Preview of 2006 United States WJC Team

By Leslie Treff

After winning the IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal for the first time in 2004, the US team, which hosted the 2005 U20 Tournament, captured the bronze last year.
This year, the United States is the heavy favorite to retake the gold at the tournament, which will be held in Kamloops, Kelowna, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada from December 26, 2005 – January 5, 2006.

Nine players from last year’s squad have a good chance of be named to new head coach Walt Kyle’s team, but the talent pool is so deep, there may well be some surprises. Below is a brief look at the players that are in contention for spots on the team.

Goaltenders

Cory Schneider (VAN) (6’2, 200), a Boston College sophomore, is currently sporting a 2.40 GAA and .910 save percentage in 10 games this season. The 19-year-old, who is the only goalie who has played for the BC Eagles this year, had a 3-0 shutout against Merrimack College as recently as this past weekend. Although Schneider’s one appearance in last year’s WJC tournament was not successful, he has shown maturity in goal during this collegiate season, which warrants a second look.

A favorite to make the team in goal is University of Minnesota freshman Jeff Frazee (NJ) (6’0, 201). The highly-touted 18-year-old National Development Team alumnus played goal on the winning US team in the 2005 IIHF World U18 Championship and is ready to move up to the U20s this year. In six games in goal for the Gophers this season, Frazee has posted a 2.66 GAA and .903 save percentage and is almost a lock to make the team.

Also under consideration to play goal for the United States is University of Massachusetts freshman standout goalie Jonathan Quick (LA) (6’1, 200). The 19-year-old Quick was recently named Hockey East’s Defensive Player of the Week, with a 2.43 GAA and .933 save percentage thus far in seven games this season.

Ohio State’s Ian Keserich (COL) (6’2, 200) was also invited to an evaluation camp this past summer. The season has not been successful so far for the 19-year-old sophomore, and he is unlikely to make the team this year.

Defensemen

The coaching staff of the US team will be choosing seven defensemen to represent the United States. There are 11 players that have a realistic possibility of being named to the team, and three players that although they were invited to tryout camp are now considered long shots to make the team.

Defenseman Brian Lee (OTT) is seeking to be renamed to the team. Lee (6’3, 190), a University of North Dakota freshman, has 9 pts in 14 games at UND. The 18-year-old first round 2005 entry draft pick played on the 2004 US U18 Team, as well as last year’s US WJC team.

Jack Johnson (CAR) (6’1, 210), who was part of the 2005 IIHF U18 championship US team, played for the USA Hockey National Development Team until this fall, when he enrolled at the University of Michigan. The 18-year-old freshman has already earned one player of the month and two player of the week awards this season. In 13 games, he has tallied 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists), with a plus/minus of +6.

Matt Lashoff (BOS) (6’2, 207) was chosen by the Bruins in the first round of the 2005 entry draft. He has totalled 13 points (1 goal, 12 assists) in 16 games with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League this season and is a strong candidate for the 2006 US team.

Erik Johnson (6’5, 227) is a top 2006 entry draft-eligible defenseman. He is currently a member of the NTDP Under-18 Team, and has scored 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) in 13 games. Johnson recently signed a letter of intent to play with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Matt Niskanen (DAL) (6’1, 190) was drafted 28th overall in the 2005 entry draft. The University of Minnesota-Duluth freshman has garnered 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in 14 games.

Keith Yandle (PHO) (6’2, 203) was chosen 105th overall in the 2005 entry draft. The Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) defenseman has been named QMJHL defenseman of the week for two weeks running, and just last week was named Canadian Hockey League Player of the Week. The 19-year-old, who has 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 27 games and plays the point for Moncton’s power play, has worked his way into contention for a coveted spot on the 2006 US WJC team.

AJ Thelen (MIN) (6’3, 212) was 12th overall choice in the 2004 entry draft. After being dismissed from the Michigan State University Spartan hockey team for infractions last March, Thelen has joined the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League this season. In 27 games with the Raiders, the 19-year-old has accumulated 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists), with a plus/minus of –9. He is a strong candidate to be named to the team.

Michael Sauer (NYR) (6’3, 208) has been plagued by injuries over the past two seasons and was unable to play in the tryout camp this summer. He has played only 13 games for the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League coming off a shoulder injury, but in that time, the 18-year-old has garnered 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists), and is a good candidate for the 2006 US WJC team.

2006 entry draft-eligible Mark Mitera (6’3, 202) is currently a freshman at the University of Michigan. The 18-year-old defenseman is highly rated for the draft and has garnered 3 assists in his first 13 games at the university.

Taylor Chorney (EDM) (6’0, 180) was chosen 36th overall in the 2005 entry draft. In 14 games at University of North Dakota, he has tallied 1 goal and 1 assist. The 18-year-old freshman was a member of two U18 teams last year.

University of North Dakota freshman defenseman Zach Jones (5’10, 187), who is 2006 entry draft eligible and listed as a top skater for the draft, has no points in 14 games so far this season.

Nate Hagemo (CAR) (5’11, 180) is a 19-year-old US National Development Team alumnus, who played with the US WJC team last year. However, the University of Minnesota sophomore has appeared in only three games and garnered no points this season due to a shoulder injury and barring a miraculous recovery, will not playing in the WJC.

