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, you can see them by clicking here. Today we move on to Team USA. Last year the Americans took home the Gold Medal for the third time in this tournament’s history. The key for last year’s American team was the defense, and their goaltender John Gibson. Now Gibson won’t be back and four of the seven American defense are too old to be eligible for the tourney. Two others are playing in the NHL and unlikely to be released, and so it will be a brand new look on the back end for the Stars and Stripes. That said there is still plenty of talent, and US should be capable of building another championship contender.
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 unlikely that Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba will be available for the tourney.
John Gillies, Anthony Stolarz
Gillies was the backup goalie to John Gibson on last year’s team, and is likely to take over as the starter this year. We all know what Gibson did, and expecting any goalie to have a repeat performance of how he played is completely unrealistic, and an unfair expectation on Gillies shoulders. That said, Gillies has the talent to backstop the squad to a gold medal. Gillies was the Calgary Flames 3rd round choice in the 2012 NHL Draft, and is the goaltender for Providence University. He is a big goalie (6’5″) who plays a butterfly style. He comes out of his net to cut down angles and takes advantage of his frame giving the shooter very little net to see. He has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net effectively and has a decent glove and blocker to take away the top of the net. If there is a weakness though, its in his rebound control as it is inconsistent. There are times it is very good and times it can be an issue. The American defense will need to be on alert.
Anthony Stolarz was the Flyers second round pick in 2012. He started out at the University of Nebraska-Omaha last season, but when he felt he wasn’t getting enough playing time he left school and jumped to the OHL’s London Knights. In London, Stolarz was excellent in the regular season, but hit a snag in the playoffs (specifically the OHL final) and lost his starting job. However, he’s come back very strong this year and is currently playing excellent hockey for the Knights. Now that he’s regained control of the Knights goal, the team is playing much better than when he was splitting time with Jake Patterson earlier in the year. Like Gillies, Stolarz is a big goalie (6’5″) who plays a butterfly style. He also has good legs and a good glove and blocker. Also like Gillies he comes out of his net and cuts down his angles giving the shooter very little to shoot at. This can sometimes get him in trouble though, as Stolarz needs to work on his side to side movement. If there is one area he can get beat it is on cross-ice passes as he does not track the puck as well as he should, and has a tendency to sometimes over push and go to far getting himself out of position as a result.
Honorable mention: Thatcher Demko,
Patrick Sieloff – Connor Carrick
Sieloff was on the Gold Medal squad from last year, and is a good bet to be among the contenders for the Captaincy or Alternate Captaincy on this year’s team. He won’t bring a lot of offence, but Sieloff is an outstanding defender. He is a tremendous hitter, and is always looking to catch an opposing forward and lay him out with a big check. He is also extremely strong along the boards and in front of the net, and is more than willing to block shots. He also has good instincts and can intercept passes. Sieloff is a very good skater and this will come in handy on the big ice in Malmo, Sweden. He has solid speed both forwards and backwards, good edgework and agility, and is strong on his skates. Sieloffs pivots are quick and crisp. Sieloff has a great first step and quick acceleration, and this helps him absolutely explode into hits when he gets the opportunity. He should be used for big minutes in matchup situations and to kill penalties.
Connor Carrick, a fifth round pick in 2012, started the year in the NHL getting in a few games with the Washington Capitals, and even scored his first career NHL goal. He is now playing in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, and it is expected that he will be released to play in the tournament. He is an outstanding skater and puck mover who will bring offense to this pair. He loves to join the rush and even has the stickhandling skills to lead it out of his own end. He is also a strong passer with great vision that can be utilized both in the transition game and on the powerplay, where he should also be featured on this squad. Carrick is undersized for a defenseman at just 5’11” and he isn’t known as the most physical player, but he competes hard in his own end and has really improved in his defensive awarness and positioning since he was drafted.
Brady Skjei – Steve Santini
A first round pick of the New York Rangers in 2012, Skjei is an outstanding skater. He possesses excellent edgework and agility for a big man (6’3″). He has very good mobility, balance, and makes quick pivots. Skjei has above average speed and uses it to join the rush. This skating ability helps him in both the offensive and defensive zones. Skjei is always willing to join the rush. He handles the puck well, and is willing to make dynamic rushes, and take the puck right to the net. On the Powerplay Skjei is a good passer who makes smart decisions and can make creative passes putting the puck on the tape of his teammates. He’s not much of a shooter from the point though, as his shot could use some work, and so he takes on the role of set up man. Defensively Skjei uses good positioning, hockey sense and his great skating to keep defenders to the outside. He also is pretty effective at keeping the crease clear for the Americans and at picking up loose pucks. He uses his size to limit passes and chances against. He’s not known as a big hitter though.
