2014 WJC Preview: USA looking to repeat with a mostly different roster

By DJ Powers

Riley Barber - Team USA

Photo: Team USA captain and Washington Capitals prospect Riley Barber has had a strong season so far at Miami University, putting him in the conversation for the NCAA’s Hobey Baker Award (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

This year’s United States squad will look vastly different from the team that won the gold medal at last year's World Junior Championship held in Ufa, Russia, as Team USA returns only three players from last year’s squad. Among the notable eligible returnees absent from this year’s WJC team are Alex Galchenyuk and Jacob Trouba, both of whom are now playing in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets, respectively.

The Coaches

The United States is led by an all-collegiate coaching staff. University of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia has been named Team USA’s head coach. Serving as Lucia’s assistants are Greg Brown (associate head coach, Boston College), Bob Motzko (head coach, St. Cloud State University) and David Lassonde (assistant coach, University of Denver). Lassonde returns this year after helping guide the Americans to a gold medal last year.

To experience similar success to last year's WJC team, this Team USA squad's chances for a repeat gold will hinge on how quickly the players can learn, and how successfully the team can play in, the system put in place by the coaching staff. While Lucia allows his players to play to their strengths, he also isn’t hesitant about putting them into roles that they may be less accustomed to playing.

Goaltenders

One of Team USA’s strengths heading into the WJC is in goal. All three goaltenders possess size and strong fundamentals and have also gotten off to excellent starts this season for the respective teams.

Providence College sophomore Jon Gillies (CGY), one of three returnees from last year’s squad, is expected to be named the starting goaltender for the USA. The South Portland, ME native has been stellar between the pipes for the Friars this season, posting a 10-1-3 record in 15 appearances. Gillies’ 1.88 goals-against average and .942 save percentage both currently rank in the top ten nationally. His .821 winning percentage leads all NHL-drafted NCAA goaltenders, while his three shutouts co-lead the nation. Gillies’ ability to win and keep his team in games that has served Providence College so well will also benefit Team USA, too.

After struggling to make the jump from the NCAA (with Nebraska-Omaha) to the OHL last season, Anthony Stolarz (PHI) has settled in nicely with the London Knights this season, playing himself into the upper echelon of the league. Like Gillies, Stolarz is proving that he has the ability to win and keep his team in games. The Jackson, NJ native sports a 20-3-1 record with three shutouts for London so far this season.

Thatcher Demko is one of three undrafted players named to the United States’ preliminary roster and one of two that are draft-eligible in 2014. The San Diego, CA native has gotten off to a terrific start to his collegiate career at Boston College, posting a 4-1-1 record in six appearances. His continually growing confidence level and sound fundamentals have greatly benefited the Eagles so far this season. Demko, the youngest player currently playing in the NCAA, is the top-ranked collegian eligible for the upcoming NHL Draft.

Defensemen

Another of the USA's strengths will be on the blueline. Team USA’s defensive corps is a nice mix of size and features a group that can all skate and move the puck exceedingly well.

Freshmen Ian McCoshen (FLA) and Steve Santini (NJD) are a part of Boston College’s stellar and sizeable defensive corps this season. McCoshen, the more offensive-minded of the two, is blessed with superb hands and great poise and patience with the puck. The Fairbault, MN native currently leads the Eagles in defensive scoring with nine points (three goals, six assists) in 16 games. McCoshen also leads all NHL-drafted collegians with a +18, which also ranks second nationally.

Santini is a hard-nosed rearguard that possesses good defensive zone awareness. The Mahopac, NY native has posted six points (two goals, four assists) in 13 games. Not surprisingly, he also leads Boston College with 36 penalty minutesl. Santini’s ultra-aggressive style has already earned him two game-disqualifications this season. While his style is one of his strengths, Team USA will be looking for Santini to play a more disciplined game at the WJC.

In addition to McCoshen, another defenseman that can provide some great point production from the blueline for Team USA is the Hershey Bears’ Connor Carrick (WSH). The Orland Park, IL native is one of two current pro players on the preliminary roster. Carrick has played in 13 games for Hershey so far, posting four assists. He also had a brief stint with the Washington Capitals early in the 2013-14 season. At 5’10” and 183 pounds, Carrick is one of Team USA’s smaller defensemen. While his numbers may not reflect it, Carrick possesses great offensive instincts and could see time on the USA’s top power-play unit, as well.