Also being considered for the team are Kyle Lawson (CAR), Brandon Gentile, and Mike Brennan.

Forwards

The coaches will name 13 forwards to the US squad. Seven forwards from last year’s team are seeking to return to the team, and are strong candidates to do so. Twenty-three forwards were invited to evaluation camp in August, however only 15 have realistic possibilities of being named to the team.

Rob Schremp (EDM) (6’0, 185) Schremp’s 4 goals and 1 assist in last year’s WJC made him one of the team’s offensive leaders. He has continued his offensive production, garnering 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in 20 games for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. Schremp is a lock to make the team.

Bobby Ryan (ANA) (6’1, 221) was chosen second overall in the 2005 entry draft. The right winger has 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 24 games with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. He is a lock to make the team.

Phil Kessel (6’0, 190) is widely viewed as the top prospect eligible for the 2006 NHL entry draft. He accumulated 6 points in last year’s WJC tournament. This year the University of Minnesota freshman has 21 points (8 goals, 13 assists) in 14 games. This week, Kessel was named the WCHA Co-Rookie of the Week and is another lock to make the team.

Peter Mueller (6’2, 200) is a top prospect eligible for the 2006 NHL entry draft. Part of the winning 2005 World U18 US team, Mueller passed up an opportunity to play at the University of Minnesota to join the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League. The Silvertips center has scored 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 25 games and is considered a lock to make the team.

Chris Bourque (WAS) (5’7, 170) is currently playing for the Hershey Bears of the AHL (10 points in 13 games). It is expected that the Capitals organization will release Bourque, so that he may once again play for the United States in the WJC. Last year, Bourque sustained a knee injury that ended his participation in the tournament after three games, but he made an impact, scoring one goal and garnering one assist in the games he played. Bourque is considered a lock to make the team upon release from his professional team.

Tom Fritsche (COL) (5’11, 185) has continued his offensive prowess at Ohio State University, where he is the team leader with 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in 13 games. Fritsche is a strong candidate to make the team.

Kevin Porter (PHO) (5’11, 194) was the 119th overall pick in the 2004 entry draft and an important member of the 2005 US WJC team — three goals and two assists in last year’s tournament. The 19-year-old has continued his production, scoring 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in as many games for the University of Michigan. Porter is a lock to make the 2006 US WJC team.

Adam Pineault (CBS) (6’3, 202) had 1 assist in last year’s tournament. The 19-year-old center has only played 13 games for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL due to a hip injury, however, he has garnered 15 points in that time (8 goals, 7 assists). Pineault has a strong chance to be named to the 2006 US WJC team for the second year.

TJ Oshie (STL) (5’11, 182) was the Blues first round draft pick in 2005. The 18-year-old is the University of North Dakota’s leading scorer (5 goals, 8 assists, 14 games). Oshie is a strong candidate to make the US team.

Blake Wheeler (PHO) (6’4, 219) was the fifth overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft. The University of Minnesota freshman has garnered 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 14 games this season. He is a strong candidate to make this year’s US team.

Shawn Weller (OTT) (6’1, 205) was not able to put any points on the board at last year’s WJC, but the 19-year-old Clarkson University sophomore has really increased his offensive production this year. Weller’s 12 points (9 goals, 3 assists) in 14 games this season makes the 77th overall pick in the 2004 entry draft a good candidate to be renamed to the team.

Jack Skille (CHI) (6’1, 205) was chosen seventh overall in the 2005 entry draft and is considered to have a good chance to make the 2006 US WJC team. Skille, a member of the champion 2005 World U18 US Team, is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, where he has garnered 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 14 games.

Brandon Dubinsky (NYR) (6’1, 194) is currently ranked fourth in the Western Hockey League in scoring. The 19-year-old Portland Winter Hawks center has accumulated 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 22 games. Although Dubinsky is short on international experience, his offensive production has improved his chances to make the 2006 US WJC team.

Nate Gerbe (BUF) (5’6, 160) is an alumnus of the US National Development Team. The second leading scorer on the US U18 World Championship team last year, his production has fallen off somewhat this year. The Boston College freshman has 7 points (4 goals, 3 assists) in 10 games. To make the team, the coaches will have to favor Gerbe over players with more bulk and superior production.

Steve Zalewski (SJ) (5’11, 189) is a Clarkson University sophomore who has accumulated nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 14 games. He had an excellent evaluation camp this past summer and is a good candidate to make the team.

Nick Foligno (6’0, 190) is 2006 NHL entry draft eligible. The 17-year-old center has 24 points (7 goals, 17 assists) in 22 games for the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League. A very bright prospect who had a good evaluation camp, Foligno might be a surprise pick for the team.

Long shots to make the team include Jim Fraser, who has not performed offensively this season, Nathan Davis (CHI), Justin Abdelkader (DET), Chad Kolarik (PHO), Jordan LaVallee (ATL), who is recovering from injury, Domenic Maiani, Geoff Paukevich (EDM), and Bryan Lerg.

The United States will take the strongest team to this tournament that it has in many years. Solid defense will be complemented by prolific scorers and playmakers. Anything short of a gold medal will be a disappointment for Walt Kyle’s 2006 team.


Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.