U.S. World Junior Camp Roster Breakdown: Player-by-Player analysis
Analyzing who made it, who didn't and what it says about Team USA at the WJC
Well, it’s officially World Junior season. USA Hockey announced its preliminary camp roster Tuesday afternoon, naming 31 players to the list including four goaltenders, 10 defensemen and 17 forwards. The team will have to be cut down to 25 before the tournament begins.
The invited players will go to a preliminary camp in Plymouth, Michigan, Dec. 12-15, before departing for Canada. The 2022 IIHF World Juniors are taking place in Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta, Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.
If you followed my original blog United States of Hockey back in the day, well this one is going to feel a bit like a throwback. For premium subscribers, I have a player-by-player look as well as a “lock,” “likely,” or “bubble” designation and who those bubble players might be battling with for roster spots as well as additional insight into perceived snubs. For everyone else, you can check out the summary of the roster selections and a look at what the camp decisions say about the kind of team USA is going to put on the ice in Alberta in a few weeks.
I’ll be covering the World Juniors on site with a special focus on Team USA for Hockey Sense. I will be covering the tournament as a whole for DailyFaceoff.com. I can’t wait to get out there, but until the tournament, we’re going to have a lot more coverage in the buildup.
First off, here’s the USA Roster for camp via USA Hockey:
My guess is that USA will end up taking three goalies, eight defensemen and 14 forwards, though they did take nine defensemen and 13 forwards last season. The D corps is definitely the deepest part of the team, so I wouldn’t totally rule out bringing two extra blue liners, but there are tough decisions to be made in all positions.
The real wild card at this point is the goaltending position after Drew Commesso (CHI), who to my eye is the only credible starter for Team USA. I’d also expect the U18 Dylan Silverstein to get a long look given his performance to date. Kaidan Mbereko had the benefit of being in the summer camp, which gives the coaching staff familiarity, but it’s hard to say his play in the USHL this year has suggested he’d be ready if called upon for this stage. Nonetheless, the options weren’t the best. The real interesting add was Luke Pavicich who is the freshman backup at UMass and has not played in a regular-season game yet with super senior Matt Murray taking all the starts.
Up front there were not many surprises. Dominic James was the only skater who wasn’t in this summer’s camp to make the pre-tournament list. He is undrafted, but playing excellently as a freshman for UMD. I reported just after the IceBreaker that James was going to be in the mix for a spot based on his performance in front of USA Hockey’s decision-makers there. He is likely going to compete for a depth role. Aside from that, I thought it was pretty straight forward.
The defense is a real strength for the team. There’s a heavy imbalance between right and left shots, but that shouldn’t concern the coaching staff much as there are a few players who can easily play their off side. I also wouldn’t simply pencil in all three righties just yet, though each is a pretty good bet to be included based on previous performances. It’s going to be a very difficult blue line to make, which is a great problem to have, especially when the goaltending isn’t as strong.
I honestly don’t have any gripes with the roster in terms of who made it and who didn’t. You can make cases for this player or that player, but ultimately you’ve got to look at where they fit and who you’d take over them. But I was surveying social media to see which players were gaining some buzz and also wanted to provide a few notes on some of the higher profile players that didn’t get brought in.
And as I always try to remind people — where a player is drafted or how good of a prospect a player might be, it does not mean that player is ready for the World Juniors. The NHL Draft is about what you can do for a team three to five years down the road. The World Juniors is all about what you can do right now. There’s no banking on upside or projecting out. It’s all about where a player is at that moment.
Jacob Perreault, RW, San Diego Gulls (ANA): I had heard late in the process that Anaheim Ducks Perreault was an option and angling for a spot on Team USA as a dual citizen. However, after digging in a little bit more after the roster came out, Perreault’s ability to play for the U.S. was in question because he had not played two consecutive years in the country to satisfy IIHF eligibility rules. He remains eligible for Canada, but was not on their camp roster either. It was just best not to tempt fate and possibly bring an ineligible player. The IIHF eligibility rules have been enforced a bit unevenly over the years, but either way, it’s not a risk worth taking when you’ve already had your group in camp last summer. The same can likely be said for UConn’s Ryan Tverberg (TOR), who I had heard was exploring his own eligibility as a dual citizen, but he actually did make Canada’s roster which is a great accomplishment for him and well deserved.
