Early Look: World Juniors 2015 Team USA Defense and Goaltenders

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Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars.  Over the next week or so, we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Toronto and Montreal from December 26, 2014 to January 5, 2015.  As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.

TopShelfProspectsToday we take an early look at Team USA and predict the defensemen and goaltenders who will be on the team this year.  One of the key American defencemen, Steven Santini, recently suffered a wrist injury while playing for Boston College and required surgery.  It is unknown if he will be 100% before the tournament but the latest reports are that he could be ready to go by mid-December.  With that I am going to assume he will play.

With 22 players eligible for the roster, I am going to pick seven defencemen and two goalies today.  Note players must be born on January 1st, 1995 or later to be eligible for the tournament.  1994 birthdates are not eligible.

Earlier I looked at Team Canada’s Forwards, along with their Defence and Goalies; before moving on to the Team USA forwards.  Click the links to check them out.  Now without further ado, on to Team USA.

Early Look: World Juniors 2015 Team USA Defense and Goalies

Defense

Ian McCoshen -Steven Santini (A)

Ian McCoshen is an excellent defensive defender, who is showing signs of developing a two-way game. He has excellent speed both forwards and backwards due to a long stride which generates a ton of power.  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 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 looks confident leading the rush.  This has also translated into his playmaking ability, as he is poised and confident with the puck on his stick.

Steven Santini may not put up huge points, but his true value is in his defensive game.  He is a true shutdown defender.  He has good size and a bit of a mean streak.  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. He’s also willing to lay a number of big hits if given the opportunity. Players 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.

Noah Hanifin – Louis Belpedio

A 1997 Birthdate, Noah Hanifin may be young for this tournament, but he has the skill to take on a big role.  He is big, strong, and mobile. Hanifin is an excellent two-way player, able to quarterback the power play with a hard shot, excellent vision, the ability to walk the line, and great passing skills; or to rush the puck with his good puck handling and skating skill.  No slouch in his own end, he plays shut down defence, with excellent positioning, an active stick, and strong anticipation.  When given the opportunity he can throw a hit with his big frame.

Louis Belpedio was the U.S. Under 18 captain last year, leading the team to a gold medal last spring.  The Minnesota third round pick is a smart two-way player. His strong all-around game is based around very good skating and mobility, as he can cover a lot of ice.  Belpedio can join the rush, and can get back on the defensive end of the ice as well.  He is a strong puck-mover with good stickhandling, and an excellent first pass on the breakout.  He can play the point on the powerplay, but on this squad would not be on the first unit.  He does have a decent slap shot too. In his own end, he isn’t a big hitter, but is not afraid to battle in the corners or clear the front of the net.  He plays a very solid positional game, cutting down passing and shooting lanes.

Will Butcher – Jack Dougherty

Will Butcher has very good vision and the ability to thread the needle on passes both to start the transition game and in setting up plays in the offensive zone.  He also has a good shot, and understands how to get it through to the net and keep it low to create opportunities for tip-ins and rebounds for his teammates.  Has good agility and walks the line well to open up passing and shooting lanes.  Butcher is a little undersized and can be overpowered in the defensive zone, but works hard and has good positioning and a quick stick to try and avoid these situations.  If he makes the final team, expect him to see plenty of power play time in the tournament.

Jack Dougherty is an incredibly intelligent two-way defenceman. Offensively he is poised with the puck on his stick and keeps his head up, making smart precise passes both on the breakout, and in his own end of the ice. He always seems to make the smart play. He also has a good idea of when to pinch, and when he should back offn. Dougherty doesn’t often lead rushes, but he is effective as a trailer, joining late to unleash a strong wrist shot or an excellent slapshot. He can also be very good on the point of the powerplay.  Defensively, Dougherty is very strong positionally, and maintains excellent gap control. He loves to play physical and can throw his weight around with a big hit, or battling in front of the net or in the corners.

Zach Werenski

Zach Werenski is the youngest player in the NCAA, but is thriving as a 17-year-old with the Michigan Wolverines. He is a mobile, two-way defender who is not afraid to be physical in his own end of the rink.  He can battle in the corners and works to clear the front of the net.  He’s also been known to throw a hit if a forward comes down his side of the rink with his head down.  Add to this some offensive ability with good passing skills, and strong ability to handle the puck and quarterback things from the blueline and you have very talented player.  It is rare that the U.S. would bring two underage defencemen to the tournament, but in Hanifin and Werenski they have two very special young defencemen.  Its not unheard of though, as the last time the U.S. had two young defencemen this good, they did bring both Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones to the World Juniors.

HM: Anthony DeAngelo, Jonathan MacLeod, Jack Glover, Tommy Vanelli, Ryan Collins

If Santini is unable to play look for a player like Ryan Collins or Anthony DeAngelo to get the nod in his spot.

 

Goaltenders

I have put the two goalies in alphabetical order.  This is to say that either one could be the starter and it depends who is hotter at the end of Team USA’s try-out camp.

Thatcher Demko

Thatcher Demko is 6’4″ meaning that he has ideal size for a goalie prospect. This size, combined with his ability to cut down angles well gives shooters very little to look at when they come in. Demko skates well, meaning he recovers quickly and stays with shooters if they try to deke. Demko plays a butterfly style and is extremely hard to beat down low due to his long and quick legs. He is so big that even when he does go down he can still take up a lot of the upper portion of the net. He does need some work on his rebound control. He is very good at staying square to the puck, even when does given up rebounds thought, and this usually puts him in good position for those second chance opportunities. He also has a quick glove hand. Demko handles the puck well. He helps his defencemen by being able to retrieve dump-ins and make smart outlets. On the powerplay he can catch the other team on a line change with a long pass to a forward.

Alex Nedeljkovic

At just 6’0″ Alex Nedeljkovic has just average size and has to make up for it with quick reflexes. He is especially strong in the lower half of the net where his butterfly style is complemented by extremely quick legs. He has excellent leg strength and a strong push help him him to go side-to-side very quickly, and he tracks the puck extremely well, allowing him to close down quickly and effectively on cross ice passes. His rebound control is surprisingly well-developed for a teenager, but could still use even more improvement, as is true for almost all young goalies.  Nedeljkovic has very good technique, but he is also extremely athletic and able to recover quickly if he does get caught out of positioning.  Good skating allows him to challenge shooters, and recover quickly if an opponent tries to deke.  A quick glove hand and a solid blocker take away the top half of the net. Nedeljkovic is extremely good at handling the puck.  He plays like a third defencemen on dump-ins helping his defencemen to clear the puck, and to start the transition game.  He is also able to make long passes to catch teams if they are making a poor line change.  He was outstanding in leading Team USA to the U18 Gold Medal in the spring.

HM: Evan Cowley

 

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