Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Stars. Over the next week or so we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Malmo Sweden from December 26, 2013 to January 5, 2014. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Earlier I looked at the defence and goalies for Team Canada, and then moved on to the Canadian Forwards, and yesterday we did Team USA’s goalies and defense, and you can see them all by clicking the links. Today we move on to Team USA’s forwards. Last year the Americans took home the Gold Medal for the third time in this tournament’s history. And this year they are going to try and repeat. When we look at this forward group there is no Johnny Gaudreau, JT Miller, or Alex Galchenyuk, the type of dynamic scorers that the Americans had last year. While there is plenty of balance, and there is some good offense there, its hard to put your finger on who will be the go to guy for the club. That said, there might be more offensive depth overall than last last year’s club. The Americans will have to hope that rolling four lines and an offense by committee approach will provide the much needed goals in this tournament.
I am going to assume that any players currently in the NHL would not be released from their club, sorry USA Hockey fans, it is extremely unlikely that the Montreal Canadiens will be allowing Alex Galchenyuk to play in the tourney. Perhaps he’ll get a shot to go back to Sochi though.
Ryan Hartman – Nic Kerdiles – Riley Barber
As noted above, its tough to find a real go-to scorer in the US lineup, but Nic Kerdiles might just be the closest thing we have. A second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2012, Kerdiles has started strong at the University of Wisconsin this year with four goals and eight points in six games. He is a talented offensive player and incredibly smart player with very high hockey IQ. Kerdiles is great at working down low, and playing the cycle. He makes great tape-to-tape passes and has very good vision. He also has a knack for finding open space from where he can unleash an extremely accurate shot. He’s got soft hands in close which he uses to score goals from tip-ins and rebounds. Kerdiles is a versatile forward who can be used both at Centre and on the Wing. A natural leader, Kerdiles possesses an insatiable work ethic. He is an effective forechecker chasing down opposing defenders and getting on the puck. He’s also extremely gritty, winning a ton of board battles and taking punishment in front of the opponents net. He’s fearless, committed to winning, and willing to take a hit to make a play. Kerdiles is also known to look for the big hit if it is available. Its not something he’ll do recklessly or get himself out of position, but if an opponent makes a mistake, Kerdiles can lower the boom. Kerdiles is also good in his own zone. He is an active and committed back checker. His hockey IQ translates into the defensive zone, as he is excellent positionally and anticipates plays well. He is very good at cutting down passing lanes, and has an uncanny ability to strip opponents of the puck. Kerdiles is very much a complete player, capable of playing in any situation.
Hartman and Barber are returnees from last year’s gold medal winning squad. They were third liners a year ago, but chipped in some key offence and both have really improved their offensive games in the past years, Hartman for the Plymouth Whalers and Barber at he University of Miami (Ohio).
Riley Barber has had an outstanding start to the year with nine goals and 15 points in just 10 games for the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks. This sixth round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2012 is looking like an NHL draft steal. He is another outstanding two way player with great instincts and hockey sense at both ends of the ice. Again he is very good on the cycle game, and so these three players will look to work the puck down low where they can control the play on the boards while looking for an opening to take the puck to the front of the net or pass it to a linemate who is cutting there. Barber is a good skater, who has very good top end speed and acceleration, and also the strength and balance to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. He protects the puck extremely well with good stickhandling, and combined with his balance it makes him extremely difficult to knock of the puck.
Ryan Hartman, a first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks is listed at 5’11″ and 185 lbs and many wouldn’t think of Hartman as a power forward, but that is the type of game that Hartman plays. He is extremely physical in all areas. Hartman protects the puck very well down low and is excellent in the cycle. He fights through checks to the dirty areas of the ice. Hartman is a playmaker, with excellent passing skills and very good vision. He has very good hockey sense and often makes the smart play. His wrist shot is extremely heavy and has an excellent release. He also can score goals by taking the puck to the net, and using soft hands in close. Hartman is an agitator who loves to chirp opponents and is often in the middle of things. Hartman is a very good skater, he has good top end speed, and reaches it quickly with a quick first step and good acceleration. His biggest asset is his excellent lateral agility, and good edgework which allows him to escape checkers and pull away from them. Defensively his game is advanced as she pressures the puck very well and forces his opponents to make errors. He is fearless in blocking shots and brings his physical game to the defensive end. He is also solid on the penalty kill.
Henrik Samuelsson – Danny O’Regan – Hudson Fasching
O’Regan is an interesting case. Earlier I would have seen him as a contender for the first line centre on this team, but after just six points in nine games to start the season with Boston University, I couldn’t put him there. In fact I was hesitant to have him centring the second line as well. He’s still got over a month to the evaluation camp, and that is why I still have him in a top six role, but if he doesn’t start picking things up soon, he could be passed on the depth chart by someone further down like JT Compher, Vince Hinostroza, or Cole Cassels. Don’t get me wrong, I believe he’ll be on the team, but I’m just not sure if he’ll be in the top six. A fifth round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2012, O’Regan scored 38 points in 39 games for Boston University as a freshman. When he’s at his best, this 5’9″ centre has very good speed and skating ability, and the ability to make plays with the puck while skating at top speed. He has great vision, and has excellent passing ability, able to thread passes through the smallest of openings. He can score a few goals, as O’Regan has good hands, and a good release on his shot, but still lacks some power.