Jack Peart, D, St. Cloud State (MIN): I was a little surprised to see a small uproar over Peart not being included. He’s had a fair season for St. Cloud State playing in a top-four role, but never stood out in a meaningful way at the summer evaluation camp, which can have a lasting impression. On top of that, for a particularly gifted offensive defenseman, Peart has not generated a ton of it this season. He has six points, but just seven shots on goal in 10 games so far. If he’s not producing, I’m not sure that he’s a strong enough defender yet to be on the team. He’s looked fine on one of the country’s better teams in St. Cloud, but I think there’s a difference in being a good college defenseman and being able to play at the World Juniors. His time will come next year, I’m sure.
Tyler Boucher, RW, Boston University (OTT): Boucher being picked No. 10 in last year’s draft is definitely a big factor of why he’s on this list because it didn’t stun me not to see him. I think he’s going to be a very good player down the road, but the fact is, he has three points in 14 games and 32 PIM. He also took some unnecessary penalties in summer camp, which you can’t have on the international stage. I think he’ll be on the team next year, but remember that he lost most of last season to injury. He’s still rebuilding his game and I don’t think it’s close to ready for the WJC right now. I do believe it will be the next time they’re making their roster.
Luke Tuch, RW, Boston University (MTL): Tuch had a decent camp in the summer, but was always on the bubble here. He’s also been hurt for a large chunk of this season and didn’t have enough time to really showcase where he’s at now relative to where he was in the summer. In six games this year he hasn’t produced any points.
Tucker Tynan and Braden Holt were the other two goalies I thought might have a chance to be in this camp. Tynan, however, has a sub-.900 save percentage and is still rebuilding his game from missing more than a year of hockey. It’s great that he’s back, but I just don’t think he’s ready. Holt, meanwhile, plays behind one of the most goalie-friendly systems in junior hockey in Everett. I would have loved to see him get a look in camp just because he’s played well for the Silvertips in a platoon role this season, but he’s going to be eligible again next year. There are a bunch of goalies you could make a case for based on the shallow pool, but it’s just trying to find the least worrisome at this point while also hoping that Commesso is ready to start seven games in 11 days.
What we can tell about Team USA from the camp roster:
There’s not much here that we didn’t already know. This is a team that is going to be reliant on a mobile blue line with some good size to it, with a forward group that should have just enough scoring. This is going to be up-tempo team that focuses on keeping its own end clean and making the most of a strong transition game. A strong forecheck was also the hallmark of last year’s team and will likely be again this year — if not more important with the lack of dynamic talent that last year’s squad had.
In terms of makeup, I think we’ll see a top-nine forward group that is all about offense, with a fourth line that is a solid checking unit but also has enough offense to keep teams honest. It’s not just going to be a grind line for the sake of having a grind line. Those players will also likely be part of USA’s penalty kill.
I fully expect the D pairings to shift a bunch over the course of a game. You’re going to see a ton of ice time for Jake Sanderson in particular and probably a good heavy dose of Brock Faber and Wyatt Kaiser, too. Luke Hughes has the inside track on a top power play defenseman and Scott Morrow may make the squad on the basis of his offensive prowess as well.
The top six has a lot of versatility to it with the potential to outmuscle a lot of teams, too. Matthew Knies is a legit power forward who should be a physical force, while Matty Beniers has elite two-way capabilities. There’s no Trevor Zegras that you can point to and basically just assume the points are going to come, but there’s enough depth to not need a player like that and still expect to win.
I think this U.S. roster has a chance to be competitive, but the goaltending concerns and less depth up front than they had last season is not going to make them the favorites. They do have enough to compete and contend for gold, however. They also have the coaching staff returning from last season that knows how to win this event. It should be a lot of fun to follow.
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