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2017 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team USA preview

Can last year’s bronze medalists improve on their performance in Helsinki?

United States v Canada - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Two years ago, in the last World Junior Hockey Championship to be held in Canada, the Americans failed to medal, finishing fifth overall in the tournament. In last year’s event the team rebounded, claiming a big win over Canada, and an 8-3 thrashing of Sweden in the medal round.

This year an extremely talented forward corps will look to lead Team USA to another gold medal, something they’ve not done since 2013.

The American side is deep at forward, and is easily one of the best groups in the tournament, arguably only rivalled by Canada. They’ll need the offence to fire on all cylinders as they have only a pair of returning players on the blue line and three new goalies.

Roster

Team USA final roster

# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
30 Jake Oettinger G NCAA Hockey East Boston University (DAL)
31 Jeremy Swayman G NCAA Hockey East University of Maine (BOS)
1 Joseph Woll G NCAA Hockey East Boston College (TOR)
24 Mikey Anderson D NCAA NCHC University of Minnesota Duluth (LAK)
8 Adam Fox D NCAA ECAC Harvard University (CGY)
6 Quinn Hughes D NCAA Big Ten University of Michigan
5 Ryan Lindgren D NCAA Big Ten University of Minnesota (BOS)
20 Andrew Peeke D NCAA Big Ten University of Notre Dame (CBJ)
15 Scott Perunovich D NCAA NCHC University of Minnesota Duluth
12 Dylan Samberg D NCAA NCHC University of Minnesota Duluth (WPG)
13 Joey Anderson (C) F NCAA NCHC University of Minnesota Duluth (NJD)
23 Kieffer Bellows F NCAA Hockey East Boston University (NYI)
22 Logan Brown F OHL Windsor Spitfires (OTT)
34 Trent Frederic F NCAA Big Ten University of Wisconsin (BOS)
21 Patrick Harper F NCAA Hockey East Boston University (NSH)
49 Max Jones F OHL London Knights (ANA)
10 Will Lockwood F NCAA Big Ten University of Michigan (VAN)
11 Casey Mittelstadt F NCAA Big Ten University of Minnesota (BUF)
9 Josh Norris F NCAA Big Ten Unniversity of Michigan (SJS)
4 Ryan Poehling F NCAA NCHC St. Cloud State University (MTL)
7 Brady Tkachuk F NCAA Hockey East Boston University
27 Riley Tufte F NCAA NCHC University of Minnesota Duluth (DAL)
17 Kailer Yamamoto F WHL Spokane Chiefs (EDM)

Head Coach: Bob Motzko

Strengths

Far and away the greatest strength for Team USA this year is their incredible scoring depth at forward, including returning player Colin White. Even with 2015 first-round pick Brock Boeser out with an injury, his spot is easily filled. Jeremy Bracco joins the team after putting up 51 points so far this season.

As always, the NCAA is well represented in the US lineup, including three standouts from the Boston area in Jordan Greenway (6G, 9A in 13 games), Clayton Keller (6G, 6A in 12 games), and Kieffer Bellows. It would also be remiss to ignore the firepower of Jack Roslovic, who is playing in the AHL for the Manitoba Moose, and the University of Connecticut's Tage Thompson.

Despite all three goalies being new faces to the team this year, all three have a solid stat line in their respective leagues. Both Joseph Woll and Jake Oettinger have previous international experience with the US Under-18 team, with which they captured a bronze medal in 2016. Tyler Parsons has the lowest overall save percentage at .915 but it is still top-10 in the OHL. Jake Oettinger has the best looking stat line with a .932 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average, giving the United States a solid trio to choose from in selection camp.

Weaknesses

The biggest issue for the Americans heading into this year’s tournament is going to be replacing the talent on defence from last year’s team. They lost five members of their defence corps from last year, including Zach Werenski and Brandon Carlo who are currently enjoying successful NHL seasons. Returnees Charlie McAvoy and Chad Krys are teammates at Boston University, which means they’ll likely be heavily relied upon as a duo.

Outside of Casey Fitzgerald, there isn’t a lot of offence from the NCAA players on defence for the US. Seth Jones’ younger brother, Caleb, joins the team this year, and is producing at nearly a point-per-game pace in the WHL. If the United States fails to get offensive production from their blue line, they’ll be hard pressed to generate the offence they’re capable of. Without a tangible threat from the defence, teams will have an easier time honing in on forwards and shutting down the stars.

While all three goalies have solid numbers this year, all three are new to the team for this year’s tournament. In past events, the goaltenders have been relied on while the offence struggled to get going. If the netminders falter, it could short circuit an American bid for a medal.

Despite being incredibly deep at the forward positions, the loss of Boeser could loom large for the US although they did cut two talented forwards in Logan Brown and Alex DeBrincat who are having great seasons in the OHL. Brown has been dealing with an injury and his status was always uncertain. Boeser was having an outstanding season for the University of North Dakota, but will be having surgery on his wrist and will miss the tournament. While there is a lot of talent, losing a high-end scoring forward is something that can be tough to overcome in a short tournament.

X-Factor

The biggest factor for the US this year will be their defensive unit; the forward group is as dynamic as it gets. On defence there are a lot of question marks, and there are some big shoes to fill following last year’s departures. If the American defence can step up when called upon, there’s a very good chance this group could be a serious contender for gold.

There is also a large collection of skates to fill for the Americans, with a big group of NHL talent leaving after last year. Players such as Auston Matthews and Zach Werenski are not easy to replace, especially in a tournament like this. So a major key will be for the United States to get its star forwards scoring early and often.