Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
With the CHL seasons now well over a month old, I thought now would be a good time to look at the potential lineups for the World Junior Championships. On Wednesday I started with Team Canada and today I move on to Team USA.
(I apologize to the European fans as I don’t see enough of your Junior Leagues to do a full team, but I have enough to give you the main players to watch for on each big club and I’ll be doing that by pool next week)
Based on the latest in the NHL lockout, I am going to assume that the NHL and NHLPA will not resolve their issues and that premium talent will be available. I’m also going to assume that AHL clubs who have some of these junior aged players will release them for the tournament.
So lets get started.
Johnathan Gaudreau – Alex Galchenyuk – J.T. Miller (A)
My first line is a line that played together for Team USA in their summer camp, and exhibition series with Finland and Sweden. They showed good chemistry then, and so I keep them together for this tourney. Gaudreau is a pint sized winger who has been absolutely electric for Boston College and was a key component in helping them to win the NCAA National Championship last year. Miller is a solid two way forward, who will be important to do the grunt work in the corners and in front of the net. He does have the skill to finish chances should he get them as well. A mature returnee, Miller is an alternate captain on the squad. Galchenyuk should be among the most dynamic players in this tournament. The Habs draft pick can do it all, whether it setting up plays or scoring goals, creating skilled offensive plays, working along the boards and the front of the net, or even playing defence. The World Juniors could be a coming out party for the Habs prospect.
Mario Lucia – Sean Kuraly – Stefan Noesen
Noesen is a dynamic physical player with a non-stop motor. He works his tail off in all areas of the ice and drives other teams mad with his ability to be a grinder in the corners and in front of the net. He also has skill to go along with that work ethic and we see this in the points he scores in the OHL (82 in 63 games last season). Mario Lucia is a talented freshman at the University of Notre Dame, who unfortunately hurt himself this summer. He’s expected back from his broken leg in November and should be ready to go for the tournament. He’s a pure goal scorer with a great shot, and quick skating who starred at the World Junior A Challenge last season. In the middle we have Sharks prospect Sean Kuraly who was the best player at the USA Summer Evaluation Camp, and will use his speed and size to mesh in the middle of the two talented wingers
Rocco Grimaldi – Vincent Trocheck – Tyler Biggs
Grimaldi is another pint sized scorer blessed with a ton of speed. He is just getting back into game action after missing all of last season with a leg injury, but he is too gifted a player to skip over on this team, by the time December rolls around it should be full steam ahead for the North Dakota Centre/Winger. Biggs is an intimidating physical presence who has had a good start to his junior career in Oshawa, and has shown the ability to throw big hits and score big goals. They are joined by Florida Prospect Vincent Trocheck who is on fire to start the OHL season with 20 points in 15 games. A gifted playmaker, Trocheck will be providing the passes to his goal scoring wingers
Nicolas Kerdiles (A) – Brady Vail – Blake Pietila
Going into the season Pietila and Vail were known more for their defensive prowess than offensive exploits. The two talented checkers will lead Team USA’s shut down line at this tournament, but both have shown surprising offence this season. Nicolas Kerdiles is a bubble player as it is unclear how fast he will get up to speed after serving his suspension from the NCAA for a minor rules violation surrounding his junior eligibility. He was one of the US National Team Development Program’s best forwards last season though, and this should earn him at least a spot on this roster. His two way game fits this line as well and his leadership earns him a role as Alternate Captain.
Extra: J.T. Compher
Team USA loves to bring at least one draft eligible forward to events like these and Compher could get the nod as the 13th guy. He is an agitator who can play all three forward positions, and has a versatile game that can fill in on any line. He has the skills to back up his agitating style as he has the speed, vision, passing ability, and shot to be an effective scorer as seen when he lead the US NTDP Under 17 team in scoring.
Honourable Mentions: Henrik Samuelsson, Jimmy Vesey, Logan Nelson, Stefan Matteau
These are the guys who will battle for spots if Lucia, Grimaldi, or Kerdiles are not at 100% come the evaluation camp. They could also push others on the roster for spots, but at this point I see them as cuts.
Brady Skjei – Jacob Trouba (C)
I’ve got two members of last years US NTDP re-uniting to form the top pairing for team USA at the World Juniors. This pairing is an extremely mobile unit which will help on the big ice surface in UFA. They are solid defenders who will match up against the world’s best in UFA. Skjei (pronounced Shea) will be the puckmover and the playmaker of the pairing while Trouba will be the hitter and heavy shot. Expect to see them on the powerplay and penalty kill as well. As a returnee who played very well last year on a disappointing team, Trouba gets the role of Captain here.
Patrick Sieloff – Seth Jones
Jones is the highly hyped 2013 draft eligible D, and the son of former NBA player Popeye Jones. He’s a monster at 6’4″ at just 17 years old, but plays a much different game than you’d expect. He’s an extremely smooth skater, and a great puck mover from the backend. He also has an excellent shot. Defensively he is more likely to use his skating, positioning and strong fundamentals to stop the rush, then he is to intimidate with a big hit. Sieloff on the other hand just loves to hit, and opposing forwards should beware of coming down his side of the ice with their head down. He’s a stay at home defenseman who will allow Jones to roam and create out there.
Jake McCabe (A) - Connor Murphy
A US NTDP veteran, and a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, McCabe has the maturity to take a leadership role with this team and is thus the last alternate captain. He is an excellent skater, and very good defender who should excel on the bigger ice surface. He’ll be an important part of the Penalty Kill and his heavy slap shot could see him also get some second unit Powerplay time depending on how they line things up. Murphy’s great skating and offensive upside get him on the roster. Expect him to play a mainly offensive role for the team, and to be an important puck mover and power play contributor.
Extra: Dylan Blujus
The Juicer from the Brampton Battalion is big and mobile and can bring offense to the club. Has a good breakout pass, and good vision and playmaking skills in the offensive zone. Also has a nice, hard and low point shot. Blujus has shown a better defensive game early in the year, including the ability to be more physical. He wasn’t part of the summer camp, but I think a strong start could get him noticed.
Honourable Mentions: Garrett Haar, Mike Reilly, Andy Welinski, Shayne Gostisbehere,
Truth be told, I bet USA hockey takes one of these guys and leaves Blujus at home as they are normally loyal to kids who grew up in the US NTDP, or playing USHL/NCAA hockey. They aren’t bad picks at all, and its a very tight race for the final 2/3 spots on D, so a good start to the season would really help these kids.
Gibson has international experience as a two year starter for the US NTDP and has a World U18 Gold Medal to his name. He’s among the top goalies in the OHL and has backstopped the Kitchener Rangers to a decent start this season, despite the fact that the team just isn’t scoring enough goals in front of him. He has excellent technique and very good rebound control. One of the top goalie prospects in the world, Gibson could steal games for the US squad, and has an opportunity to be the best goalie in the tournament if he gets hot.
Garrett Sparks has had a strong start for the Guelph Storm and he’ll look to continue that through the next couple of months to the World Juniors. He has good size and technique and is the ideal backup for Gibson. Really though, this tournament is Gibson’s time to shine.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Stolarz, John Gillies
Gillies may push Sparks especially since he is familiar to USA Hockey as a USNTD graduate.
How would you change the roster? Feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @lastwordBKerr.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to join Max Vasilyev and I on Wednesday Nights at 10:00pm when we host the hockey radio show, “Puckheads”, on the Last Word Radio Network. You can listen in live or to our past podcasts by clicking here, or by searching for us on iTunes.