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US World Juniors Roster Talk

United States v Canada - Gold Medal Game - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship
Obligatory World Juniors Pic
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

We’re close enough to December that it is almost time to start thinking about the players that will be representing the United States at this year’s World Juniors tournament.

USA Hockey holds their summer evaluation camp, which is a major component in picking the team, but I’ve always found it far more useful to see which players are effective when the games really count as opposed to who stands out in a summertime scrimmage.

Not that we’re over a month into the college hockey season, here is my best guess at what the US roster might look like.

Forwards

You guys, I don’t think Clayton Keller is coming back.

The entire Coyotes franchise may implode upon itself in a black hole of suck if he was gone.

So who is left?

The good news is that both Kailer Yamamoto and Logan Brown returned to the CHL after brief stints in the NHL early this season. Yamamoto played the maximum nine games with Edmonton before the first year of contract kicked in, which made for some tense waiting, but he should be back. Those two have worked on a line with Casey Mittelstadt fairly regularly dating back to the 2016 World U18s, and will hopefully make up a dominating scoring line. Last year’s insane roster decisions—cutting Alex DeBrincat really has not aged well—at the bottom of the forward line-up were papered over by the fact that their top line scored a lot, thanks in part to a 57% shooting percentage by Colin White. If the US insists on playing salary cap hockey again, they’ll need that first line to be great.

The returners seem fairly safe. Joey Anderson has missed a lot of time due to injury early this season, but there’s no way he doesn’t go after how well he played last year. Kieffer Bellows has regained his scoring touch now that he’s eating at the kiddie table again. Patrick Harper probably isn’t safe, but he’s currently leading BU in scoring, so I could see him making it.

There’s a lot of other really strong options at forward. My one concern last year, was that even though there was a very deep ‘98 group, there weren’t many players in the younger age groups that seemed viable candidates. Given an extra year to develop, that doesn’t seem to be as much the case. Ryan Poehling has developed into a lock for this team. Brady Tkachuk has been good enough for BU. Grant Mismash is leading North Dakota in scoring. Josh Norris hasn’t had a brilliant start for Michigan, but has been decent, and could play a role for this team. What plays in the favor of all of those guys, maybe with Mismash as the exception, is that they don’t need to be scoring to be effective hockey players which, again, we know USA Hockey values.

‘00 Oliver Wahlstrom is a wildcard. It’s rare for USA Hockey to take a kid that young, unless they have to, and I don’t think they have to this year, but he’s having a great year and should be picked very high in the Draft this summer. He’s worth consideration. Same for Joel Farabee, though slightly longer odds than Wahlstrom.

I like the idea of loading this team up with really good, experienced ‘98s though. Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic, Michigan’s Will Lockwood, and Minnesota Duluth’s Riley Tufte are all having solid seasons, and I really like all three. Max Jones looks like he’s trying to win the Cy Young with his 10-1-11 scoring line in London so far, but I love the energy and physicality he would bring to the line-up.

As for long shots, Hugh McGing is scoring at a decent clip for Western Michigan, and though he’s not big, his speed could be asset in a lower line role.

Wild Guess: Yamamoto, Brown, Mittelstadt, Poehling, J. Anderson, Bellows, Frederic, Tkachuk, Lockwood, Jones, Tufte, Harper, Norris

Defense

Again, I feel much better about this group than I did 10 months ago. On my first run through, I had all seven D from the ‘98 age group, but that won’t be the case thanks to some young talent emerging.

Of the young guys, Michigan’s Quinn Hughes has played his way into being a lock. Max Gildon has probably at least earned himself an invite to camp with a great start to the year with New Hampshire. I really like Minnesota Duluth’s Dylan Samberg, who is extremely raw, but his range and athleticism might be perfect for a tournament like this. Similar goes for NTDP defender Bode Wilde, who has played really well in games against NCAA teams this year. Fellow NTDP defender Mattias Samuelsson might also get a look too. He doesn’t provide as much flash as Wilde, but might be the steadier defender.

Minnesota Duluth’s Mikey Anderson and BU’s David Farrance are two ‘99s that look like they have a good shot for next year, but are probably still a year away.

Minnesota’s Ryan Lindgren and Harvard’s Adam Fox are the two returners on the blue line. Lindgren hasn’t quite looked the same early on this season after returning from an ugly knee injury, but I still think he makes the team. He brings a lot of leadership and physicality. Fox has to make it this year too. He’ll make some bad plays defensively, but is still going to make two good ones to make up for it.

Chad Krys made the team two years ago, but didn’t last year. If I was picking the seven best players, Krys might be on the list. But with Fox and Hughes ahead of him, I’m not sure there’s a role for him to play.

Out of the other ‘98s available, I think there’s a lot of decent players out there, but nobody that I think really has to make it. A couple long shots to keep an eye on that have played themselves into consideration in the early going this season: Penn State’s Cole Hults, New Hampshire’s Benton Maass, and Minnesota Duluth’s Scott Perunovich.

Wild Guess: Lindgren, Fox, Hughes, Gildon, Samberg, Hults, Wilde

Goalie

Things seemed extremely set with both Boston College’s Joseph Woll and Boston University’s Jake Oettinger set to return, but a couple developments have taken place this season that have changed the equation.

First, Woll and Oettinger seem to be going through a bit of a sophomore slump. Oettinger’s numbers are fairly meh—to be fair, a team-wide issue for BU this year—and he was pulled in his last start, with his back-up getting the start the following night and posting a shutout.

Woll’s numbers are ugly too. I was not particularly impressed with the team in front of him, but his counterpart Ryan Edquist is out-performing him, albeit with only about a third as many minutes as Woll.

The real revelation has been the emergence of Colgate’s Colton Point in net. Point has posted a .962 save percentage and 1.16 GAA through 10 starts this year.

But there’s a catch. Point is a US-Canada dual citizen, but could fall into the same trap that kept dual citizen Jake Walman from playing for the United States, which is that Point hasn’t played two full seasons in the United States. These types of IIHF rulings seem more negotiable than hard-and-fast rules, so we’ll see if the US can be more successful in lobbying this time around. Point seems like he could be the front-runner for the number one job if he’s eligible.

I would guess the third goalie would come from the ‘99 age group for the purpose of experience. Of the three ‘99 goalies in the NCAA this year—Northeastern’s Cayden Primeau, Quinnipiac’s Keith Petruzelli, and Notre Dame’s Dylan St. Cyr—none are lighting it up statistically. St. Cyr and Petruzelli would probably have the inside track having attended the Summer Camp, but Primeau has played better this season. If all goes according to plan, they won’t need to play any meaningful minutes, so likely whoever has the most potential to be a star at next year’s tournament would be the right pick.

Another wild card in the mix worth mentioning, is that Bowling Green freshman Eric Dop is eligible for the tournament and having a great year. I’d be surprised if he made it, but he has played well enough early this year to deserve a look.

Wild guess: Point doesn’t get cleared to play, and the US sticks with track record over recent results. Woll, Oettinger, and Petruzelli.