A 2012 First Round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, Samuelsson is a big bodied, power forward. He’s versatile as he’s been used at both centre and on the wing. He’s had a good start to the year with 30 points in 21 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings. Samuelsson uses his size and strength to battle opponents for loose pucks on the boards and to plant himself in front of the net. He has soft hands and a knack for banging in rebounds and tipping shots in close. His huge frame is also an effective screen for opposing goalies. Henrik has a good wrist shot and release, and is also good on one-timers. Samuelsson has also shown a creative playmaking side, utilizing great vision, tape-to-tape passing skills to rack up assists. He doesn’t shy away from traffic or from a physical game, and has been known to throw big hits. Defensively Samuelsson is a conscientious back checker and strong positionally. He is willing to use his size to be physical and again is often involved in battles for loose pucks. Samuelsson is willing to block shots and understands how to cut down on the passing lanes. Skating wise, Samuelsson has good top end speed for a big man and is very strong and balanced on his skates.
Hudson Fasching has had a great start to the year with five goals and 11 points in eight games with the University of Minnesota. An L.A. Kings draft pick, Fasching has all the tools you would want in a power forward. He is 6’03″ and 213 lbs. Fasching takes the puck to the net, and can score goals in tight, or via a good wrist shot and snap shot with a quick release. He gets to the front of the net, where he uses his big body to establish position, and his soft hands to bang in rebounds or make deflections. Fasching is a load to handle in the corners and loves to play a strong, physical game, with plenty of hits on the forecheck. He has also shown good vision and passing skill off the wing. Fasching is a powerful skater with a long stride. He is a natural power forward who has excellent balance and is very tough to knock of the puck. His power and size allows him to fight off checks, and to bulldoze through defencemen off the rush or own the cycle. His top end speed is good, but the acceleration could be improved going forward, especially his first step. Fasching shows good agility and he has the natural athletic ability but must refine his skating technique with some work on his turning and edgework. Fasching is also a valuable two way player, playing important penalty killing minutes for the USNTDP club last year. He shows very good hockey sense and anticipation, cutting down passing lanes. He shows his aggressive physical side in the defensive zone, pressuring the puck carrier and not being afraid to mix things up along the boards
Tyler Motte – JT Compher – Brady Vail
This line will be used as the shutdown unit for the Americans.
A second round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Compher has had a nice start as a freshman for the Michigan Wolverines, with five points in his first eight games. He is a talented agitator who plays an irritating game. He is always yapping and always in an opponents face after the whistle. Compher has the ability to get opponents off their game and draw penalties. Compher always seems to have a nose for trouble, finding himself in the middle of any scrum that starts when he is on the ice. He is not afraid to go to dirty areas of the ice, and wins board battles and establishes position well in front of the net. He also drives the net hard, and has been known to take a goalie interference penalty or two for his efforts. He has the skills to back up his chirping and agitation as he has the vision, and passing ability to be an effective playmaker. Compher has very good stickhandling skill and can protect the puck well and control the play off the cycle. Compher combines this with a very good shot and release, and he knows how to put the puck in the back of the net. He also has the hockey sense to always find himself in the right place at the right time. Compher’s skating stride is not pretty, but it gets him where he is going and it is effective. He has decent speed and acceleration. He is very strong on his skates, and has good balance allowing him to fight through checks and get to the net. He is difficult to knock off the puck. Defensively, Compher is well developed. He brings his tenacious, hard working, physical game to the defensive end of the ice. He is willing to sacrifice for his team and puts his body on the line to block shots. His hockey sense, and ability to diagnose plays is very good and he often finds himself in the right spot in the defensive zone as well.
Tyler Motte has natural chemistry with Compher, playing as his linemate at Michigan and at time with the USNTDP last year. He has 4 goals in 8 games to start the season as a freshman. He was a fourth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks this past season. A little undersized at just 5’9″, Motte doesn’t seem to let that get in the way of playing a determined defensive game with good anticipation, the ability to cut down passing lanes, and create turnovers. He is a tremendous skater generating great top end speed and outstanding acceleration as well as having great agility and edgework. When he does create those turnovers, he can kick it into another gear, transitioning to offence where he can use his good stickhandling and good vision playmaking skills to create offense off the counter attack. He has good hands in close, but could use a little more power on his shot from further out.
