A year removed from a thrilling 5-4 shootout victory against Canada, Team USA is searching for a second straight gold medal, this time with the tournament taking place in Buffalo, New York.
The United States have been one of the strongest teams in the World Juniors in recent years. Since ending Canada’s five-year gold medal streak in 2010, the Americans have won gold three times in the last eight years, as well as an additional two bronze medal finishes.
The Americans get a spectacular venue for their rematch against Canada, as the neighbouring nations will play the tournament’s first ever outdoor game at New Era Field. Despite the grand stage, it will be a vital contest for the Americans, especially against perhaps their biggest threat to repeat. Even beyond Canada, Group A appears to be the most grueling. Finland, Denmark and Slovakia make up the rest of the opponents the US will face during the preliminary round, all of which could be dark horse competitors.
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)|
In general, replacing skaters from last year’s squad such as Clayton Keller and Charlie McAvoy may seem like a tough task. However, despite having only seven potential returnees from last year’s team, head coach Bob Motzko’s squad boasts an immense pool of talent to pick from, including one of the deepest forward groups in the tournament.
Edmonton Oilers 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto and Ottawa Senators 2016 first-rounder Logan Brown project to be the top two forwards on this American team, and could share the spotlight next to Buffalo Sabres first-round selection Casey Mittelstadt on a potential first line for the U.S.
The skilled Yamamoto broke into the Edmonton Oilers squad this year after being selected 22nd overall in 2017. He had a brilliant year in 2016-17, scoring 42 goals and 57 assists in the WHL, finishing with 99 points. He played nine games with the Oilers earlier in the year, scoring six points before being sent back down to Spokane for more development. Despite his short stature at 5’8”, he has the speed and ability to produce, and could fit in nicely alongside big centre Logan Brown.
Brown stands at an imposing 6’6”, and could arguably be one of the best skaters at the tournament. Following a year where he won the Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, the former 11th overall pick got a four-game tryout with the Senators, contributing one point before being sent back to Windsor. However, he’s amassed 24 points in 15 games so far in the OHL, and is one of the top two-way centre prospects in the junior ranks.
His big frame is important to his style of play, as he’s very effective in protecting the puck, as well as being hard to battle against. Combine that with an effective shot with a pro-level release, and he could very well be one of the top forwards in the tournament. After being cut from preliminary camp last year, he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Montreal Canadiens 2017 first-round pick Ryan Poehling is also on the team. Named to the selection camp by Motzko (who happens to be the head coach for St. Cloud State University, Poehling’s NCAA team), he has been exceptional so far this year. He has already eclipsed his point total from last season, scoring 16 points in 14 games for St. Cloud State. He could easily slot in as the number-two centre, giving this team great depth down the middle.
Perhaps the biggest hole for the American squad going into this year’s tournament is on defence. There are only two returnees on the blue line: Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, brother of Habs goaltending prospect Charlie. The lack of experience may cost them in the end, especially after losing key defenders such as Charlie McAvoy, who was third among defenceman in points last year, as well as Casey Fitzgerald, who played tough minutes for the American squad.
The Americans could lack offence from the back end this year due to this. Adam Fox was second on the American defence last year with four assists. He is coming off two back-to-back seasons with Harvard where he’s had 40+ points and is touted as a high-end offensive defenceman. He could benefit from the extra ice time, being one of the top two defenders on the team following McAvoy’s departure.
However, past him, the offence from the blue line thins out. Motzko seems to be going with a bit of a bigger defensive corps, including players such as Dylan Samberg (6’3”), Phil Kemp (6’3”) and Rielly Walsh (6’0”). Offensively, the three players combine for only 13 points, leaving a lot to be desired in that aspect of the game.
Newcomers such as dynamic skater Quinn Hughes and Andrew Peeke may take some of the weight off of Fox’s shoulders, however it remains to be seen how they perform in their first major tournament. Hughes, in particular, is a year removed from a 53-point season with the US Under-18 squad. He could be worth a look on the power play, as he has a knack for being an effective puck-mover and a smooth skater.
The U.S forwards are as deep and dynamic as ever, and could be one of the best in the tournament. However, in a group with Canada and dark horses such as Denmark, Finland and Slovakia, the goaltending will have to be at the top of the Americans’ game plan, especially with the uncertainty on defence.
Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll are returnees from the gold medal team, and will compete for the number-one spot following Tyler Parsons’ departure.
An interesting fact about the 2018 duo: they both play for Boston-based schools, Woll for the Boston College Eagles, and Oettinger for the Boston University Terriers. Both are also products of the US Men's National Development Program.
Woll played in only two games last tournament, winning both his starts and finishing the tournament with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Despite Boston College having a disappointing season, he had a solid freshman year, posting a 17-13-3 record in 34 games played, backed up with a .913 save percentage and 2.64 GAA.
He impressed in one of his two starts last tournament as well, making 26 saves to beat Team Canada on New Year’s Eve. At 6’4”, Woll models his game around Carey Price and is a valued goaltending prospect of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Meanwhile, Oettinger was the third-stringer last year, but also put up a strong freshman season with Boston University, finishing with a 21-11-3 record, as well as a 2.11 GAA and .927 save percentage. His strong year led to him being selected 26th overall by the Dallas Stars in this summer’s entry draft. This year, Oettinger has a 7-9-1 record in 17 games for BU. He’s known for his quiet and composed demeanor in net, and was profiled before the draft by Sportsnet.
Despite their stats this year, both goaltenders have the capability of stealing games for the U.S., and will be in a deep competition for the starting position, although splitting starts throughout the round robin will be a possibility. The question marks on defence signal a need for strong goaltending and the hope that their offensive potential will break through in order to give the US any chance of repeating as champions.
The US starts their tournament on December 26 against Denmark, and the marquee matchup with Canada takes place outdoors on the afternoon of the 29th.