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2019 World Juniors: Team USA Preliminary Roster Reaction

United States v Czech Republic: Bronze Medal Game - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

USA Hockey has announced their preliminary roster for the upcoming World Juniors U20 tournament. 16 forwards, 10 defensemen, and 3 goalies were named to the preliminary roster, which will have to be cut down to 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 3 goalies before the start of the tournament.

They will hold a pair of pre-tournament camps in Everett, Washington December 14-18 and Kamloops, British Columbia December 19-23. They’ll play exhibitions against Russia on December 20th and the Czech Republic on December 22.

Team USA will open the tournament December 26th against Slovakia, with other group round games against Kazakhstan, Finland, and Sweden, all in Victoria, B.C., before moving onto the knockout rounds in Vancouver, which begin on January 2nd.

As for the players selected, I’m mostly fine with this roster. There are always going to be minor quibbles as matters of personal preference. But they didn’t leave anyone off the roster that is going to score 30 goals in the NHL two years from now, like they did in 2016. Nor did they leave off anyone that is going to score 30 goals in the NHL next year, like they did in 2017. So they’ve got that going for them.

Then again, they didn’t really have an opportunity to screw it up. It’s been a tough year for a number of players within the eligible age group. A lot of players that were once considered locks for this team struggled at the NCAA level this year, making what felt like a small pool seem even smaller.

I don’t think this will be one of the best teams the US has ever fielded, but then again, their best teams rarely seem to be the ones that actually win. They’ve taken gold medals with rosters that will have more holes than this one. Such is the nature of single-elimination hockey.

Here’s my breakdown of the players that will be attending camp in Everett this week, and a look at some of the battles to make the final roster.

Forwards

Locks: Jack Hughes, Ryan Poehling, Oliver Wahlstrom, Jason Robertson, Joel Farabee, Josh Norris

If there’s a positive with the forward group, it’s that they’re strong up the middle. Hughes, Poehling, and Norris are likely the top three centers on this team. Having the future #1 overall draft pick in Hughes is nice too. I’ve complained in the past about the US choosing to be over-reliant on hoping their top-line star has a big tournament. This year’s team is just regular reliant on it. They’ll need Hughes to drive the offense and make everyone around him better if they’re going to score enough when it matters.

Poehling has been a beast in the NCAA this year. I’ll be interested to see how that translates to this tournament. I’m not sure how much he’ll score, but he should be able to control play 5-on-5, and hopefully drive offense by making his wingers better around him.

Wahlstrom has struggled through his first half with Boston College, but with his track record, it’s impossible to see him not making the team. Conventional wisdom is that Wahlstrom has struggled without a playmaking center(like Jack Hughes) to feed him. I’m not sure that’s exactly the problem, but I do think Wahlstrom’s skill set will translate better to the more open, more skilled international game than it does to the grindfest of college hockey. I could see him being surprisingly effective here.

Joel Farabee is in kind of the same boat as Wahlstrom, though he’s been slightly more effective at BU so far this year. I’m not sure he’s a third or fourth line guy on this team, which could make his spot tenuous, but I love him as a complementary winger on a scoring line and think he has to be there.

Norris is fine for a third line center here. He’ll be able to do what he’s asked to do.

I can’t say much about Robertson other than that he has a boatload of points in the OHL this year. That doesn’t always translate well to this tournament, but for Team USA’s sake, let’s hope it does.

Bubble Guys: Evan Barratt, Noah Cates, Sasha Chmelevski, Logan Cockerill, Cole Coskey, Sean Dhooghe, Jack Drury, Tyler Madden, Jay O’Brien, Sammy Walker

One guy who isn’t struggling in college this year is Penn State’s Evan Barratt, who currently leads the nation in scoring. That itself is worthy of a shot at making this team. The pre-tournament camp should give a good idea how much those stats are inflated by Penn State’s batshit-insane offensive style of hockey, but he probably makes the team regardless. Barratt has played center this year, but has been a wing in the past and could probably move back there, if need be.

Jack Drury has had a really good start to his freshman season at Harvard, and his ability to play center separates him from the rest of this group. Same goes for Northeastern’s Tyler Madden. Those two will probably battle it out for the fourth center role, though I could see both making the final roster to give them a little extra versatility if somebody gets hurt.

Cates has been fine as a freshman at Minnesota Duluth, and probably has an inside track to a roster spot with his college head coach on the staff. I don’t think he makes the roster most years, but he’s a guy that will fill a lower line role well.

Sean Dhooghe is the annual NTDP Good Soldier, and is probably fairly safe to make the roster. He is smart and responsible and will play hard, which is all you can ask for in that role.

