World Junior Roundup: USA makes final cuts, Russia announces roster, Räty sidelined for FIN
Plus: Analysis on latest news and notes about the World Juniors
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The U.S. has its roster to begin its gold-medal defense at the 2022 World Junior Championship. USA Hockey announced the 25 players that will be part of the team heading to Red Deer Wednesday and staying for the duration of the tournament.
Team USA will include 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders, which is a slight change from the 13, nine and three they had last year.
As noted yesterday, Thomas Bordeleau (SJS) and Sean Behrens (COL) were unable to participate in camp for health reasons and were released. Also cut from Team USA’s camp were defensemen Connor Kelley (CHI), Jacob Truscott (VAN), forwards Declan McDonnell (TBL) and Dylan Peterson (STL), and undrafted goalie Luke Pavicich.
Here is the squad USA is bringing to Alberta:
Goalies: Drew Commesso (CHI), Kaiden Mbereko (2022+), Dylan Silverstein (2022)
Defensemen: Brock Faber (LAK), Luke Hughes (NJD), Wyatt Kaiser (CHI), Tyler Kleven (OTT), Ian Moore (ANA), Scott Morrow (CAR), Jack Peart (MIN), Jake Sanderson (OTT)
Forwards: Matty Beneirs (SEA), Brett Berard (NYR), Logan Cooley (2022), Matt Coronato (CGY), Tanner Dickinson (STL), Dominic James (2022+), Matt Knies (TOR), Chaz Lucius (WPG), Carter Mazur (DET), Sasha Pastujov (ANA), Mackie Samoskevich (FLA), Red Savage (DET), Landon Slaggert (CHI), Ty Smilanic (FLA)
Instant Reaction: The U.S. roster did not provide much for fireworks. Of the players I had on the projected roster from when the camp was initially announced, there were four differences, two from player absences.
The best story from the roster reveal is Jack Peart (MIN) who went from not being on the camp roster, to being informed he was going 48 hours before camp was to begin to making the roster. Sean Behrens’s absence made the spot available and I’m certain Behrens would have made the roster had he been healthy. But Peart came into camp, proved that he could fill the same role, likely as a depth defenseman and power play guy and defend adequately. USA dressed 12 forwards and eight defensemen for a lot of their games at the last World Juniors and could again. Peart made a case for himself and now he’s on the team.
Another great story is that of Dominic James. He wasn’t on ANYONE’s radar heading into this season. His impressive play with Minnesota Duluth forced him onto USA Hockey’s list to keep track of and he kept himself there with consistent efforts. From sources at camp, James was one of the biggest surprises and more than held his own. His speed has been a factor, I’m told. When Thomas Bordeleau went down with COVID, that opened a center spot. Based on what I’ve heard, I don’t think James even needed that spot to open up for himself. He came into camp, made his presence known and earned a spot. I could see James as a bottom-six center that provides good energy.
The goaltending situation was another area where it was anyone’s guess how it would go. We already knew this was Drew Commesso’s net, but didn’t know where it would go from there. Undrafted Kaidan Mbereko will become one of the rare current USHL players (current NTDP players excluded) to make the U.S. World Junior roster. He has NTDP ties as an alum, but it is rare you see a player from one of the other member clubs get a shot. He had a strong enough summer camp with USA to likely get the No. 2 duties, but don’t count out Dylan Silverstein just yet. The NTDP U18 Team goalie also made the camp and will compete for reps. Luke Pavicich, who hadn’t played a live game all season, was the odd man out, but I think USA wanted to make sure they weren’t missing anything. It’s a good experience for Pavicich, nonetheless.
What the final roster says about Team USA: Nothing we didn’t already know. This is going to be a team built on speed. Dylan Peterson was the only cut among the skaters that surprised me a little only because he has the size that they didn’t have a ton of up front. But you’ve always got to go with the best options and I can’t argue too strongly that any of the players cut are make-or-break players against anyone on the roster.
This U.S. roster is going to be led by Matty Beniers up front and Jake Sanderson on the back end. Those two are going to be incredibly important to anything the U.S. accomplishes in this tournament Beniers is likely the No. 1 center and playing in all situations. Sanderson should average around 25 minutes a game, at least, in the more important contests.
The U.S. forward group has a good mix of speed and skill, but will also be able to crash and bang a bit, too. I’d expect Landon Slaggert, Red Savage and Carter Mazur to be relied on to provide some of the energy. All three also have the capability to produce, so they’re not just your everyday mucker and grinders.
