It's annual tradition around here that after the World Juniors tournament, we take a quick look at what the roster might look like for next year's tournament. Here is the post from last year, for comparison.
Next year, the tournament heads back over to Europe with Helsinki, Finland playing the hosts. The US will try to return to the medal podium for the first time since winning the 2013 tournament.
Here's who could be representing the US next year:
Under Consideration: Brandon Halverson*, Alex Nedeljkovic*, Luke Opilka, Michael Lackey, Edwin Minney, Ryan Bednard, Ryan Larkin, Kris Oldham, Chris Birdsall, Peyton Jones, Vaughan Ahrens
Best Guess: Brandon Halverson, Alex Nedeljkovic, Luke Opilka
The past few years, this has been a pretty easy position project for the US, with a clear-cut starter, and a guy being groomed for the starter's role in the next tournament. Next year, the US has two returning goalies in Brandon Halverson and Alex Nedeljkovic. Nedeljkovic got opportunities to prove himself with the US team both at this tournament and at last year's World U18s and hasn't played that well in either. Halverson ended up taking the back-up role for the US in this tournament and played well. He's likely the favorite to earn the starting job at this point.
The third goalie will more than likely be a younger player that is groomed for future tournament. The problem is that that is a pretty thin pool for the US to choose from. Luke Opilka has played well with the NTDP U18s this year and is probably the front-runner at this point.
Under Consideration: Noah Hanifin*, Brandon Carlo*, Ryan Collins*, Zach Werenski*, Jack Dougherty, Jack Glover, Josh Jacobs, Louie Belpedio, John MacLeod, Brandon Fortunato Casey Fitzgerald, Caleb Jones, Charlie MacAvoy, Ryan Lindgren, Chad Krys, Grant Gabriele, Steven Ruggiero, Joe Masonius, Doug Blaisdell, Joseph Cecconi, Spenser Young, Aaron Haydon, Ryan Mantha, Blake Siebenaler
Best guess: Hanifin, Carlo, Collins, Werenski, Dougherty, Fitzgerald, MacLeod
The upside of the US defense being pretty young this past tournament is that they have a nice group of returning players to build off of. There's maybe some concern that Noah Hanifin won't be available because he'll be in the NHL. I would put those odds at fairly low that he's an NHL regular by this time next year. So that's four returning defensemen plus Jack Dougherty who made the initial camp roster but not the final team.
There are a lot of strong options among the '96 group that weren't quite ready this year, but should be in the mix next year including Glover, Jacobs, MacLeod, Belpedio, and Fortunato. That's enough for a team right there. The problem is that the US likely won't want to head into the 2017 tournament with seven new defensemen, and it's unlikely Hanifin, and a possibility that Werenski, won't be available, so they'll have to pick some younger defensemen.
The '97 D group gets pretty thin behind Hanifin and Werenski though. Casey Fitzgerald is a nice puck-mover and probably takes a spot from Belpedio or Fortunato. Caleb Jones has the upside to play himself into the conversation by next year.
Beyond that, they may begin looking at some of the talented '98s in the group. Ryan Lindgren and Chad Krys are likely the best candidates. Lindgren would have a slight edge over Krys just because Lindgren plays a little quieter game and would fit a role better than the more offensive-minded Krys would.
Under Consideration: Jack Eichel*, Sonny Milano*, Alex Tuch*, Nick Schmaltz*, Dylan Larkin*, Auston Matthews*, Jeremy Bracco, Anders Bjork, Ryan Hitchcock, Dominic Turgeon, Kyle Connor, Colin White, Paul Bittner, Jordan Greenway, Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Fischer, Ryan MacInnis, Conor Garland, Brock Boeser, Tom Novak, Erik Foley, Seamus Malone, Ryan Wagner, Dennis Yan, Brendan Warren, Clayton Keller, Max Jones, Christian Dvorak, Ryan Donato, Jared Fiegl, Shane Gersich, Chris Wilkie, Brent Gates Jr.,, Alec Baer, Cam Askew, Connor Moynihan, Keegan Iverson
Best guess: Milano, Tuch, Schmaltz, Larkin, Matthews, Bracco, Connor, Bjork, Boeser, Jones, Tkachuk, MacInnis, White
I'm working under the assumption that Eichel won't be made available for next year's tournament. I'd put Milano's odds of being available at about 50/50. Tuch, Schmaltz, and Larkin will almost definitely be back barring something unforeseen, and Matthews is definitely back since he's not draft eligible until 2016. Even in a worst-case scenario, those four guys are a great start to the forward. Let's just hope USA Hockey doesn't decide those guys will score enough and stop there again next year.
There are a lot of excellent choices, and trying to come up with 13 names was a difficult task because I ended up excluding some names that I thought would definitely be there. Here's why I picked the way I did:
Jeremy Bracco nearly made the team this past year, so he's got to have a great shot next year. There's a strange relationship between Kyle Connor and USA Hockey, but he'll likely be a mid-first round draft pick this summer, they can't leave him off again. Anders Bjork isn't the most exciting name on the list, but he's exactly the type of player USA Hockey always seems to pick.
It was a tough choice between Waterloo teammates Brock Boeser and Tom Novak. I went with Boeser because he's a little more versatile all-around player. I really like Max Jones' odds of making the team next year. That would make three years in a row of selecting an NTDP U18 player, which would be a rarity. But Jones has a unique skillset though, in that he's not just a scorer. He'd fill a role by running around and hitting everything in sight better than any other choice the US has, and has some skill to go along with it.
Matthew Tkachuk is a future first round pick that would add some offense, and a little grit as well. MacInnis adds size. And Colin White gives the US a reliable option in the middle of the ice.
There are a lot of different directions and combinations this could go though. Feel free to give your suggestions in the comments. Goaltending is a big question mark right now, but otherwise, I like the overall look of this team, maybe even a little better than this past year's team.