Steve Santini was the captain of the US’ silver medal winning team in last year’s Under 18 World Championships. He also took home the award as best defenseman in the tournament. Impressive for a player who didn’t put up a single point in seven games. He was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft by the New Jersey Devils. Santini’s true value is in his defensive game. He isa true shutdown defender. He has good size and at 6’3″ 207 lbs, has a well developed frame for an 18 year. He plays a very strong physical game, clearing the front of the net, and working hard in battles along the boards. He maintains great gap control, always keeping himself between the puck and the net. Santini is a willing shotblocker. Opponents need to keep their heads up if coming down Santini’s side of the ice, as he’s been known to throw some very punishing hits. Those who try to sneak by Santini along the boards have to be fearful as he is capable of making them pay the price. Santini is a great skater. His straight line speed both forwards and backwards is excellent. He has a good first step and excellent acceleration based on compact, powerful stride. He has great edgework and pivots, and his strong agility allows him to quickly change direction and cover a ton of ice. The skating skill gives him the ability to be a top notch defender. While the offensive game is undeveloped, he does have a good first pass.
Ian McCoshen – Anthony DeAngelo
McCoshen, a second round pick (31st overall) by the Florida Panthers, has had an excellent start to the season with Boston College with three goals and three assists in his first six games. Once seen as a pure shut-down defender, he has developed his offensive game and is now an excellent two-way defenseman. McCoshen is a fast skater, with excellent speed both forwards and backwards. He has a long stride and generates a ton of power. However he does need some work on his pivots and can sometimes be beaten to the outside as a result. However this is relatively rare, and McCoshen is known to play an excellent defensive game. He has great gap control, and is very physical with players who try to beat him one on one. He loves to hit and will battle hard in the corners and in front of the net. Not afraid to sacrifice his body, McCoshen is a tough and willing shot blocker. McCoshen has good size and an active stick which helps him to cut down passing lanes. He is also very aggressive, putting a ton of pressure on opposing forwards when they have the puck and forcing them to make mistakes. Offensively, he has a powerful slapshot, and has really improved at getting it through traffic and on net. He keeps his shot low and on target, generating rebound and tip-in opportunities his teammates. His stickhandling has also improved and McCoshen looksconfident leading the rush. This has also translated into his playmaking ability, as he is poised and confident with the puck on his stick.
Anthony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting is a 2014 Draft eligible prospect, but with an October birthdate he’s already 18 and in his third year in the OHL. Last season he finished third amongst defensemen in scoring with 58 points in 62 games. He has been even better this year, tearing things up in the OHL with seven goals and 27 points in 19 games for a rebuilding Sting team. He is a great skater who has always loved to lead and join the rush and create offensive attacks. While this has gotten him in trouble and out of position in previous years, it has been really impressive how he has been more responsible defensively and more willing to pick his spots this year, all while improving his numbers significantly. He seems to be making smarter, and less risky plays and has really cut down on the turnovers. He has an excellent wrist shot with a great release, as well as a hard and accurate slapshot. DeAngelo’s offensive skills will be the reason he makes this team and he can be used to help generate a lot of offense from the back end. Defensively he’s not hugely physical but can be effective with good positioning.
Pesce was taken 66th overall, early in the third round by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2013 Draft. He is playing for the University of New Hampshire, where is now in his second season with the Wildcats. Pesce is very solid in the defensive zone. He’s not one to lay huge hits, but he plays a physical game, rubbing out opponents along the boards, and battling in front of the net and in the corners. Pesce maintains very good gap control which keeps him in great position to make those plays. Pesce has a quick stick and is able to steal pucks with a poke check or by anticipating passes well. The strong defensive game is built around Pesce’s skating. He has great pivots, edgework, and agility, which gives him really good mobility on the ice. He is able to make quick cuts and changes in directions in all 360 degrees. Pesce has good top end speed both forwards and backwards, generated from a long and powerful stride. However his startup is sometimes a bit choppy, and this can rob him of his acceleration at times. He is strong on his skates and has decent balance, but it can be improved if he can add some lower body muscle. Offensively there isn’t much to write home about with Pesce. He is very much a stay at home defender with a good first pass.
Personally I would see Pesce and DeAngelo splitting time on the third pair with the coaching staff choosing the offensive skillset (DeAngelo) or the defensive one (Pesce) depending on the score and situation in the hockey game.
Honourable Mentions: Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, Dylan Blujus, Keaton Thompson, Tommy Vannelli
Check back tomorrow and I’ll take a look at the American Forwards.
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