Two other smaller rearguards that will be patrolling the blueline for Team USA are Boston University sophomore Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) and University of Denver freshman Will Butcher (COL).

The 5’9”, 175-pound Grzelcyk was the final player cut from last year’s WJC squad but has made the team this year. The Charlestown, MA native has gotten off to a bit of a slow start for Boston University this season, having posted just eight points (two goals, six assists) in 17 games to date. Grzelcyk’s smart play has been further enhanced by his improved defensive zone play, and it hasn’t come at the expense of his creative offensive side.

The 5’10”, 200-pound Butcher is part of Denver’s outstanding defensive corps that has generated a good chunk of the team’s scoring so far this season. The Sun Prairie, WI native has posted four points (three goals, one assists) in 17 games for the Pioneers. All three of his goals have come on the power-play. Butcher possesses outstanding offensive instincts and is very poised with the puck. While he is solid in his own zone, it’s an area that is also a work in progress.

Rounding out the group on the United States blueline are University of Minnesota sophomore Brady Skjei (NYR) and Colorado College freshman Jaccob Slavin (CAR).

Skjei has assumed a bigger role on Minnesota’s blueline this season. The Lakeville, MN native has posted five points (two goals, three assists) in 15 games this season. One notable aspect of Skjei’s play this season has been his ever-increasing confidence, which has allowed him to take more calculated risks. His improved use of his 6’3”, 206-pound frame and defensive zone play have paid some dividends for the Golden Gophers this season and could be a valuable asset on Team USA’s blueline, as well.

Slavin has gotten off to a stellar collegiate start with Colorado College, posting eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 12 games to date. The Erie, CO native suffered a lower body injury on November 2nd versus Western Michigan that forced him to miss five games. Slavin is a 6’3”, 195-pound mobile defenseman that is equally good at both ends of the ice. Slavin has logged a ton of ice time for the Tigers, playing in all situations. His ability to play in any situation has served Colorado College quite well so far and is also an asset that he can bring to the USA's WJC squad, too.

Forwards

Team USA’s preliminary group of forwards possesses a variety of skills led by returning wingers Riley Barber (WSH) and Ryan Hartman (CHI).

Barber, currently a sophomore at Miami University, has picked up from where he left off last season and is an early candidate for this year’s Hobey Baker Award. The Pittsburgh, PA native currently co-leads all NHL-drafted collegiate prospects with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 28 games and is on pace to better his 39 points from last season. One area where Barber has proven to be especially dangerous is on the penalty kill. His three shorthanded goals currently co-lead the nation. And, in a nod to Barber's developing leadership skills, he has been named the captain for Team USA at this tournament.

Hartman’s great combination of toughness, hands and ability to provide scoring depth will again be valuable assets for Team USA this year. The West Dundee, IL native is currently among the Plymouth Whalers’ top scorers this season, posting 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 25 games to date. Not surprisingly, Hartman is also among the team’s penalty-minutes leaders with 44.

Winger Adam Erne (TBL) is a power forward that can provide scoring on Team USA’s first or second line. He is a player that excels along the walls, and his hard-hitting style combined with his superb scoring prowess have served his Quebec Remparts team exceedingly well this season. The New Haven, CT native currently ranks second on the Remparts with 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists) in 30 games to date.

Rounding out the group of wingers on the preliminary roster that can provide the Americans with outstanding scoring depth are the Albany Devils’ Stefan Matteau (NJD), University of Notre Dame sophomore Thomas Di Pauli (WSH), University of Minnesota freshman Hudson Fasching (LAK), and University of Michigan freshman Tyler Motte (CHI).

Matteau, the lone current pro forward on the USA squad, has posted 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 25 games this season. The Chicago, IL native is a hard-hitting, shutdown type of winger that went through a much-publicized fall out with his QMJHL team, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, last year.

