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USA World Juniors Preliminary Roster Reaction

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

USA Hockey announced their preliminary World Juniors roster this afternoon. Usually, this is the post where I complain about dumb decisions made by USA Hockey, cutting guys that are going to go on to be 20-goal scorers in the NHL before their 23rd birthday. But this year.....they probably got it right.

The group of players they picked looked very similar to the group I expected a couple weeks ago. There’s maybe some small nitpicks due to preference, but no huge differences in philosophy. I think they’ll take their best roster to Buffalo. Whether that ends up paying dividends is another story—it is single-elimination hockey after all—but it’s nice to see them taking their best shot.

So here’s I see the roster:

Forwards

There’s not a lot to say here. All 13 names in my best guess at the final roster were selected. There are eight first round draft picks here, and Brady Tkachuk should make it nine this summer.

Most of these were givens. Mittelstadt, Brown, Yamamoto, Poehling, Frederic, and Anderson were always going to be there. I felt pretty good about Tkachuk, Lockwood, and Norris being there. Harper at least deserved an invite back to the team. It would have been a surprise if Bellows and Tufte weren’t included.

The only two that were “surprises” most people didn’t expect making the team were Jack Badini and Hugh McGing. As I said a couple weeks ago, McGing’s skating could be an asset for a US team that wants to play an uptempo, aggressive style. He’s the type of player that didn’t immediately spring to mind when I was putting together this roster because he plays a more mature game, and just seems like a kid that would be too old to be eligible. I could see putting him on a left wing with Will Lockwood on the right to make a really fast fourth line.

I didn’t include Jack Badini in my initial discussion of the roster, and after seeing him live later that weekend, my opinion didn’t really change. He’s a smart, responsible forward and capable of playing down the middle of the ice, which provides some of the versatility they’d be looking for in a 13th forward. I’m fine with the selection since there are no glaring omissions.

I had speculated that maybe the US would look at some of their more talented, younger forwards like Oliver Wahlstrom or Joel Farabee. Bob McKenzie even suggested the possibility of NTDP U17 ‘01 Jack Hughes getting a shot at the team. That would have been a lot of fun, but ultimately, that’s not really Team USA’s style to go younger like that. There are decent arguments both ways, but I’m fine sticking with veteran college players like McGing and Badini over young kids still playing juniors.

Defenseman

I was a little farther off with this group. Fox, Lindgren and Hughes were the three givens.

The two names selected to the camp that I didn’t mention in my initial piece were Yale’s Phil Kemp and Notre Dame’s Andrew Peeke. Their selections make sense. With more offensive-minded defensemen that aren’t necessarily strong on the defensive end like Fox and Hughes, it makes sense to select a couple big, more stay-at-home guys to work with them. I went with more athletic, higher upside guys in Max Gildon and Bode Wilde, but it’s understandable that the US felt they had enough offensive firepower and creativity from the blue line and wanted to steady things defensively.

I didn’t mention Reilly Walsh in my first go-round, but after watching him play, I put him in that conversation. I still think he’s made superfluous by Fox and Hughes this year, but like I said, this gives him an inside track for next year’s tournament.

Goalie

It was pretty much a given that Joseph Woll and Jake Oettinger would be there. But neither has inspired much confidence in their play to this point in the season. USA Hockey seems to feel the same way in the somewhat surprise selection of Jeremy Swayman.

The only reason to select a third ‘98-born goalie is if you expect him to play and contribute to the team. Maybe it’s just an ‘in case of emergency’ thing, but if Woll and Oettinger were performing better, I think you would have seen a younger goalie get the opportunity for some experience.

Overall

I like this team. There’s now some question about the goaltending when that was expected to be on lock previously. But their tournament is going to come down to maybe 100 shots on goal over a couple critical games. There’s enough variance there that luck is going to matter as much as anything.

The forwards look great. Mittelstadt-Brown-Yamamoto may not produce at quite the same rate as the first line last year with Clayton Keller and Colin White, but they might not have to because the US is much deeper and should threaten with their bottom three lines more thanks to bringing their best roster to the tournament.

The defense was maybe an area for concern at one point, but at least in theory, it looks solid. They traded some excitement on the offensive end for potentially fewer mistakes on the defensive end. Hopefully those defensive defensemen live up to that.

The US has a very good team and an honest shot at defending their gold medal from last year. The bad news is that everybody else should be pretty good too. Finland, despite not having Patrik Laine, will be bringing the core of the team that upset the US and took gold at the 2016 World U18s. Sweden has a solid roster bolstered by this year’s top draft prospect in Rasmus Dahlin. Even the Czechs are bringing a pretty strong roster. And of course, Canada is Canada. It should be a very exciting tournament.