worthy of his surprise invite, but it's a deep group at forward.
This group is a little less clear. For one thing, the status of Steve Santini is still up in the air as he returns from his wrist injury. We'll assume that he'll be healthy enough to play for the time being.
The three defensemen most likely on the bubble are Brandon Carlo, Ryan Collins, and Anthony DeAngelo. Carlo and Collins are in similar position to Jack Dougherty, who was released last night. Talented players, but young guys maybe aren't quite ready for this stage yet.
DeAngelo is still DeAngelo. He scored another point in the exhibition game just like he did last year. But he's still not great defensively. And his role is already covered, at least in the eyes of the decision makers, by Will Butcher. The idea of going with a smaller, more puck-possession-oriented team might DeAngelo's case.
So just cut two out of those three guys and you've got your final roster, right? It's maybe not that simple. The one thing that Carlo, Collins, and DeAngelo all have in common is that they're all right-handed shots. Add in right-hander Jack Dougherty who was cut last night, and all of a sudden, the US team's 5/5 split between righties and lefties shifts to five left-handed shooting D and two right-handed shooting D. That's something that is possible to work through, but not ideal.
As a result, there's the possibility that only one out of the group of Carlo/Collins/DeAngelo goes home, and another left-handed defenseman gets released. It's not going to be Will Butcher. It's not going to be Ian McCoshen. It's not going to be Noah Hanifin. Zach Werenski didn't play in the exhibition, a good sign that he's safe. That just leaves Michael Downing on the left side of the ice. Downing has reportedly played well in camp, but it's another numbers situation where it's unlikely he beats out any of the other lefties.