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World Juniors 2015: United States team preview

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Hockey USA is icing one of their best rosters in World Junior Championship history, but will it be enough to take home gold?

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Americans will be looking for redemption this year, coming off a disappointing fifth-place finish in the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship that took place in Malmo, Sweden. Their campaign got off to a strong start, including a 5-1 win versus the Czech Republic, a 6-3 victory over Slovakia, and an 8-0 drubbing of Germany. Their only loss of the preliminary round came versus their biggest rivals, Canada.

Unfortunately for the USA, the loss to Canada meant that they would face Russia in the quarterfinal, as opposed to the easier draw that came as a reward to the group winner: Switzerland. The United States outshot Russia by a count of 33-25, but Andre Vasilevski held the fort, outplaying American netminder Jon Gillies by a wide margin.

The quarterfinal exit could only be described as an incredibly disappointing result for the Americans, especially coming off their gold medal finish in Ufa the previous year.

As for projecting where the United States will finish this year, on paper they seem destined for a Ufa victory, rather than a Malmo disaster.

Roster
Player Pos Draft Year League Current Team (NHL)
Thatcher Demko G 2014 (36th) NCAA Boston College (VAN)
Alex Nedeljkovic G 2014 (37th) OHL Plymouth Whalers (CAR)
Brandon Halverson G 2014 (59th) OHL Soo Greyhounds (NYR)
Noah Hanifin D 2015 NCAA Boston College
Will Butcher D 2013 (123rd) NCAA University of Denver (COL)
Brandon Carlo D 2015 WHL Tri-City Americans
Ian McCoshen D 2013 (31st) NCAA Boston College (FLA)
Ryan Collins D 2014 (47th) NCAA University of Minnesota (CBJ)
Zach Werenski D 2015 NCAA University of Michigan
Anthony DeAngelo D 2014 (19th) OHL Sarnia Sting (TBL)
Jack Eichel F 2015 NCAA Boston University
JT Compher F 2013 (35th) NCAA University of Michigan (BUF)
Nick Schmaltz F 2014 (20th) NCAA U. of North Dakota (CHI)
Anthony Louis F 2013 (181st) NCAA Miami University (CHI)
Miles Wood F 2013 (100th) USHS Noble & Greenough (NJD)
Sonny Milano F 2014 (14th) OHL Plymouth Whalers (CBJ)
Tyler Motte F 2013 (121st) NCAA University of Michigan (CHI)
Alex Tuch F 2014 (18th) NCAA Boston College (MIN)
Chase De Leo F 2014 (99th) WHL Portland Winterhawks (WPG)
Dylan Larkin F 2014 (15th) NCAA University of Michigan (DET)
Hudson Fasching F 2013 (118th) NCAA University of Minnesota (BUF)
Auston Matthews F 2016 USHL National Under 18 Team
John Hayden F 2013 (74th) NCAA Yale University (CHI)

Head coach: Mark Osiecki

Draft Eligible Players

In any other year, Jack Eichel would be considered the #1 prospect for the upcoming draft. It just so happens that he'll be fighting another insanely talented player for that honour, in Connor McDavid.

Eichel possesses a combination of elite skating, strength, high rate of execution, fast release, and a nose for the net. He's a defender's nightmare, and takes care of his defensive responsibilities in his own zone. In essence, he has all the tools necessary to take over hockey games, especially at this U20 level. All eyes will be on McDavid, due to the location of the tournament, but don't be surprised if Eichel tops list of scoring leaders once the tournament is wraps up.

Eichel isn't the only highly touted 2015 draft eligible prospect on the roster. Projected #3 overall draft pick Noah Hanifin will be patrolling the American blueline, adding a much needed top end presence to what's otherwise an underwhelming defensive core for a team of USA's stature. Scouts describe Hanifin a big, mobile, and skilled defender that could find himself as the quarterback of the American powerplay.

Auston Matthews may be overshadowed by his fellow countrymen, given that he's destined for the 2016 draft, however his talent shouldn't be dismissed. Matthews is currently projected to go first overall in hist draft year, thanks to a strong two-way game, and explosive skating.

Strengths

Habs fans may have been disappointed to see Michael McCarron once again fail to make the cut, but the fact of the matter is that the Americans have an incredibly deep forward crop this year, including a plethora of top-end talent. It also helps explain why Adam Erne failed to make the final roster. Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch, Dylan Larkin, and Jack Eichel will lead the offensive charge, all four of them products of the U.S. National Development Team. Fortunately for the United Sates, the talent doesn't stop there. The bottom nine will feature players like Hudson Fasching, Nick Schmaltz, JT Compher, Tyler Motte & Auston Matthews, which should provide a generous quantity of secondary scoring.

Even though the puck will likely remain 150 feet away from his net at most times, Thatcher Demko ought to provide solid goaltending when called upon. The San Diego native has put up impressive numbers with Boston College this season, including a .921 save percentage.

Weakness

Even though they realistically possess one of the strongest blue lines in the tournament, Team USA's defenceman should be considered the weak link in their chain. Other than Hanifin, they don't possess a lot of top end talent of past years. Although Will Butcher, Anthony DeAngelo and Ian McCoshen should be able to provide reliable minutes for coach Mark Osiecki, they're probably not on par with previous American defenders like Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba. That being said, considering the Hockey USA turned downed the services of Anthony Florentino and Michael Downing, it's not as if they're hard pressed to fill their top six with good players.

X-Factor

The Americans will count on five returning players this year, and there are doubts whether or not that will be enough to lead them to victory. Fortunately for Hockey USA, one of those returning players is Jack Eichel. Many of the key players have spent time playing together with the U.S. National Development Team, meaning that chemistry problems should be kept to a minimum.

On defense, defender Steven Santini remains somewhat of a question mark due to a wrist injury, although the latest reports have indicated that he's been medically cleared to play. (Update: Santini was removed from the roster)

As it stands, the Americans look to be favourites to medal this year, and it's tough to argue against the projection. They might have their best forward crop in WJC history, a strong defensive core, and solid goaltending. Of course, in a short tournament anything is possible, but no one should be shocked if the United States find themselves in the gold medal game on January 5th.

The United States will open the tournament on December 26th, versus Finland.