The top nine is going to have some really good scoring in it, too, with the 13th and 14th forwards potentially providing a bit of an extra spark. I’m not sure we’re going to see Mackie Samoskevich and Ty Smilanic in the same lineup a ton. Those are the guys I could see potentially alternating in the extra forward slot. Logan Cooley looks like the guy most likely to be tabbed to replace Thomas Bordeleau as No. 2 center.
On defense, there’s the chance USA goes with eight defense and 12 forwards because they’re so good on the blue line heading into this event. I’d even venture to say the U.S. has the best top-to-bottom blue line in this tournament. They have as good a top four as any team with Jake Sanderson, Luke Hughes, Brock Faber and Wyatt Kaiser. Then they have a dynamic element with Hughes and Morrow. Every single guy can skate and move the puck. Faber, Sanderson and Kaiser are elite defenders, too. Ian Moore, meanwhile, is a guy that does just about everything well. And Peart provides a little bit of everything, too, with that added bonus of being a quality power play point man.
The concern remains goaltending. The pressure is on Drew Commesso to carry the mail and to play better than he has for large stretches of this season. Having watched him enough over the last four years, he is a real talent. It’s just going to be about finding his game early and staying consistent. He has game-saving potential in him.
Since I haven’t been at camp, I don’t have a great feel for what the lines will look like, but this is a guess. On top of that, I fully expect Nate Leaman to move things around enough where the lineup looks moot after a few days, but it’s worth taking a stab.
Brett Berard - Matty Beniers - Matt Coronato
Matt Knies - Logan Cooley - Sasha Pastujov
Chaz Lucius - Tanner Dickinson - Ty Smilanic
Landon Slaggert - Dominic James - Carter Mazur
Mackie Samoskevich - Red Savage
Jake Sanderson - Luke Hughes (LH)
Wyatt Kaiser - Brock Faber
Jack Peart - Ian Moore
Tyler Kleven - Scott Morrow
Drew Commesso, Kaidan Mbereko, Dylan Silverstein
Russia announces final WJC Roster
The Russian junior team was announced early Tuesday morning. Led by Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Zubov, who became the team’s coach earlier this fall when Igor Larionov was called to senior team coaching duties, Russia’s entire team will be players that played domestically this year. So if they weren’t playing in the KHL, VHL or MHL, they are not going to be part of this roster.
Here’s a look at who Russia will bring to the WJC:
Goalies: Yaroslav Askarov (NSH), Yegor Guskov, Maxim Motorygin
Defensemen: Vladimir Grudinin (2022), Kirill Kirsanov (LAK), Arseni Koromyslov (2022), Shakir Mukhamadullin (NJD), Nikita Novikov (BUF), Yegor Savikov, Nikita Smirnov, Kirill Steklov
Forwards: Nikita Chibrikov (WPG), Semyon Demidov, Ivan Didkovsky, Nikita Guslistov (CAR), Marat Khusnutdinov (MIN), Matvei Michkov (2023), Alexander Pashin (CAR), Vasili Ponomaryov (CAR), Fyodor Svechkov (NSH), Kirill Tankov (PIT), Pavel Tyutnev, Danila Yurov (2022), Ivan Zinchenko, Dmitri Zlodeyev.
Biggest Cuts: The two biggest cuts to me were Yan Kuznetsov (CGY) and Daniil Chayka (VGK). Kuznetsov started the year in the AHL and has since been moved to the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs. Chayka was loaned back to the Guelph Storm. Both players were on the roster last year and provide a good mix of size. Kuznetsov is a strong defender and provides some sturdiness. Chayka has a little more to him in the puck-moving department and has really strong mobility.
I didn’t find the decision super egregious as I know some others did by reading Twitter. I think that Russia saying that they feel they have picked the strongest players might be overstating it a little. But I also wonder how much COVID concerns came into play. The group they have has been together a few weeks and played in various tournaments together. That option was not available to players who were playing for teams in North America. Bringing in multiple players from outside of your bubble is a challenge and maybe not worth the headache if you’re comfortable with the guys you’ve been riding with all year.
Meanwhile, Daniil Gushchin (SJS) is going to miss out on the tournament again. He’s a highly-skilled player currently in the OHL where he has 16 goals and 25 points in 21 games. He was not part of the team last year, despite having been involved in Russia’s national team program at a young age. I think his skill would help them, but he hasn’t necessarily played at the must-have level this year.
Matvei Petrov (EDM), who currently has 44 points in 27 games and has dominated the OHL, wasn’t overly puzzling to me either given his recent national team history. He was such non factor at the last U18 World Championship despite being a scoring in bunches in the MHL. He’s a big winger that scores a lot from the perimeter. I think that one was just a preference thing and that’s going to happen all the time. In tighter games, I’m not sure he helps you enough.
