It’s been a busy week, to say the least, for Americans on the international hockey front. On Tuesday evening, the country claimed its’ fifth ever gold medal at the World Juniors with a thrilling, dominating 2-0 victory over Canada. About 12 hours later, a group of insurrectionists broke into the United States Capitol in a coup attempt that ended a 200+-year streak of peaceful transition of power. So a bit of a mixed bag all the way around. Luckily, IIHF president Rene Fasel affirmed the federation’s commitment to holding tournaments in both the United States and Belarus later this year, so functioning democracy is clearly not a deal-breaker.
With that said, we turn our attention to a potential 2022 US World Junior team, just in case. The US will return to Edmonton in an attempt to defend their gold medal with players born in the year 2002 and younger. Six players from the gold medal winners will return, leaving a lot of roster spots for the United States to fill.
The other elephant in the room, which is not the guy wearing elephant horns parading through the Senate chamber, for next year’s roster is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As much as the virus wreaked havoc on this year’s roster, costing a handful of players their shot at a gold medal, I think we may potentially see even more of an effect next year. When the virus shut down USA Hockey’s summer camp last year, I wrote that at least the US was in a good position because their roster was mostly picked. They had a ton of returning players, and had seen enough from everyone else that most of the other spots could easily be filled.
Next year is going to be more difficult. There are only six returnees, and most everybody else just hasn’t played that much hockey over the past year to start basing opinions on. The US will presumably get their summer camps in, but I still think that’s a poor replacement for being in the rink and watching someone play meaningful games. This is going to be a really difficult team to assemble.
Here is my best guess on what a US World Junior team might look like next year
Best Guess: Matty Beniers*, Brett Berard*, Landon Slaggert*, Thomas Bordeleau, Luke Tuch, Ty Smilanic, Dylan Peterson, Mackie Samoskevich, Hunter McKown, Cross Hanas, Chaz Lucius, Sasha Pastujov, Justin Janicke
Possible Candidates: Matt Coronato, Blake Biondi, Jackson Hallum, Jack Smith, Jackson Kunz, Antonio Stranges, Carson Bantle, Chase Yoder, Joe Miller, Wyatt Schingoethe, Chase Bradley, Dylan Duke, Matthew Knies, Jeremy Willmer, Chase Stillman, Caden Brown, Connor Kurth, Hunter Strand, Isaac Howard, Maddox Fleming, Frank Nazar, Ryan St. Louis, Jack Devine, Red Savage, Jack Hughes, Mark Estapa, Avery Hayes, Artem Shlaine, Ryan Kirwan, Ben Schoen, Ryan Beck, Jack Williams, Tristan Broz
There is obviously a lot of scoring to replace with the talented ‘01 class aging out. They return three guys that played key roles on the gold medal-winning team, though not necessarily scoring roles. Thomas Bordeleau also would have been on the team, but couldn’t play due to Covid restrictions, and maybe by next year we’ll have that figured out.
There is an outside shot of Beniers being drafted early enough—especially after how he played in this tournament— that he is signed immediately and playing in the NHL next year, thus not eligible. I’d put the chances at that as pretty low, however.
I’m pretty comfortable with the first eight names on my Best Guess list. There’s going to be some ‘03s that make it as well, with Lucius and Pastujov the early front-runners. With the lack of high-end scoring in the ‘02 age group, the US may need them to be big offensive contributors. Also, I haven’t seen them play yet, but there might be an opportunity for an ‘04 off the NTDP team—which seems to be a pretty strong group—to earn their way onto the team.
The bottom few roster spots are more difficult to pick because so few kids in the eligible age range play college hockey at this point. I went with McKown, who didn’t produce much with the NTDP U18s, but has looked pretty good at Colorado College so far. But there is potential for someone in the USHL right now to have a strong finish to the season and good start to their college career next fall that makes a stronger case.
Best Guess: Jake Sanderson*, Brock Faber*, Tyler Kleven*, Wyatt Kaiser, Luke Hughes, Eamon Powell, Aidan Hreschuk, Sean Behrens
Possible Candidates: Anthony Kehrer, Connor Kelley, Jack Peart, Ian Moore, Jacob Truscott, Mason Langenbrunner, Kyle Aucoin, Noah Ellis, Ty Murchison, Scott Morrow, Roman Schmidt, Luke Mittelstadt, Owen Gallatin, Daniel Laatsch, Ty Gallagher, Evan Bushy, David Ma, Alex Gagne, Hank Kempf, Ryan Chesley
I really like this group a lot. Sanderson and Faber were awesome in this past tournament. Kleven got the experience of going, even if he was used sparingly, and I’ve liked everything I’ve seen from him so far this year. There is some question if Sanderson will be available for next year’s tournament, or if he’ll be in the NHL. I’d guess it’s maybe 50/50 right now. Sanderson certainly seems capable of handling it.
As for the newcomers, Wyatt Kaiser has pretty much played himself into being a lock in his first 11 games at Minnesota Duluth. Luke Hughes might be the best defenseman on the team.
Powell and Behrens are both talented puck-movers. This year’s team showed that it’s possible to have success in this tournament going a little smaller on the blue line. Hreschuk is a nice player and an ‘03 that can come back for the following tournament. There’s not a ton of depth beyond the group I picked at this point, but who knows where some of the other ‘03s will end up over the coming months.
Best Guess: Drew Commesso, Gibson Homer, Louden Hogg
Possibilities: Noah Grannan, Kaidan Mbereko
It will be Drew Commesso’s net for next year’s tournament. It’s a downgrade from having Spencer Knight, but Commesso is good enough to be capable of getting the US to where they want to go.
I’m less enthused overall about next year’s team than I was with this year’s team. But even in what would might consider a down year for the United States, they’re still going to put together a team that is more than capable of winning a medal and possibly taking the gold.
It’s a tournament where you really just need to win 2.5 games, and this group feels capable of doing that. I have some concerns about the scoring on this team, but the defense on this team should be really, really good, and that’s a great place to start from if you’re looking to steal a couple wins.
Whether they can pull it off is another question. In the four tournament’s directly after the US has won a gold medal, they’ve won two bronzes and didn’t medal in the other two. Going back-to-back is the next hurdle for them to cross.