The USA 2007 National Junior Evaluation Camp, which took place Aug. 3-11 in Lake Placid, NY, had this year again the USA Blue and USA White split-squad teams dominating the Finnish and Swedish teams. The USA teams won seven of the eight games played and outscored their opponents by a margin of 41 to 23. Each team played four games.
"I think it was a good step towards where we want to go," commented United States coach John Hynes after the last game played. "It is still a long process and a lot of things still have to be done but overall I think that we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish."
"It was fun, it was a good week, we have a good group of guys. We obviously pretty much dominated the play this week," David Fischer (MON) told Hockey’s Future after the last game.
Patrick Kane (CHI), Kyle Okposo (NYI) and Rhett Rakhshani (NYI) led the scoring with seven points each. Defenseman Kevin Montgomery (COL) was in the top scorers with six points (2 goals, 4 assists).
Overall, this year again there is a lot of talent on Team USA. The team that will be formed in December to compete in Czech Republic at the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship will be very strong.
On the blue line
Selecting the defensemen will not be an easy task as there is so much talent. Of the 16 invitees in Lake Placid, seven were NHL first-rounders, undoubtedly a record in U.S. Junior camp history. Four more were selected in the second round and four others were third and fourth rounders.
Only one blueliner was at the 2007 WJC in Sweden – 2006 IIHF top defenseman award winner Jamie McBain (CAR). McBain didn’t have an outstanding camp, but his previous experience with the national team should secure him aplace on the roster in December.
Recording six points, Montgomery surely made his point at the camp on his offensive ability.
Hockey’s Future loved the play of Jonathon Blum (NAS) at the camp. He showed a lot of mobility and confidence in his play. He was rarely taken out of position. To his credit, he also showed that he can play under pressure, having played in the last two CHL Memorial Cup tournaments, winning it all last spring with the Vancouver Giants.
At 6’4, David Fischer is the tallest defenseman on the U.S. corps. This could give him an edge. "He is more mature; experience is always the best teacher," recalled Hynes.
"I played a little bit shaky at the start but I really pick it up as the week went on," Fischer admitted at the end of the camp.
"Fischer got better each day here, he is a leader on and off the ice, he is making sound decisions with and without the puck," Montreal Canadiens Director of Player Recruitment and Development Trevor Timmins commented to Hockey’s Future.
Many other defensemen could make it, including Ryan McDonagh (MON) who did impress even though he was playing at the high school level just a few months ago. "It is a big jump for him here but he stepped right in," said Timmins.
The forwards – Kane and Mueller available?
There is talent on offense among the 26 forwards invited. Recall that two of them could not attend the camp due to injury – 2005 and 2006 veteran Peter Mueller (PHO) and 2006 veteran Bill Sweatt (CHI).
In principle, there is talent offensively but two key players could be unavailable for the WJC.
Mueller signed with the Coyotes and many observers believe that he will make that NHL roster. It is very possible that he won’t be available for the U.S. Junior team.
Kane has also inked with the Blackhawks. He was dominant at the camp even if he clearly didn’t have to use all his energy, being a lock for a spot.
There is a great possibility that Kane won’t be available for the U.S. team as he may spend the season with the Hawks. "I would expect he makes it [the Hawks’ roster], I wouldn’t say it is a slam dunk but I expect him to make it,” stated the Chicago Blackhawks Assistant General Manager Rick Dudley during a game in the Herb Brooks Arena. “I think that he can help any power play in any league in hockey."
Fortunately for the U.S. Junior team coaches, Okposo has decided to spend at least one more year with the University of Minnesota. Okposo had a great tournament last year in Sweden. He performed very well in his first season in the WCHA conference. He was outstanding during the camp. He could easily has made the NHL this year if he had decided to turn pro.
James vanRiemsdyk (PHI) will be a team leader for sure for the U.S. team at the 2008 WJC. Two members of the 2007 squad Mike Carman (COL) and Blake Geoffrion (NAS) will help the team, particularly on the penalty-killing units.
Max Pacioretty (MON) was impressive at the camp. He used his body and played with a lot of energy before missing the last game due to a minor injury to the stomach. "He was one of the best players in the games I have seen," commented Timmins.
A battle in the net
The U.S. coaches invited five goaltenders at the camp. Of them, Joe Palmer (CHI) is the only 1989 born. The others are Thomas McCollum (2008 eligible), Kent Patterson (COL), Jeremy Smith (NAS) and Josh Unice (CHI). None of them really had a great camp, which is a little bit usual for goaltenders at this time of the year.
"We are looking for who can play the best, who can respond playing wise, who can respond mentally to that challenge," said John Harrington, a member of the U.S. coaching staff at the camp and former gold medal winner in the 1980 Olympic Games.
Recall that the U.S. lost the chance to make the gold medal game at the 2007 WJC because of a loss against Canada in an incredible shootouts. "Shootouts are very important, I mean that pretty much killed my team this year, it put the U.S. out of the gold medal contention," recalled the youngster McCullum. "I know that I have to perform well in the shootouts if I want to make that team."
The coaching staff of this year’s camp decided to have shootouts after each practice and game during the camp. "I think that there is a lot to do when it comes to the shootouts," said Harrington. “You better have a goaltender who can handle that. It is an important part of the tournament. I know that there has been a time in the past that soccer coaches were giving their guys mental tests to see how they can handle penalty kicks and I said that it is a good opportunity here to see how our goalies stand up against a shooter. I think that you can find a lot on their ability and their mental process in such a situation."
Unice and Palmer already had success at the IIHF U-18. Asked if that gives them an advantage, Harrington answered, "We take that into consideration, but what you have done is not as important as what you are doing right now and what you are gone be doing next fall when you get closer to the tournament."
Hockey’s Future asked the same question to Palmer. "It doesn’t really give me an edge. If I can do a good job in the next few months, I’ll represent my country."
Rick Dudley would like to see both Palmer and Unice on the U.S. Junior team. "Unice has just decided to play with the Kitchener Rangers this year [instead of Bowling Green University]. He is going to play at a very high level and see a lot of shots. Palmer is a very good athlete, his bread and butter is keeping his position. He has the ability though to be more acrobatic and make the lateral saves," said Dudley.
"We will have a rank coming out of this camp, and we will evaluate them as the season goes on," concluded Harrington.
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