A great shot at a gold medal ended in disappointment last night when Sweden defeated the United States in the semifinals of the World Juniors. It’s an annual tradition here that once the US run to gold ends, we start preparing for the following year’s tournament with a look at some of the candidates for next year’s squad.
Here was our guess from last year at what this year’s squad would look like. Overall, it it looked similar to the team that ended up taking the ice. I had 11 of the 13 forwards that eventually made the team in my guess. It’s always interesting to see how things progress. Players like Brady Tkachuk emerge and go from the outside-looking-in to being a top line contributor. Other players drop off the list of consideration. And then some things end up being just being painfully prescient:
Getting Keller back[from the NHL] might be the most important because I’m not sure the US has another dynamic playmaker like him in their arsenal.
Flash forward to last night:
I hate this excuse because lots of teams lose people to the NHL—it was an abnormally diverse year with Canada, the US, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and even Switzerland missing players—but the absence of Clayton Keller was really felt throughout the tournament, and especially after Logan Brown went down.
So here is our best guess at who will be wearing the red, white, and blue a little over a year from now in Vancouver.
Best Guess: Brady Tkachuk*, Ryan Poehling*, Josh Norris*, Oliver Wahlstrom, Joel Farabee, Jack Hughes, Grant Mismash, Blake McLaughlin, Ivan Lodnia, Evan Barratt, Cole Guttman, Johnny Gruden, Sean Dhooghe
Under Consideration: Jason Robertson, Logan Cockerill, Scott Reedy, Noah Cates, Skyler Brind’Amour, Sasha Chmelevski, Brandon Kruse, Logan Hutsko, Jacob Tortora, Brannon McManus, Wyatt Bongiovanni, Jack Drury, Ryan O’Reilly, Curtis Hall, Cole Caufield, Jay O’Brien, Paul Cotter, Jack DeBoer, Patrick Giles, Alex Turcotte, Gavin Hain, Sammy Walker
Three forwards return from this year’s team. There’s a chance Tkachuk sticks in the NHL after being drafted this summer. His older brother was picked in about the same range Brady will go and Matthew ended up missing his last World Juniors. But I’d lean towards him being back next year. All three returners fit a similar mold: strong and fast, but not necessarily the most creative offensive playmakers.
So where will the scoring come from? The duo of Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee are likely first round picks this summer and were impressive at last year’s U18 World Championships. They’re high-end talents.
The person that I think could be really key, however, is ‘01 birthdate Jack Hughes. Hughes will be with the NTDP U18s next year(or in the OHL), but is projected as the first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. He’s a special, dynamic offensive talent, and while it’s a tough tournament for a 17-year-old to excel in, he’s got the type of creativity and playmaking that the US will likely be lacking. It’s rare to see one, let alone two 17-year-olds make the US roster, but Hughes’ teammate Cole Caufield may also get some consideration if he continues scoring at the pace he has this year.
Beyond that, there’s some nice players, but likely not huge difference-makers. Mismash is a nice fit to fill a role similar to what Kieffer Bellows did the past two years. I love Blake McLaughlin’s grit and two-way game, which I think makes him a lock for a bottom-six role. Lodnia and Barratt are both pretty good passers that could hopefully provide some offensive depth. Guttman has played really well in the USHL. Gruden is a smart, hard-working player.
I went with Dhooghe in the last spot, but him along with Cockerill, Tortora, and Hutsko all kind of fit the same mold as NTDP alums that are small and fast, and likely not big scorers. They’re all pretty interchangeable in my mind.
Best Guess: Quinn Hughes*, Dylan Samberg*, Mikey Anderson*, Reilly Walsh, Mattias Samuelsson, Ty Emberson, Bode Wilde
Under Consideration: Max Gildon, Ben Mirageas, David Farrance, Phil Kemp, Jack Rathbone, Tyler Inamoto, Josh Ess, Matt Anderson, Tommy Miller, K’Andre Miller, Michael Callahan, Slava Demin, Christian Krygier, Cole Krygier, Adam Samuelsson, Clayton Phillips, Caleb Everett
Last year at this time, I picked a team with seven ‘98 D, which would have left nobody returning to this team. As it turned out, Hughes, Samberg, and Anderson all emerged to make the team and acquitted themselves pretty well this year, so it should be strong group returning.
Reilly Walsh was one of the final cuts this year, just because they could only take seven guys, and I think he gets his opportunity next year. After that, I went with three ‘00 birthdates who should all be fairly high draft picks. Gildon and Mirageas have both had great starts to their college career, so it was tough to leave them off, but I’ll bet on the younger kids developing in the next year.
Best Guess: Keith Petruzzelli, Cayden Primeau, and Dylan St. Cyr
Under Consideration: Drew DeRidder, Jake Kucharski, Mitchell Gibson, Kyle Keyser, Keegan Karki, Adam Scheel, Jonathan Mor, Spencer Knight
The US ended up taking three ‘98 goalies this year, which means they’ll be starting from scratch next year. Primeau has been really good at Northeastern. Petruzzelli has struggled as a young goalie in college hockey, but maybe has the most upside. St. Cyr doesn’t have the long-term upside, but has been solid at Notre Dame, and would be steady if he had to play.
Beyond that, the depth isn’t shining at this point. Goalie can be a hard position to judge this far out though because it’s a very unforgiving position for younger players. Lots of talented young options putting up terrible numbers right now, but I suspect they won’t all stay that way.
While this year’s NTDP U18s had to start over in goal with two new goalies this year, and don’t have a particularly high-end group, NTDP U17 goalie Spencer Knight looks like he could be a special player. I woudn’t be shocked if he came along next year to start grooming him for next year’s tournament.
It’s been the feeling for a while that the ‘99 and ‘00 birth years were weaker years with not a ton of depth for the US. I suspect next year’s team will look much younger than this year’s as a result.
I do see potential for a lot of the same issues that befell this year’s team. I think this team could be fast, and hard on the puck, and control possession and do all those good things. But the puck has got to go in the net at some point, and this team appears to be thin on guys who can do that. You never know though. All it takes is a couple good bounces at the right time to completely change a narrative like that. It’s too soon to know what they’ll get in goal as well.
The roster will change over the next 11 month as players continue moving up and down the development ladder. But at the starting point, I think this team looks pretty good on paper, and should definitely be in contention for a medal once again.