2015 WJC Preview: Talented USA squad should be in the running for gold

By DJ Powers
Jack Eichel - Team USA

Photo: Boston University forward and 2015 prospect Jack Eichel will lead a strong Team USA forward group at the 2015 U20 World Junior Championship (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

23 players will represent the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship (WJC) that begins on Dec. 26th in Montreal and Toronto. Team USA‘s strengths this year will include a deep and talented group of defenders to go along with potentially one of the most talented groups of forwards that the U.S. has iced at this tournament.  

Of the 23 players for Team USA, 15 are currently playing in the NCAA, Six are playing in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), while two are playing either in high school or the USHL.

Among the NCAA schools, Boston College and the University of Michigan have the most players (not including future players) represented with four apiece, followed by the University of Minnesota with two.

Goaltenders

Three goaltenders appear on Team USA’s final roster. This is the least experienced position for the Americans heading into the WJC, with the lone returning goaltender from the 2014 squad being Boston College sophomore, Thatcher Demko (VAN). The San Diego, CA native didn’t see any action in last year’s tournament, but his experience should make him the front-runner as the United States’ starter. Backing up Demko are two OHL netminders in the Soo Greyhounds’ Brandon Halverson (NYR) and Plymouth Whalers’ Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR).

Defensemen

The defense is shaping up to be Team USA’s strongest position coming into the tournament. It features a terrific blend of size, speed and offense-generating ability. Two of the seven defensemen are returnees in University of Denver sophomore Will Butcher (COL) and Boston College sophomore Ian McCoshen (FLA).

Heading the group of newcomers for Team USA and players that scouts will be watching closely are the top two 2015 draft-eligible defensemen in Boston College’s Noah Hanifin and University of Michigan’s Zach Werenski, both of whom have been quite impressive in their collegiate debuts.

While much of the attention will be on Hanifin and Werenski, scouts will also be keeping an eye on another 2015 draft-eligible prospect in towering Tri-City Americans rearguard Brandon Carlo. At 6’5”, the Colorado Springs, CO native is the tallest player on the United States’ roster.

Sarnia Sting offensive defenseman Anthony DeAngelo (TBL) was one of the final cuts of last year’s squad but will represent the United States this year. DeAngelo brings offensive skill to Team USA’s group of defenders. Rounding out the group is a reliable, Big Ten defenseman, the University of Minnesota’s freshman Ryan Collins (CBJ).

Forwards

The 13 forwards that made Team USA’s final roster provide tremendous depth (particularly at center) and offensive firepower throughout the four lines. And like the defense, this group also possesses lots of speed.

Leading the group is Boston University freshman phenom and top 2015 NHL Draft prospect, Jack Eichel. He and University of Minnesota sophomore Hudson Fasching (BUF) are the lone returnees from last year’s WJC squad.

One player that missed out on making last year’s team due to injury but has made the final roster this year is University of Michigan sophomore, J.T. Compher (BUF). The Northbrook, IL native is one of three Wolverines forwards to make the final cut, the other two being sophomore Tyler Motte (CHI) and freshman Dylan Larkin (DET).

U.S. NTDP center Auston Matthews is another forward that many scouts will be watching closely at this year’s WJC. The immensely skilled, Scottsdale, AZ native is widely considered the top player eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft who could also become the first Arizonan to be taken first overall. Matthews is currently uncommitted, and both the NCAA and the Everett Silvertips (who hold his WHL rights) are battling for his future services.

The lone high school player on the United States’ squad is highly touted Nobles and Greenough senior Miles Wood (NJD). The Buffalo, NY native is a Boston College commit who had originally committed to Brown University.

Of the 13 forwards remaining on Team USA’s roster, two currently compete in the CHL leagues. They are Portland Winterhawks’ center Chase De Leo (WPG) and Plymouth Whalers winger Sonny Milano (CBJ). Milano first committed to Notre Dame and then Boston College before opting to play in the OHL.

Rounding out the group of forwards that made the final cut for the United States are Boston College freshman power forward Alex Tuch (MIN) and three Chicago Blackhawks prospects – diminutive Miami University sophomore Anthony Louis, Yale University sophomore John Hayden, and University of North Dakota freshman Nick Schmaltz.

The United States opens tournament play on Dec. 26 versus defending gold medalist Finland at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF