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USA World Juniors Camp Roster Reaction

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

The roster is out for this year’s US World Juniors Camp that will be used to make the final selections for this year’s World Juniors team. The US will look to defend their gold medal from last season, albeit with a much different looking team from last year.

Here were my thoughts on the players selected for the camp, how they might fit into the US roster, and what fans should expect from each position group.

Forwards

Locks:

Matty Beniers-My big concern coming into this year’s tournament was the US lacked a premier goal-scorer. But Beniers has been sniping goals consistently in his second year of college hockey. I don’t know that he’ll be the tournament’s leading scorer or anything,

Brett Berard-Berard played a quieter role on last year’s team, but will be expected to produce a lot more in his second year on the team. He’s shown that growth and development in the NCAA this year, doubling his point production from last season, and hopefully that translates to the WJCs this year.

Thomas Bordeleau-Bordeleau would have played and probably been a key contributor on last year’s team if not for a probably false positive Covid test. Just a pure playmaker that does good things everywhere on the ice. He plays on a team with seven first round NHL draft picks and many nights I come away feeling he was the best player on the ice.

Landon Slaggert-Slaggert was a key contributor one the lower lines for the US last year, and will likely be tasked with a similar role this season. Smart, solid hockey player that should perform his role perfectly.

Matt Knies-I said last winter that the US would need some guys to emerge over the next 11 months, and Knies is one of them. He has had a terrific start to his college career at Minnesota. If he continues playing the way he has, he should be one of the bigger contributors for the US. He’ll bring some strength and grit down low and should find a power play role where he can do some scoring damage.

Matt Coronato-I’m not sure how much offense Coronato will bring; though if he’s scoring consistently, it will likely be a very good tournament for the US. But regardless, Coronato’s energy should allow him to make an impact on both ends of the ice. I could see a situation where he’s asked to take more of a defensive role, and really excels at it.

Mackie Samoskevich- Samoskevich got off to a little bit of a slower start with Michigan this season—which is not unexpected for a true 18-year-old freshman—but in recent weeks, he’s started to become more comfortable in the college game and starting to make a bigger impact. Playing against less mature competition at the World Juniors, he could be in line for a big tournament as a secondary scoring threat.

Chaz Lucius-Lucius has had a slow start to his freshman season at Minnesota after once again being slowed down by injuries early in the year, but showed promise with a strong weekend against North Dakota over Thanksgiving. This team will need goal-scorers though, and if healthy, Lucius certainly has that potential.

Ty Smilanic-I really like what Smilanic has done at Quinnipiac this year. He’s a big, strong two-way wing that could potentially play up the middle for the US as well.

Fighting for a spot:

Logan Cooley-Cooley was the lone ‘04 skater to make the camp, and would join fairly select company if he makes the final roster. He had a really nice World U18s when he was pressed into service a year early last spring. It might be tough for him to secure a spot because I think he’ll have to prove he can score to solidify his spot with the lower lines being filled with more mature college players. But he may be able to provide some of the offensive spark the US needs.

Carter Mazur-Mazur has adapted nicely to the college game, as a big part of Denver’s really effective second line. He’s a strong forward that can put the puck in the net when given the opportunity, although he’ll likely be asked to play more of a defensive role on this team.

Red Savage-Savage has had an okay start to his college career at Miami, and brings a lot of USA Hockey experience. He’ll be one of those guys battling for a lower line role.

Dominic James-The US has a long history of bringing along at least off-the-board type of player to this tournament as a fourth line-type, and the undrafted James is this year’s version. I’m fine with that in this situation because they didn’t leave a Bobby Ryan or Kyle Connor at home this year, and odds are the path to beating Canada is winning a college-style low-scoring game rather than a high-scoring shootout. Watching UMD this year, you sometimes forget James is eligible because he fits in well with UMD’s collection of older college guys that all play a fast, tough, tight-checking game. Probably a tough climb for him to make the roster, but he’s a nice fit for the role the US will be looking to fill.

Dylan Peterson-Peterson has always had all the physical tools, and he’s showing signs of development in his sophomore season at BU, but he’s still not quite the player many thought he might be when he was younger, and is probably going to be competing for a roster spot.

Sasha Pastujov-I don’t think there is any question that Pastujov can produce offense on the man advantage. But will he be a better option than some of the other options that are definitely going to be on the team? If not, it might be tough to find a spot for him in the lineup.

Tanner Dickinson-Can’t say I’ve seen much OHL hockey this year, but the first thing everyone says about Dickinson is that he has tremendous speed, which sounds lovely.

Declan McDonnell-Normally, I’d put American CHLers, used to racking up big points against younger competition, at a bit of a disadvantage competing for lower line roles against NCAA players that are used to that type of physical, defensive hockey. But McDonnell was one of those players that got some time in the AHL last season due to Covid weirdness. He’ll be a gritty, third or fourth line type.

Overall Outlook:

I still wouldn’t say I’m super-excited about this group overall, but I can certainly talk myself into a scenario where they could be very successful. They might not have as much flash as some previous US teams, but I really like some of the fast, gritty two-way players they have, and I think they’re going to fit in well with the style of hockey that the US wants to play.

Defense:

Locks-

Jake Sanderson-This is more or less Jake Sanderson’s tournament. He’s taken another step forward to become a dominant defenseman on both ends of the ice at the college level, and could be the best defenseman at this tournament. This US team lacks a little bit of a starpower, but Sanderson could be the guy that can take over a game.

Brock Faber- Faber was really good in last year’s tournament, and if he can match that again this year, that will be a huge positive for the US. He’s still not a huge points guy, but he should log a lot of minutes for the US.

Tyler Kleven-Kleven snuck onto last year’s team and I thought played pretty well when given the opportunity. He’s such a throwback, big physical presence, and he’s going to create a lot of freedom for some of the more dynamic offensive defensemen to do their thing with the puck. He’ll quietly be very valuable.

Luke Hughes-Even for as much attention as Michigan draws, I’m not sure Hughes has gotten enough credit for what he’s been doing offensively in the first half of this season. If that carries over into this tournament, he’s going to make a forward group that is maybe a little shaky look a lot better thanks to the offense he can create.

Wyatt Kaiser-If it wasn’t for last season’s Covid-induced late-start, Kaiser might have found a way to earn a spot on last year’s team. He’s been an elite defender at the college level from Game One last season. Great defender, can contribute some offense, and definitely has the skating and footwork to hold up at the World Junior level.

Fighting for a Spot:

Scott Morrow-I’m a huge Scott Morrow fan and think he could be a major contributor for the US if he gets an opportunity. He reminds me a lot of Brock Faber last season in that he’s a little raw, but he has really elite skating ability, and that plays really well at the World Junior level.

Sean Behrens-Behrens brings a lot of offensive skill and some surprising physicality to the mix. I think it might be an uphill climb for him because he’s still developing defensively, and if guys like Sanderson and Hughes are your main power play guys, I’m not sure there is a role for him.

Connor Kelley-Kelley has really grown a ton over his year-plus at Minnesota Duluth. He’s not going to be the most dynamic defenseman in this group—there are probably more dynamic options that didn’t make this cut—but Kelley has the potential to be a physical lockdown defenseman that can provide security for some of the playmakers the US has on the blue line.

Jacob Truscott-I’m a little surprised Truscott was picked over a couple defenders that were passed over, but he has a lot of experience with USA Hockey and has had a decent season with Michigan and will be a guy that understands his role and not try to do too much.

Ian Moore-Moore is a solid all-around defender. The big thing working in his favor is that he is one of three right-handed shots on the roster along with Faber and Morrow. Luke Hughes plays quite a bit on the right side too, so it’s no guarantee, but that could be a deciding factor as we come down to the final spot.

Overall Outlook:

This is the strength of this year’s team, and it’s a great area to be strong in. Last year’s group had an excellent tournament and it paid off big time with a gold medal. If they can get the same type of effort this—and the talent is there that they certainly could—then they have the potential to carry this team. I’m really excited to see what they’re capable of.

Goalies

It seems silly to say the least about what will undoubtedly be the most important position on the team and the biggest factor in their success. But from the beginning, we’ve said this is Drew Commesso’s tournament, and there hasn’t really been anything significant to change that. He’ll see every significant minute he can and the US hopes likely rise and fall with his play. He has not been great with Boston University so far this season, but the talent is there and there really isn’t another option.

Hopefully it doesn’t matter who the back-ups are in this tournament. Luke Pavicich hasn’t played for UMass yet this year, after only playing one year of junior hockey, about half a season in the NAHL in a weird Covid year. He’s a complete wildcard. Mbereko performed admirably for the US at last year’s U18s, but I’m not sure he’s carrying the US through the tournament. Silverstein as an ‘04 could gain valuable experience for future tournaments, and technically, the US did win a gold medal bringing in an NTDP U18 goalie as a back-up in 2010, but Silverstein probably only plays if something goes seriously wrong.

Overall Outlook:

After a couple years of this being a major strength for the US, things look a little rocky for the US. Let’s hope Commesso’s poor start this season is a result of overall malaise for Boston University and he can turn things on here, because I don’t think there’s a strong Plan B. A strong D core and a forward group that should be committed to protecting their own net should help quite a bit. But when you’re going up against the offensive talent of a Russia or Canada, you’re going to need your goalie to steal a few.