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2020 World Junior Hockey Championship: Team USA preview and roster

USA are in it to win it with a Habs-bound assassin leading the way.

2019 NHL Combine - Portraits Photo by David J. Parrotta/NHLI via Getty Images

After last year’s ignominious loss in the final against Kaapo Kakko and Finland, Team USA is back on the hunt for the noblest of all medals.

To maximize the outcome of the tournament, general manager John Vanbiesbrouck and head coach Scott Sandelin have elected a group of experienced players, all of whom having already been considered in the NHL Draft. If you are one of those people watching the WJC with the intent of getting intel about upcoming draft prospects, Team USA will be an automatic skip for you.

That being said, this is one of the tournament’s most intriguing rosters, if not the most exciting of all. Eight players in the preliminary roster have been selected in the first round of the draft during the last two years with another 10 chosen in the second or third round.

Players who would have been eligibile but have been already made the transition to the pros include 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes and Flyers prospect Joel Farabee. Both were included on last year’s roster and would have provided extra oomph for an already loaded team.

In the 2019 tournament, the Americans finished the group stage in second place, one point behind the Swedish team that would inexplicably stumble against Switzerland in the quarter-finals. Before getting beaten by Finland in the final, USA sent the Czech and Russian team packing, largely thanks to the goaltending of Montreal Canadiens prospect Cayden Primeau.

In the 2020 WJC, Primeau will be replaced by Florida prospect Spencer Knight, who has had a magnificent start to his college career since being selected 13th overall this summer. A save percentage of .940 and a goals-against average of 1.73 suggests the team won’t see a dip at that position from what they enjoyed a year ago.

Team USA final roster

# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
# Player Position League Current team (NHL)
30 Spencer Knight G NCAA Boston College (FLA)
31 Isaiah Saville G NCAA University of Nebraska Omaha (VGK)
32 Dustin Wolf G WHL Everett Silvertips (CGY)
21 Ty Emberson D NCAA University of Wisconsin (ARI)
2 Jordan Harris D NCAA Northeastern University (MTL)
6 Zac Jones D NCAA University of Massachusetts (NYR)
19 K'Andre Miller D NCAA University of Wisconsin (NYR)
24 Mattias Samuelsson D NCAA Western Michigan University (BUF)
7 Spencer Stastney D NCAA University of Notre Dame (NSH)
4 Cam York D NCAA University of Michigan (PHI)
17 John Beecher F NCAA University of Michigan (BOS)
23 Bobby Brink F NCAA University of Denver (PHI)
13 Cole Caufield F NCAA University of Wisconsin (MTL)
12 Jack Drury F NCAA Harvard University (CAR)
20 Parker Ford F NCAA Providence College (Undrafted)
10 Curtis Hall F NCAA Yale University (BOS)
28 Arthur Kaliyev F OHL Hamilton Bulldogs (LAK)
22 Shane Pinto F NCAA University of North Dakota (OTT)
25 Jacob Pivonka F NCAA University of Notre Dame (NYI)
16 Nick Robertson F OHL Peterborough Petes (TOR)
15 Alex Turcotte F NCAA University of Wisconsin (LAK)
18 Oliver Wahlstrom F AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
9 Trevor Zegras F NCAA Boston University (ANA)

Leading the defence will be New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller, a blue-liner who has all the tools to be a top-tier NHLer in the future. He will need to step into the role as the true number-one defenceman now that Quinn Hughes has lost his eligibility.

Up front is where the real star power can be found, with potential top scorer and Habs-prospect Cole Caufield leading the way, together with elite talents like his university mate Alex Turcotte, Islanders rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, and OHL scoring leader Arthur Kaliyev.

Make sure to glance a little extra at Parker Ford if he survives the final roster cuts. He has had a standout season for Providence College thus far. The only player to go undrafted on the team, and playing in his last year of WJC eligibility, you could see a breakthrough player during the next two weeks.

Strengths

It is difficult to know where to start. A team that could feature John Beecher as its third-line centre is certainly well-put-together, with cutting-edge talent as well as depth. A goaltender like Knight creates stability on the back end to complement the offensive star power. What is even more scary is that the core of this team is eligible for next year’s tournament as well. Brrrrr….

The biggest strength of all however, is the familiarity most of the players had with one another while playing on the US National Team Development Program. Even if they are currently spread out at colleges all over the nation, they know how to get the best out of each other in a way that other nations and coaching staffs can only dream about. In a tournament which lasts for less than two weeks, that is not something which should be underestimated.

Weaknesses

There are no clear weaknesses on this team, however there are question marks if you search thoroughly to find them. For example, what would happen if Knight suffers an injury? How much confidence and skill would be lost if one of his less acclaimed backups would have to step into a full-time role and deal with that kind of pressure?

Then there is the question that automatically occurs with a star studded team like this: Can you keep everyone happy, motivated and working in the same direction? Can players who are used to being stars back home, be it in college or the CHL, adapt to third- or fourth-line roles, and significantly less playing time? It will certainly be a challenge for Sandelin, but with him having spent the last 19 years coaching the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA, I am sure he has a few tricks up his sleeve to keep the group from drifting apart.

X-Factor

A team that can feature Arthur Kaliyev, Cole Caufield and Oliver Wahlstrom in the same lineup will score a lot of goals. There is no denying that. Alex Turcotte and Trevor Zegras will be sure to make that happen, with playmaking ability and vision being two of their top traits, complementing the other three nicely and providing a scary double-headed power play.

It is easy for a Montreal fan like myself to sit here and subjectively rave about Caufield and his abilities, but even if you take team colours out of the picture and try to look at this objectively, his name will be the first to pop up. With a lethal shot and a knack for finding the net in any given circumstance, the 18-year-old possesses skills that many NHLers would give their left leg for.

Given that this is an offensively minded team and that most of the players spend their everyday life in the college leagues, it is easy to make a quick comparison from numbers and statistics. Caufield is the leader both in goals and in points, all while being a college freshman. Make sure to keep an eye on his partnership with college teammate Turcotte.

Prediction

USA has been on the podium for the last four championships and that streak is expected to continue. Anything other than a medal would be a major disappointment for this American team, and with last year’s silver in mind there is only one colour that would be deemed acceptable. USA are going for their fifth title, the first since 2017, and with the class of 2001 leading the way that is an entirely possible scenario.

I am predicting a gold medal for the American team, beating Team Sweden 5-2 after leaving Slovakia and Russia behind in the games leading up to the final. Cole Caufield takes home the scoring title and Trevor Zegras wins the MVP, while Spencer Knight is snubbed for the Best Goalie title by Russia's Yaroslav Askarov.