Last week I tried to project the Team Canada roster for next month’s IIHF World Junior Championship. After naming the team that is likely to be the odds on favorite to win the gold, I spoke with content-bot, goalie guru, Arizona hockey apologist and all around talented hockey writer Catherine Silverman (@CataCarryOn) and she was terrified that I might do the same for her beloved Team USA or as I like to call them “the team playing for bronze”. While Catherine claims to be half-Canadian everyone who knows her is completely aware of where her allegiances lie. She is a traitor and will be cheering for Team USA so I thought I’d call her bluff any put together the team that I think will be representing the USA and the World Juniors this year.
Disclaimer: I know a lot more about the CHL than I do the US National Development program and as Catherine has said my “OHL bias is out of control” so this roster may reflect that.
This roster is put together assuming Dylan Larkin, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanafin will not be loaned out to the team as they have all established themselves as NHL regulars this season.
|Sonny Milano||Auston Matthews||Colin White|
|Paul Bittner||Nick Schmaltz||Brock Boeser|
|Matthew Tkachuk||Kyle Connor||Jeremy Bracco|
|Ryan Hitchcock||Christian Dvorak||Jack Roslovic|
After missing last year’s draft by a matter of days Auston Matthews set out to prove that he’s too good to play Junior or even in the NCAA. Playing for Zurich in one of the top pro leagues in Europe Matthews has shown just that. Even though he has missed a few weeks with an upper body injury he is expected to be healthy in plenty of time for the World Juniors and Team USA will be looking for Matthews to continue to show that he’s better than everyone his age. This is usually a tournament dominated by older players but there is a very good chance Matthews leave this year’s with the top forward award. Aside from Matthews look for Christian Dvorak (who will likely be the team’s captain) to carry a big load playing against the oppositions best lines. Dvorak has been the best player on one of the top teams in the CHL all season and will look to provide the stead two-way presence necessary for teams to be successful. This forward group has a lot of very high end skill. With guys like Connor, Bracco, Boeser this team will have no trouble dazzling in the opposition zone. The hopes is that veteran guys like Hitchcock, Milano and Schmaltz can provide enough of a calming influence to help this team play a proper all-around game, something that the team had trouble with in last year’s tournament. Depending on what style of play Team USA wants to go with one of the younger skill guys might see themselves being left off the roster to make room for a guy like Erik Foley.
|Zach Werenski||Ryan Collins|
|Chad Krys||Louis Belpedio|
|Caleb Jones||Charlie McAvoy|
If Noah Hanifin were available, a paring of he and Werenski would be undoubtedly the more formidable in the tournament. Werenski has the ability to play big minutes and carry the load for Team USA. He is one of the most talented defensive prospects in all of hockey and some believe could end up being better than Hanifin. He’ll play in every role for team USA and will be looked upon to anchor the defensive corps. I expect Collins to open the eyes of people who aren’t necessarily familiar with NCAA prospects but the true x-factor will be the two youngsters Krys and McAvoy, both could very well end up being taken in the top 20 in this summer’s draft. Krys has been playing with the US National Development team this season and is expected to become a teammate of McAvoy’s next season at Boston University. With Jake Walman being names ineligible to play for Team USA at the tournament I have moved Krys up into his spot on the second pair. Both have the raw talent to make a big impact on the team but something tells me one might play a smaller role that I have projected in favor of a bigger veteran in Brandon Carlo.
Brandon Halverson was the backup on last year’s team and is likely to be the favorite to claim the starter’s role. He is having a less than stellar season with the Soo Greyhounds in the OHL but his experience from last year likely gives him the leg up on the other candidates. The two main candidates for the backup role is likely Luke Opilka and Kris Oldham or the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. Some will say Opilka is having such a good year because he is playing on a dominant team in Kitchener but he is a large part as to why the Rangers have been so good early in the OHL season. He wasn’t at the summer evaluation camp but Tyler Parsons of the London Knights will also likely get some consideration to at least get invited to the selection camp in December. Like Opilka, Parsons has looked really good on a very good team this season. The strike against him is young and has almost no experience with the US National Development Program growing up. If I were picking the team I would go with Halverson and Opilka. As pointed out by huge NCAA hockey fan Jake Baskin (@), Alex Nedeljkovic of the Flint Firebirds that will likely be given a chance to make the team. He missed the summer camp due to injury and turns 20 just a few days after the tournament ends. He has a chance to be there as well but i would have him as the third guy behind Halverson and Opilka.