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2020 World Juniors: Who is Going to Czech Republic?

United States v Russia: Semifinals - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

It ended in heartbreak, but the 2019 World Juniors was nothing short of huge success for the United States. Looking under-manned at the outset, the United States played a solid tournament, making their way to the gold medal game before losing a tight game to Finland. The silver medal marks the fourth consecutive year the US has taken a medal in the World Juniors, a new record for the US U20s.

With the tournament now written into history, we take our annual turn towards next year’s tournament, with a look at who may be representing the United States next year when the tournament heads to the Czech Republic.

As you can see from last year’s guess, things can change a lot between now and when the team needs to be selected, but we at least have a decent idea of who the general pool of players will be.

There’s some good news and bad news for the US next season. First, the bad. The US went with an older, ‘99-birthdate heavy roster this year, which means there are going to be a lot of guys to replace. More bad news: I’m not even going to bother hoping that Jack Hughes is made available for next year’s tournament. Hughes was pretty good this year as a double-underager. He would be electric in next year’s tournament, but he’ll rightfully be in the NHL.

The good news: The kids are coming. After a couple of meh birth years(relatively speaking, given the high bar the US has now set) in a row, the 2001 age group should be very good. The ‘01 NTDP group has been lauded as one of the best, deepest teams to ever come through the program. This is still a tournament where you have to rely on your 19-year-olds to win, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a younger-than-usual roster next year given what the US has available.

With that said, here are my best guesses:

*returning player

Forwards

Best Guess: Oliver Wahlstrom*, Joel Farabee*, Jack Drury*, Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, Bobby Brink, Jonathan Gruden, Trevor Janicke, Curtis Hall, Jacob Pivonka

Under Consideration, in no particular order: Blake McLaughlin, Ryan O’Reilly, Demetrios Koumantzis, Tyler Weiss, John Beecher, Jack Perbix, Blade Jenkins, Gavin Hain, Ryder Donovan, Robert Mastrosimone, Nick Robertson, Shane Pinto

The good and the bad is on full display here. There might be eight first round NHL Draft picks in the 13 guys I picked, and yet it feels like a pretty thin group.

In terms of overall talent, this group might be better than this year’s tournament, but what this year’s group had going for it is that they were extremely strong up the middle of the ice. Next year, especially without Jack Hughes, the forward group looks really weak up the middle. Drury returns, though he got shuffled to the bottom of the line-up in this year’s tournament. Zegras and Turcotte are both natural centers, but that’s asking some young guys to carry a really big load. That was one of the reasons I went with Pivonka at that last spot. He would be a great bottom-six center.

The other downside is that I talked a little bit before this year’s tournament about how much of the ‘00 age group was having a real slow start to their college careers. That wasn’t as big a deal this year given the US could still load up on ‘99s. But it becomes more problematic next season, because there weren’t many appealing options from that age group to fill out the roster. Hopefully somebody emerges in the next year like Tyler Madden did this year to become a big contributor.

I love the scoring ability on the wings though. I would suspect Oliver Wahlstrom is playing in the AHL next season, but the Islanders make him available for this tournament. Even without him, the US is loaded with scorers, Wahlstrom, Farabee, Boldy, Caufield, Kaliyev, and Brink are all big-time scorers.

Gruden, Janicke, Hall, and Pivonka would make up my fourth line. I always hate saying any team has enough goal scoring, but I think with the group of guys listed above, there is enough goal-scoring. Those four would bring an honest, hard-working game that could eat ice time and be good enough to hand things off to the big guns to handle the scoring.

There isn’t a particularly deep bench behind those 13 at this point. Blake McLaughlin, at his best, would be perfectly suited for a lower line role, but he hasn’t shown that yet this year at Minnesota. Shane Pinto has been intriguing in the USHL, but much will depend on how he adjusts to the NCAA level next year. Blade Jenkins is scoring regularly in the OHL, but some bridges may have been burned there.

Defense

Best guess: K’Andre Miller*, Mattias Samuelsson*, Ty Emberson, Bode Wilde, Cam York, Slava Demin, Alec Regula

Under Consideration, in no particular order: Henry Thrun, Ben Brinkman, Marshall Warren, Case McCarthy, Dominic Fensore, Ryan Johnson, Alex Vlasic, Drew Helleson, Spencer Stastney

This is a really good group. I don’t think either of Miller nor Samuelsson had a very good tournament this year, but with their talent, and another year of experience, they should be very good players. Emberson just missed out on this year’s team, and his poise and presence should be effective next year. Bode Wilde is having a very good year in the OHL. Outside chance he’s playing in the NHL next year, but again, I think he’ll be available.

York brings a little bit of a puck-moving offensive presence that is maybe a little lacking in the group I picked. Demin has been very good for Denver; he maybe should have gotten more of a look this year. Regula is having a nice year in the OHL. He brings some size, experience, and is another right-handed shot that evens things out. That last spot could go to any number of D on the NTDP U18s this year, to make this group a little younger.

Unlike the forwards, there are other strong options too. Like I said, I’d be fine with taking any of the other defensemen on the NTDP U18s this year. It’s a very solid group. I’ve always like Ryan Johnson’s ability, and his great World Jr. A Challenge this winter probably earns him more consideration. This group is lacking for small puck movers, and he could be that guy. Stastney is a quiet, solid guy. I think there are more talented options out there, but he could fill a role nicely.

Goalie

Best Guess: Spencer Knight*, Drew DeRidder, Cameron Rowe

Under Consideration: Isaiah Saville, Dustin Wolf

It’s Spencer Knight’s tournament next season, and the rest is just window dressing. Knight is one of the best goalie prospects the US has had in some time. Barring severe misfortune, he’s the guy.

DeRidder will bring a ton of college experience, and is the type of steady veteran presence you’d like in a back-up. Rowe and Wolf would probably hold the edge over Saville since they could come back in 2021.

Overall

I like this group. They should be fun to watch, even if they are a little young. This year’s team played with the defensive discipline of a college hockey team, and they were able to keep games low-scoring enough to hide some of their offensive deficiencies. Next year’s group may have to outscore some of their mistakes. But this is a team that is talented enough that they should be in medal contention again. Having now taken four medals in a row, that should be the expectation, at a minimum, for the US. With a few lucky breaks going their way, this team has a great chance to win gold.