Di Pauli has played in just 11 games and has tallied just one goal with Notre Dame so far this season due to a back injury he suffered back on October 25th versus Minnesota-Duluth that forced him to miss 10 games. The Woodridge, IL native brings loads of energy to the Fighting Irish and it’s something that he’ll bring to Team USA, as well.

Fasching has gotten off to a fine start with the Golden Gophers this season, posting 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 15 games to date. He also currently co-leads Minnesota with a +16. The Burnsville, MN native has played on the Golden Gophers’ excellent top line alongside juniors Kyle Rau (FLA) and Sam Warning. Fasching possesses size (6’2”, 207 lbs.), great finishing ability, and is proving to be quite the threat below the dots.

The speedy Motte has been as good as advertised for Michigan so far this season. The St. Clair, MI native has posted eight points (five goals, three assists) in 14 games to date. Motte plays a high-tempo game and has begun to establish himself as a clutch scorer for the Wolverines.

Team USA will feature some good depth at the center position with University of Notre Dame freshman Vince Hinostroza (CHI), Boston University sophomore Danny O’Regan (SJS), University of Denver sophomore Quentin Shore (OTT), the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Jack Eichel, University of Michigan sophomore Andrew Copp (WPG), and University of Wisconsin sophomore Nic Kerdiles (ANA).

After a sensational start to his collegiate career in October, Hinostroza suffered a leg injury that forced him to miss six games in November. In recent games with the Fighting Irish, Hinostroza showed no signs of the injury hindering his outstanding skating ability and quickness. The Bartlett, IL native currently leads all Notre Dame rookies with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 12 games.

O’Regan is quietly having an outstanding sophomore campaign with Boston University, posting 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 17 games. While his current numbers aren’t spectacular, O’Regan is on pace to potentially equal or better his 38 points from last season. He has been the Terriers’ best face-off guy, winning roughly 51% of his draws. His continually improving defensive side and reads and reactions to plays allow O’Regan to play a more effective 200-foot game.

After a strong freshman campaign with Denver last season, Shore has become one of the Pioneers go-to guys this season and hasn’t disappointed. The Denver, CO native currently leads the team with ten assists and ranks third with 13 points in 17 games. One area where Shore has been particularly good this season is on face-offs, winning nearly 60% of his draws. His noticeably stronger 6’1” frame and the grit he has added to his game allow him to protect the puck and fend off opposing defenders more consistently.

Jack Eichel is the youngest player on the team’s preliminary roster and isn’t draft-eligible until 2015. The North Chelmsford, MA native and Boston University recruit has been on a tear with the USNTDP so far this season. He currently co-leads the team with 19 goals and ranks second overall with 39 points in 22 games. Eichel’s combination of size (6’1”, 191 lbs.), tremendous hockey sense and high-end puck skills makes him a player well worth watching.

Copp and Kerdiles, along with Minnesota State University-Mankato freshman Zach Stepan (NSH), provide the Americans with some versatility in that they can all play either center or wing equally well.

Both Copp and Kerdiles began their collegiate careers last season as wingers before moving to center, and in doing so haven’t lost a step in their ability to contribute successfully. Copp currently leads the Wolverines with nine goals and co-leads the team with 14 points in 14 games to date. The Ann Arbor, MI native is developing into an excellent two-way forward and is also one of Michigan’s top penalty killers.

Kerdiles currently leads the Badgers with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 14 games. The Irvine, CA native has begun to find a nice balance between his deceptive offensive side and his improving defensive side this season. His tremendous ability to play in all situations and control the tempo of the game are assets that continue to benefit Wisconsin greatly and should do the same for Team USA.

Stepan, who has seen playing time at all three forward positions with the Mavericks, can be utilized effectively where Team USA’s coaching staff feels he can be most productive. The Hastings, MN native seems to have recovered nicely from the upper body injury he suffered in early November that forced him to miss four games. Stepan has posted eight points (four goals, four assists) in 14 games so far with Minnesota State-Mankato.

The Team USA coaching staff must still trim one more forward from the roster to get down to the 23-man configuration, but the goaltenders and defense are now set for this tournament.

HF writers Glen Erickson, Kevin Forbes and Jason Menard contributed to this article.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF

 

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