Is there some politics at play in not taking North Americans? In a normal year, I might say there could be. Certainly the two defensemen they are leaving off have a great case. But I don’t fault any of the federations for going with who they know best, who they’ve had the longest and who they’re most comfortable with. It’s the unfortunate scenario of the set-up when you have players on both sides of the pond. Russia has never shied away from the North American guys before if they were going to help them win. With their golden drought reaching past a decade now, I think they would have had those guys on the team if they felt they were the difference between competing for gold and not. When it comes to IIHF events, Russia is going in to win, not to send messages to players about where they play.
Ivan Miroshnichenko cut: The Russians are also not bringing one of the top 2022 draft-eligible players to the tournament as Miroshnichenko was cut. According to Zubov in the team’s press release, he did not feel Miroshnichenko was in the best physical condition to compete. Since it was translated on the Russian Hockey Federation site, I haven’t been able to find out if that meant he was ill or that he’s suggesting Miroshnichenko wasn’t in shape.
Either way, it’s disappointing not to see him in this tournament given his breakout performance at the U18s last spring. He’s had an up-and-down season and him not making the team didn’t necessarily stun me. I still think he’s a very good prospect, a first-round caliber pick and a guy who can make an impact down the line.
Notably, 2022 draft-eligible Danila Yurov is on the roster and has the potential to play a pretty big role on this team. He had a good showing in international events this fall, but has been getting yo-yo’d in the KHL’s development system where he keeps bouncing teams and when he’s on the KHL squad he barely plays. It’s a tough thing to deal with, but this tournament should be a breath of fresh air for Yurov.
More on Russia: Make no mistake. This team is still a threat even if they’re missing some top players. Marat Khusnutdinov has been impressive in pro games this year, Nikita Chibrikov was an absolute menace at times during the U18 Worlds and is averaging over a point per game in Russia’s second pro division. And I’m sure you’ve seen the highlights of Matvei Michkov scoring whenever he wants to, basically. This team has plenty of skill and firepower. I don’t love the defense, but Vladimir Grudinin is a really intriguing guy for the 2022 draft, while Shakhir Mukhamadullin and Kirill Kirsanov are already playing big minutes as pros in Russia. Lastly, they’ve got Yaroslav Askarov in net, who still I believe can be a massive difference-maker when he’s at the top of his game. I still think this is a team that can challenge and compete for the gold medal even if I disagree with some of their roster decisions.
Finland’s roster dealt a blow
Finland will be without New York Islanders prospect Aatu Räty, who did not travel with the team to Canada. Both Räty and defenseman Rami Määttä were part of a full-team quarantine for Liiga club Jukurit mandated by Finnish health officials. The team members have to quarantine for at least six days. Because that quarantine would not allow Räty to leave with the team, he has been replaced.
After his performance at the World Junior Summer Showcase where he dominated against U.S. and Swedish opponents, he looked ready to be an offensive leader for this team. Instead he’ll have to miss the tournament for the second straight year after he was cut from the squad last season. It’s unfortunate for both the team and the player.
Finland has enough offensive firepower to compete, but I’d be really worried about their depth against other national powers. Losing a go-to center like Räty can be devastating.
It should be noted that even if he tests negative after the quarantine is over, he will not be permitted to join the team. Per the guidelines set forward by the IIHF, all teams were to arrive in Canada on Dec. 15, each player has to go through a two-day quarantine and then after that, teams cannot add players to the roster.
My concern is that some teams are cutting down their rosters before they leave, meaning there’s no chance to replace these players before the tournament begins.
You may recall Germany lost half of its team to COVID protocols over the last tournament and somehow managed to make the playoff round despite being shorthanded most of the time. Hopefully that won’t happen this time around.
Teams still have to get to Canada, quarantine, test out of quarantine and keep testing negative for the next 12 days and into the tournament. Given what we’re seeing with the NHL teams the last 36 hours, the situation remains fluid, but we may have to brace for more players not being eligible.
Most importantly, however, we have to hope everyone stays healthy for their own personal sake.
Slovakia slimming roster, faces daunting travel
Slovakia is close to finalizing its roster after cutting three players from its camp. It is due to arrive in Canada Wednesday with a few extra bodies as they’re anticipating meeting up with North American-based players in Edmonton.
