The Under-18s team for the United States and Finland faced off tonight in a pre-tournament exhibition as they prepare for next week's World U18 Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The US came away with a 6-1 win and that score was pretty reflective of the play. I mentioned on Thursday that just from watching these two teams practice, there was a noticeable difference between the United States, which has more or less played together all season, and the Finns, who just came together this week. There just wasn't a lot of chemistry with Finland yet. It felt like the only offense they ever generated came off of individual plays.
But even taking that into account, I'm just not sure Finland is that good this year. They're obviously missing their three big guns in top ten NHL Draft picks Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Olli Juolevi. And with those three missing, there weren't many guys that were super impressive. We'll see how they come together, but Finland is a long way from being a medal contender right now.
On the US side, the first line of Clayton Keller centering Kieffer Bellows and Joey Anderson showed up as advertised. They had three goals on the night and were dangerous every time they touched the ice. Anderson doesn't often get the credit that his other two linemates get because he's not as big a scorer, but he does so many little things well. He's a really under-appreciated player.
Depth at forward is the biggest question mark coming into this tournament for the United States. There just hasn't been a lot of production from this team outside of the top line this year. To address that, the US brought in an entire line from outside the program in Kailer Yamamoto centering Logan Brown and Casey Mittelstadt that is working as the team's second line. They obviously don't have the chemistry of some of the other lines, but should add some offense. Brown had a good game. He scored a goal(actually, he kicked it in, and I'm not sure it would have stood under heavier scutiny) by going hard to the front of the net, laid a big hit on a Finnish forward skating over the middle of the ice, and generally used his tremendous size to be a disruptive force.
That line pushes everybody other line down a notch too and the picture begins to look a little better. He was quiet last night, but you can't complain about having a 2nd/3rd round pick in Trent Frederic centering the third line, and winger Will Lockwood is such a high-energy player that he's really effective in that role.
There's still some concern about getting scoring beyond that first line, but that first line is really good, and the rest should be decent enough.
The defense had a nice game, though again, wasn't overly tested. Ryan Lindgren and Adam Fox were the top two defensemen. Chad Krys' struggles this year appeared to continue. He started the year as a potential top-15 Draft pick, and clearly looked like the team's seventh defenseman last night. Physical skills are there, but his decision-making was rough.
Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll split the game and both played well. Anything can happen in a short tournament, but I don't see goal play being a major concern for the US team.
US Line Chart
Lindgren-Fox-Greenway-Martin-Luce-Hellickson-Krys all rotated fairly equally
Oettinger/Woll--Oettinger started, Woll came in at halfway mark
Finland Line Chart
Halonen-Laakso-Luukonen- Halonen started in goal