Hockey: Projecting Team USA's Lineup for the World Junior Championships
With the long wait for the World Junior Championships nearly over, Team USA is deep in the midst of final preparations. With final cuts due to be announced on Dec. 22, we have a pretty good picture of what this American team could look like in Russia.
Coached by Phil Housley, Team USA has concluded their brief training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y. and travelled to Finland for a pair of warm up games. Pre-tournament clashes with Sweden (Dec. 20) and Finland (Dec. 22) will be the last chance for players on the bubble to earn their way to Russia.
According to TSN, forward Stefan Noesen, selected by Ottawa in the first round of the 2011 draft, has been ruled ineligible as a result of a suspension incurred while playing for the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.
His absence leaves Team USA with 26 players vying for 23 pots. The Americans will likely cut two defensemen and a forward following their final exhibition game against Finland next week.
The 23 remaining players will begin their gold medal pursuit against Germany on Dec. 27. On Monday, NHL.com's Mike Morreale reported the line combinations used in the team's final training camp practice, offering some idea of what role each player will fill. Those combinations can be found on his Twitter page.
With camp now completed, lets take a look at what the final lineup could look like.
*Complete preliminary roster available here, courtesy of USA Hockey
Forward Line 1
Center: J.T. Miller
One of just three returnees from last year's WJC team that failed to medal in Canada, Miller is set to lead the way up front for Team USA. Drafted 15th Overall by the New York Rangers in 2011, the big and experienced center is among the favorites to be named captain, according to Mike Morreale. Miller has 14 points in 26 games for the AHL's Connecticut Whale this season.
Left Wing: Johnny Gaudreau
Gaudreau has been a dominant force for the Boston College Eagles this fall after leading the team to a National Championship last spring. The 5'9" Calgary Flames prospect may be small but brings an elite skill set to the ice. He has 23 points for BC in just 14 games this season.
Right Wing: Rocco Grimaldi
Florida's 2012 second round pick, Rocco Grimaldi has impressed this season for the University of North Dakota. He has 16 points in 18 games. Grimaldi is another small winger capable of making big plays.
Forward Line 2
Center: Vince Trocheck
Trocheck has had a spectacular season so far for the OHL's Saginaw Spirit. He holds the OHL's sixth highest point total with a remarkable 50 in 35 games. Trocheck's solid two-way game and knack for goal-scoring earn him a top-six spot.
Left Wing: Alex Galchenyuk
Selected by the Montreal Canadiens third overall in the 2012 draft, Alex Galchenyuk could be Team USA's best player and is almost certain to be their most lethal scoring threat. With 40 points in his last 19 games for the OHL's Sarnia Sting, Galchenyuk has come within one point of league leader Ryan Strome, who will suit up for Canada. Galchenyuk is a very special player, who should light the lamp often in Russia.
Right Wing: Riley Barber
Riley Barber ranks first among freshmen in NCAA scoring with 22 points this fall. He currently leads the University of Miami (Ohio) in points and his playmaking ability should compliment the two OHL studs perfectly.
Forward Line 3
Center: Sean Kuraly
Sean Kuraly could center an enormous third line with three skaters who each stand 6'2" and weigh more than 200 pounds. The San Jose Sharks prospect has not dominated offensively for the University of Miami (Ohio) this fall but his size and speed earn him this position between two first round picks.
Left Wing: Stefan Matteau
New Jersey Devils prospect Stefan Matteau is an excellent power forward. He uses his big frame to get to the net and put the puck away. He has 15 goals and 25 points in 29 games for the QMJHL's Blainville-Boisbriand Armada this season.
Right Wing: Tyler Biggs
Much like Matteau, Biggs is an imposing physical presence. Drafted by Toronto in 2011, he has improved his offensive game of late playing with the OHL's Oshawa Generals. He has 33 points in 34 games this fall.
Forward Line 4
Center: Cole Bardreau
Cornell University center Cole Bardreau is not much of a scoring threat but could make the team because of his defensive prowess. He should be a solid defensive-forward and will see penalty kill time for the Red, White and Blue.
Left Wing: Blake Pietila
Michigan Tech's Pietila will fit nicely on the American checking line. A big strong player, he is excellent in his own zone and plays a quality forecheck. His offense has shown improvement this season, as he leads MTU with 10 goals.
Right Wing: Ryan Hartman
Hartman is a versatile player who can do a little bit of everything. He should be the checking line's best scoring threat, having scored 29 points in 32 OHL games this year for the Plymouth Whalers, and he will hold his own in the defensive end.
Defensive Pair 1
At 6'4", 205 pounds, Connor Murphy is America's biggest defenseman. A 2011 first round draft pick, the Phoenix Coyotes prospect is a monster in his own zone. The elite defensive-defenseman has 18 points this season in 33 games for the OHL's Sarnia Sting.
The only returning defenseman from the 2012 tournament, Jacob Trouba is a superb all-around defenseman. Selected ninth overall by Winnipeg in the 2012 draft, he is a big blueliner who can pack a punch but also contribute offensively. Trouba has posted 11 points in his first 16 games for the University of Michigan this season.
Defense Pair 2
Seth Jones could become the face of this team as he fights to become the first American selected first overall in the NHL Draft since Patrick Kane in 2007. The son of an NBA player, Jones has elite size and athleticism. He has been superb for the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks this season with 28 points in 31 games. Jones will be among the most talented players in the tournament and has the potential to lead the Americans to a medal.
Boston University freshman Matt Grzelcyk has made a convincing case to make this team in his first NCAA season. The undersized defenseman has displayed spectacular hockey sense and offensive skill posting 12 points in his first 15 games. An excellent passer with elite vision, Grzelcyk could make some spectacular plays paired with the much larger Jones.
Defense Pair 3
A big well-rounded defender, McCabe can make a strong contribution at both ends of the ice. The University of Wisconsin sophomore has nine points in 16 games this season and has been consistently excellent in his own zone. McCabe was picked by Buffalo in the second round of the 2012 draft.
2012 first round pick Brady Skjei is a sizable defender with a solid two-way game much like McCabe. The New York Rangers prospect has struggled somewhat in his first season at the University of Minnesota, posting only two points. However, the Gopher's size and skating ability should earn him ice time in Russia.
Starter: John Gibson
John Gibson is a lock to start in net for the United States. The Anaheim Ducks prospect has excelled for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers this season. He ranks fourth among OHL goalies in save percentage (.929) and fifth in goals-against average (2.33). Gibson rode the bench behind Jack Campbell at last year's tournament and is ready to take control this winter.
Backup: Garrett Sparks
Sparks has been strong for the OHL's Guelph Storm this fall but will face a tight battle for the backup spot with Jon Gillies. Sparks has a .917 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in the OHL this fall.
Forward: Jimmy Vesey
Harvard freshman Jimmy Vesey has eight points in nine games this fall and could be deployed in a variety of roles in case of injury.
Defense: Patrick Sieloff
Sieloff should travel to Russia as the reserve defender due to his size. He has more than 20 pounds on Shayne Gostisbehere and Mike Reilly.
Goaltender: Jon Gillies
Gillies has shined in net for Providence College with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He is the early favorite to start for Team USA at next year's tournament.
Forward: Mario Lucia
The Notre Dame forward is a good all-around player who can certainly contribute, but he could also be the last forward cut from a strong group. With 10 points in nine games this season, he will still be competitive for a spot.
Defense: Shayne Gostisbehere
The Union College Flying Dutchman has been an offensive force this fall, but his lack of size could cost him the opportunity to play in Russia.
Defense: Mike Reilly
Despite being 6'1", Reilly weighs only 167 pounds. He may be too light to earn a spot on the team.