Chmelevski and Coskey are probably competing for the same spot. Both are right wings that play a fast, heavy style of play. Walker and Cockerill are both speedy players too, but not as big. Cockerill brings a little more physicality, while Walker is more offensively skilled. Both have shown flashes early in their college careers, but are in tough situations this year that haven’t really allowed them to show everything they’re capable of.

Snubs: Cole Guttman, Matthew Boldy, Grant Mismash

Denver is a top-10 this year after being left for dead in the summer, and I think Cole Guttman’s play as a freshman has been a big part of that. Guttman’s big problem is that he’s a center, and his role is probably taken by Drury/Madden/Barratt, who can all play center. I would have liked to see Guttman get a chance here, but if he did, you could make the same argument about whichever of the aforementioned didn’t make it instead.

I was one of the first people on the Boldy bandwagon as a top-ten NHL Draft pick this summer, and I really believe his style of play meshes well with the lower line role he’d be asked to play, with a little offensive upside to go with it. He’d be effective even if he wasn’t scoring. But he’s a 17-year-old and this is a tournament for 19-year-olds. Plus, this is a team coached by Mike Hastings. Of course he’s going to opt for the older, more experience guy over a young talent.

It would have been a surprise if you told me two years ago that Mismash wouldn’t be on this team. I wasn’t surprised on Wednesday though. Mismash isn’t scoring nearly enough at North Dakota—though supporting cast likely plays a role in that—to justify giving him a scoring role on this team, and the choices for the bottom six guys are very obviously aimed towards speed, which isn’t Mismash’s strength.

Defense

Locks: Quinn Hughes, Dylan Samberg, K’Andre Miller, Mikey Anderson

Fairly simple here. Hughes has the potential to be the best player at this tournament, and the US might need him to be.

Samberg’s size and skating ability gives him the ability to match up with anybody.

K’Andre Miller’s style of play offensively—which I’ve affectionately coined ‘F—k it and chuck it’ should fit well with Hughes, who is terrific at creating space in the offensive zone, but is sometimes hesitant to shoot the puck. I’m not sure they could play together 5-on-5 because both like to move up the ice, but that’s where I’d start with a power play.

Anderson is rock solid defensively and is sneaky good offensively. I could see him playing big minutes.

Bubble Guys: Michael Callahan, Ty Emberson, Joey Keane, Phil Kemp, Mattias Samuelsson, Jack St. Ivany

So that leaves six guys for three roster spots. For what it’s worth, all four of the guys in lock territory are lefty shots, which would seem to give some advantage to Emberson, Keane, Kemp, and St. Ivany, who are the four right-handed shots invited to camp.

I don’t have many strong, clear-cut feelings about this group. Emberson would probably be my first choice. He has proven to be a reliable complement paired up with Miller so far this season at Wisconsin. He’s got lots of international experience and plays with a calm, poised demeanor, which could be important in tight moments.

Keane would probably be the next choice. He has come on strong in the past year or so, and as mentioned before, being a righty shot probably tilts things in his favor.

The seventh guy is a toss-up for me. I’d probably lean Samuelsson, but not so much so that a stronger camp performance from someone else wouldn’t sway me.

Snubs: Reilly Walsh, Max Gildon, Slava Demin, Ben Brinkman, Spencer Meier

I’m really surprised Reilly Walsh was cut. I know the assumption is probably the US is okay with offensive defensemen, but it’s hard to score goals, and I’m not sure you ever truly have enough offense. Add in that he’s a right shot on a team that is kind of grasping for those and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.

Gildon is another guy scoring at a probably-a-future-NHLer rate in the NCAA.

You can basically copy and paste what I said about Cole Guttman for Demin.

Brinkman has more or less held his own as a freshman in college hockey. Lots of athleticism and upside.

Meier is a bit off-the-board but is a regular on the best blue line in the country and could probably hold his own as a sixth or seventh D.

Goalie

So we know that Cayden Primeau, Kyle Keyser and Spencer Knight will be on the team. I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut starter here. This feels like as wide-open as the US net has been in some time. The good news is that even without a true #1 goalie, I think any of the three has the potential to be very good in this tournament.

Keyser has played well in the OHL, Primeau has played decent for Northeastern. But I can’t quite shake the feeling that the uber-talented Spencer Knight ends up seeing some significant time in this tournament.

Now that the preliminary rounds are essentially meaningless with four teams making the quarterfinals, I’d like to see all three goalies get a meaningful—not Kazakhstan— game in the prelims just to see where they’re at.