Casey Mittelstadt. Logan Brown. Kailer Yamamoto.
That projected top line is one of the first things that jumps out from USA Hockey’s preliminary roster for the 2018 World Junior Championships. There’s a lot of firepower among the three of them, and they have a history of using it well together, including at this year’s World Junior Summer Showcase.
Of course, there’s always the chance head coach Bob Motzko won’t play them together. He has other options at forward, including Kieffer Bellows, Pat Harper and Riley Tufte, just to name a few. A solid performance from Team USA forwards is going to be crucial this year, because consistent offensive production up and down the lineup will be a necessary part of a repeat of last year’s gold medal win.
If there’s one thing we learned about Motzko last year, it’s that he knows what he wants—and what he doesn’t want.
This is reflected in the defense as well, perhaps more notably by who didn’t make the cut. Chad Krys, Sean Day, and Max Gildon were all left off the preliminary roster, and it’s difficult to make an argument for any of them over the current group. Gildon is young and will have a good shot at next year’s team, while Krys and Day have histories of mental mishaps and inconsistency which Motzko clearly doesn’t tolerate. Krys also hasn’t progressed as much as he should have since his last appearance in the World Junior Championships in 2018.
Team USA’s situation in net is an intriguing one. Goaltenders Joe Woll and Jake Oettinger, the two who have been on most pundits’ lists for months, are joined by Jeremy Swayman, a 2017 fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins and goalie for the University of Maine Black Bears. Interestingly, all three goalies come from Hockey East in the NCAA.
Prior to this season, former NTDP teammates Oettinger and Woll were expected to battle it out for the starter’s position. Given Oettinger’s slow start to the year, however, Alaska native Swayman definitely has a foot in the door. Expect Motzko to give each goalie a chance to succeed in pre-tournament games, before he makes the final decision on a starter.
The Big Picture
By the league, the roster breakdown looks like this:
US World Juniors Preliminary Roster:
-Big Ten: 8
-Hockey East: 5
24 of 28 players currently playing @collegehockey.
— Nate Wells (@gopherstate) December 5, 2017
Twenty-four of the 28 players on the preliminary roster play college hockey. This isn’t surprising; the best American players often choose the NCAA over the CHL (unless you’re Auston Matthews, and then it’s Switzerland to play in the NLA). It’s also heavy on former members of the USNTDP or players from various incarnations of the Under-18 Men’s World Championship teams. This familiarity allows the team to mesh quickly, something that is important in a short tournament.
Broken down by NHL teams, the roster is spread more evenly. While the Boston Bruins have the most prospects with three, five teams (ANA, DAL, EDM, LAK, and NJD) have two prospects on the roster, and 11 other teams have one.
Two players on the roster are in their first year of draft eligibility: Brady Tkachuk and Quinn Hughes. Neither of the two former NTDP teammates (and roommates—Hughes lived with Tkachuk and his father Keith in Ann Arbor) were surprising inclusions. They’re two of the most talked-about North American prospects for this year’s draft, and that buzz is well-earned.
Tkachuk’s most notable attributes are his high-end offensive ability and the fact that he’s one of two USA players with even odds at getting suspended during the tournament (the other is London Knights forward Max Jones). Hughes’ skating and puckhandling skills have scouting services ranking him inside the top 10, and in the case of McKeen’s Hockey, inside the top five. It isn’t always easy for underage players to make a splash at the World Junior Championships, but keep an eye on these two.