For the first 20 years of the World Junior Championship, the United States was never really the most competitive team. They only managed a pair of bronze medals, and one silver medal before 2004. However, after the Americans won gold in 2004, the junior program really started to blossom.
Since that gold in 2004, the Americans have four bronze medals and three gold medals, and have never lost in championship game. Expectations have grown and grown every year for the United States, and deservedly so. The team has only missed the semi-finals four times since 2004, and have always been a favourite to finish at the top of the group, even though they have been in the same group as Canada in the majority of the tournaments since 2000. However, this year that changes as the US and Canada are separated for the first time since 2011. Yet, that does not mean the Americans will have an easy ride through group play.
Mo’ Wins, Mo’ Expectations
Back in the 1997 tournament, nobody expected the US to win Group A, especially since Canada was in the same pool. However, the Americans did just that. It was not expected that the United States would make it to the Gold Medal Game, but they did, before unfortunately losing to Canada. Fast forward 20 years. After two gold medals in 2004 and 2013, the USA had another talented team going up against the Canadians in the final. However, there were now expected to be in that position, and this time, they won. That has been the tell-tale sign that the USA junior program has really grown in this generation. The players on this year’s team can remember when now NHLers James van Riemsdyk, Johnny Gaudreau, John Carlson, and many others donned the red, white, and blue in the WJC. The talent coming through the junior and collegiate ranks in the States is unprecedented. With that said, very similar to their neighbours to the North, they are expected to be there in the final game of the tournament. Will this year’s team make it to the country’s sixth Gold Medal Game? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Who to Watch For
It is a real toss-up between Kyle Keyser and fellow net-minder, Cayden Primeau to who will be the no.1 in net for the Americans. That said, Keyser has the ability to really steal the show. Keyser’s movement in net is very smooth and clean, and can bring a little extra to make the big save late in the game. He’s only been getting better throughout his junior career, and has been outstanding for the Oshawa Generals this season, as he is 16-5-1 so far. The Boston prospect’s 2.37 GAA is third-best in the league, and his .931 SV% is tied for first in the OHL.
When the New York Rangers selected Keane in the third round this past summer, they knew they were getting a young and talent piece to add to their blue-line in the future. Keane is really started to mold himself into the prototypical defenceman of today’s game. Keane’s mobility on the ice is textbook, especially in the offencive zone. Keane is very patient with the puck, and will take the time to make the right play and create a scoring chance, rather than just forcing a play into possible trouble. His 20 points for Barrie this season does not give the Chicago native justice. He will get loads of power play time for the Americans, and do not be surprised if you seem kill some penalties as well.
Though not the same sought-after prospect as his younger brother may be, Quinn was highly regarded coming into last summer’s draft, giving Vancouver the perfect reason to draft him seventh-overall. Though a very offencive gifted defenceman, h Hughes is very reliable in his own end. He uses speed to keep up with the best forwards on the other team, and will be expected to do just that in this tournament. The Orlando native has only continued to progress in his second season at the University of Michigan. Though only three goals so far this season, he has been one of the top playmakers in the Big Ten Conference, as he has 17 helpers in 17 games. Hughes was also on last year’s WJC team, where he tallied three assists in seven games.
The Penn State Nittany Lions received a big piece to their offence when Barratt joined the team after being drafted by Chicago in 2017. The Bristol, PA native has shown wonderful abilities at the collegiate level. He has a real quick release, and good offencive awareness to find the open man, and is efficient when it comes to burying scoring chances. This year with Penn State, he’s tied for the conference lead, with teammate Alex Limoges, with 29 points in 20 games. His points-per-game of 1.71 is second in the NCAA.
If you ever want to ask what Robertson’s worth is, just ask Niagara GM Joey Burke. Burke gave up Ian Martin, Billy Constantinou, and 11 draft picks to obtain the former Kingston Frontenac. Robertson is arguably the most feared forwards in the ‘O’ right now. The Californian is very persistent in the offencive zone. Robertson’s shot by itself is impressive enough, but his ability to get a hard and accurate shot while moving makes it difficult for goaltenders to stop. His nose for the net has pretty noticeable this season, as he is second in the OHL in points with 60. His 31 goals are also third in the league. He will be a real presence down low for the American offence.
Come on, you know we were going to talk about the probably #1 draft pick come next summer. One of the most gifted players in this tournament, the Orlando native has everything you want in a player. He has the speed to move the puck up-and-down the ice. Hughes has a firm and accurate shot, and his hands are some of the best around. In last year’s U-18 WJC, Hughes led the tournament with 12 points in just seven games. So far this season with the US NTDP, he has put up 48 points in just 25 games. Hughes will most certainly have the spotlight on him throughout the tournament.
Kyle Keyser (Oshawa Generals, OHL)
Spencer Knight (US National Team Development Program)
Cayden Primeau (Northeastern Huskies, NCAA)
Mikey Anderson (Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, NCAA)
Michael Callahan (Providence Friars, NCAA)
Ty Emberson (Wisconsin Badgers, NCAA)
Quinn Hughes (Michigan Wolverines, NCAA)
Joey Keane (Barrie Colts, OHL)
Philip Kemp (Yale Bulldogs, NCAA)
K’Andre Miller (Wisconsin Badgers, NCAA)
Dylan Samberg (Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, NCAA)
Mattias Samuelsson (Western Michigan Broncos, NCAA)
Jack St. Ivany (Yale Bulldogs, NCAA)
Evan Barratt (Penn State Nittany Lions, NCAA)
Noah Cates (Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, NCAA)
Alexander Chmelevski (Ottawa 67’s, OHL)
Logan Cockeril (Boston Terriers, NCAA)
Cole Coskey (Saginaw Spirit, OHL)
Sean Dhooghe (Wisconsin Badgers, NCAA)
Jack Drury (Harvard Crimson, NCAA)
Joel Farabee (Boston Terriers, NCAA)
Jack Hughes (US National Team Development Program)
Tyler Madden (Northeastern Huskies, NCAA)
Josh Norris (Michigan Wolverines, NCAA)
Jay O’Brien (Providence Friars, NCAA)
Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State Huskies, NCAA)
Jason Roberston (Niagara IceDogs, OHL)
Oliver Wahlstrom (Boston College Eagles, NCAA)
Samuel Walker (Minnesota Golden Gophers, NCAA)
Dec. 26 vs. Slovakia (6:30 pm ET/3:30 pm PT)
Dec. 28 vs. Kazakhstan (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT)
Dec. 29 vs. Sweden (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT)
Dec. 31 vs. Finland (10:30 pm ET/7:30 pm PT)
stats from eliteprospects.com
featured image photo credit – Pixabay.com