Joining the two Wolverines, is Brady Vail, a 2012 4th round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, who for the Windsor Spitfires. With nine goals and 20 points in his first 18 games, he’s had a nice start to the season. Vail is an effective two-way player who is a natural centre, but has shown great versatility, even playing a number of games on defense for the Spitfires last season. Offensively he is strong on the puck and is at his best playing a cycle game down low. A tireless worker, Vail wins a ton of board battles and is never afraid to get himself into traffic. He has a hard, accurate shot and a quick release. Vail is also a good passer, and has decent vision to find the open man in the offensive zone. He isn’t the type of player who will dangle a ton of defencemen, or deke guys out. His offensive game is more straightforward and based on pure north-south play, and dogged determination. Defensively, Vail is an incredibly intelligent player. He uses strong positional play, and good instincts, to almost always be in the right spot in the defensive zone. He understands how to cut down on passing lanes, and to block shots. A dogged player, he gets into his opponents face, and his high energy level can get under an opponent’s skin.
Adam Erne – Vince Hinostroza – Taylor Cammarata
A sixth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, Vince Hinostraza has had a great start to his freshman career with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish with 12 points in his first ten games. Hinostroza is a high-energy player who is always moving his feet and always involved in the play. Despite his small size, he is not afraid to get his nose dirty on the forecheck, or to battle for pucks on the boards or in front of the net. He is a very good skater with good top end speed, acceleration, agility and balance. Hinostroza was cut early in the US Summer camp, but his play for the Fighting Irish has put him right back in the mix for this team. He has shown slick stickhandling and the ability to extend plays allowing his linemates the time to get open. He has excellent vision and can make strong passes through very small openings to create plays. Hinostroza has shown an ability to score goals with his quick hands on rebounds, tip-ins, and dekes in close, but isn’t really known as a sniper from further out.
Adam Erne was a 2nd round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a power forward who plays a very physical game. He loves to get in on the forecheck and throw big hits, the type that can really set the tone. He just loves to win battles on the boards and to fight for position in front of the net. Erne is at his best when he drives the net and uses his soft hands to beat the goalie in close. He can do this by taking defenders wide off the rush, or in the cycle game by just fighting through checks and barreling his way to the crease. He drives the net effectively without the puck as well. Erne also has a good wrist shot and a quick release which he can also use to beat goaltenders. His vision and playmaking ability have vastly improved this season, and he has shown off his ability to set up teammates for good scoring chances. Erne is a very good skater. His stride is long and powerful, which allows him to generate good top speed, but also gives him the balance and strength necessary to be strong on the puck and fight through checks to get to the dirty areas of the ice. His acceleration, edgework and agility are decent as well. Erne is already advanced in his defensive game and is reliable in his own zone. He brings the same strong physical play in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone. Most times he plays his position extremely well, keeping his man to the outside and cutting off shooting and passing lanes. The only issue he can sometimes have is getting a little overzealous in his approach and looking for the big hit which will get him out of position in the defensive zone.
Camaratta played with Hinostraza last season with the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL where Camaratta led the league with 93 points in 59 games. Now at the University of Minnesota, the third round pick of the New York Islanders has nine points in eight games this season. At just 5’7″ he’s slightlty undersized and his top end speed isn’t the fastest around, but he’s got good quickness with his first step and his acceleration, as well as very good edgework and agility that makes him very shifty. He is a tremendous stickhandler who has a great array of fancy moves that can take fans out of their seats, and defenders out of their skates. He also has very good vision, and tremendous passing ability and is a great playmaker. Top it all off with a willingness to drive the net, the hands to finish when he gets there, or the ability to pull up and let go a nice wrister with a quick release and you have a very good scorer to add some offence from the bottom lines, and perhaps could even move up the lineup if others struggle.
Cassels, a third round pick of the Van is the son of former NHLer Andrew Cassels, who is best known for his time as a Hartford Whaler. Cassels is more a playmaker than a goal scorer at the offensive end, with good vision and passing skills. He has a good shot, but he doesn’t use it enough. He plays a strong two way game and works well at the defensive end, effective on the back check and at blocking shots and passing lanes, and at killing penalties. He’s had a great start to the season with the Oshawa Generals with 28 points in 21 games. I choose Cassels as my 13th forward for his ability to fill in on both a scoring or a checking line and the versatility that provides should some of his teammates struggle, or should he be forced into a bigger role by injuries or suspensions during the tournament.
Honorable Mentions: Stefan Matteau, Andrew Copp, Jake Eichel, Ryan Fitzgerald, Tommy DiPauli, Boo Nieves
The big surprise here is Matteau, as I believe that most analysts will have him on the team. I’ve left him off though as I just don’t think his game translates as well to a bigger ice surface in Malmo Sweden as it does to the North American sized ice. However there is one bigger thing that concerned me, and that is his penchant for undisciplined play and the fact he’s had issues with penalties and suspensions. With IIHF refs, and rules there is just no room for undisciplined play, and in a tournament such as this being in the box can really cost a team. Add to that a slow start, just one point (a goal) in 12 games with the Albany Devils, and he’s been passed on my depth chart.
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