The Slovakian federation detailed that the team is taking a bus from Piestany to Munich, Germany, meeting the Austrian, Czech and German national teams, hopping a charter flight that will stop in Iceland, then continue on to Edmonton. The Slovakian players will then bus to Red Deer, where they’ll quarantine for two days. After that kind of travel scenario, those players might just sleep through their entire quarantine. That’s what I’d be doing.
Here’s a look at the players still in the mix to play for Slovakia:
Goalies: Tomas Bolo, Rastislav Elias, Simon Latkoczy
Defensemen: Denis Bakala, Simon Becar (2022), Oliver Fatul, Simon Groch, Jozef Ciliam Kmec (2022), Samuel Knazko (CBJ), Simon Nemec (2022), Rayen Petrovicky, Marko Stacha, Maxim Strbak (2023)
Forwards: Martin Chromiak (LAK), Jakub Demek (VGK), Dalibor Dvorsky (2023), Roman Faith, Maros Jedlicka, Matej Kaslik, Samuel Krajc, Jan Lasak, Filip Mesar (2022), Oleksii Myklukha, Servak Petrovsky (2022), Juraj Slafkovsky (2022), Pavol Stetka, Oliver Stümpel, Adam Sykora.
Notes: This roster will be defined by its youth. The 2004s represent the best Slovakian birth year in a long, long time. Juraj Slafkovsky, Simon Nemec and Filip Mesar can be real difference makers alongside already-drafted players like Martin Chromiak and Samuel Knazko. And don’t sleep on Dalibor Dvorsky. He finished just one point behind Matvei Michkov at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and will be a potential handful for his opponents. This is going to be a team that probably has enough skill to keep the big clubs honest, but it’s hard to see them competing past the quarterfinals. Reaching the quarterfinals would be a positive step, though.
One other thing I find interesting is that few teams will bring together players from as varied league backgrounds as Slovakia. More and more players have left their native country in search of better opportunities for playing time and development. That said, one of the country’s most promising draft eligibles — Simon Nemec — did stay home and plays domestically. Slovakian players still in the mix to play in the World Juniors come from 13 different league. That makes it a little harder to build familiarity and chemistry, but I’m still looking forward to seeing what they all can do.
World Junior News & Notes
Kent Johnson (CBJ) has not yet joined his Canada teammates in Alberta. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler asked head coach Dave Cameron if there was an update today about his availability, but there was none. That’s not a great sign considering the hope was to have all participants in Canada by Dec. 15. Maybe the rules are going to be different for the host, but European sources have indicated they needed everyone in by Dec. 15 and could not add to the roster that after. I’d have to wonder if Canada has a player on standby in the event Johnson does not become available. Keep in mind that Johnson’s Michigan teammate Thomas Bordeleau contracted COVID-19, per multiple sources. Johnson was reported to be ill, but no one ever said it was COVID-19. Still, that’s a big concern. Hoping for the best for one of the most exciting players invited to the tournament.
According to Mark Masters of TSN, this is what Canada’s lines looked like in practice Tuesday. Mark is an essential follow if you’re wondering about the happenings of Team Canada:
My pal Corey Pronman is in Plymouth for the last little bit of Team USA’s training camp. Here are the power play units he tracked after cuts were made:USA power play units in late session: Peart Morrow Coronato Beniers Berard Hughes Mazur Lucius/Samoskevich Cooley/Pastujov Knies Sanderson resting.
I would anticipate USA’s power play and PK gets tweaked here and there. Sanderson likely will be part of one of those two units as he’s really opened up the offensive elements of his game.
Sean Behrens (COL), who had to miss Team USA’s camp was in COVID protocol according to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post. That is why he was unavailable for the team’s camp. The good news for Behrens is that he will be eligible to play in next year’s tournament.
If you had not heard yet, all spectators for the World Junior Championship must be fully vaccinated if they wish to attend any of the games. There are still tickets available for both venues.
Team USA’s first pre-tournament game against the Czech Republic on Dec. 20 will not be televised. However, the Dec. 22 pre-tournament game against Finland will be available on NHL Network. That second pre-tournament game is taking place at Rogers Place in Edmonton. The U.WS. opens the tournament on Dec. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET. All games will be carried live on NHL Network.
Stay tuned for the Talking Hockey Sense podcast which will be out Wednesday. I will have Mike Morreale from NHL.com, who is in Plymouth covering the U.S. camp. We had some great chats about who was looking good in Plymouth and talked a lot about draft-eligible players. Plenty to get to, so I hope you’ll check it out wherever you get your podcasts, or come right back here to Hockey Sense on Substack.
Lastly, I really dig the custom skates. All of them are pretty neat, but I gotta give the nod to Bauer on the kicks. 1960 block USA logo never goes out of style.