Who makes Team USA’s roster at the WJC?

2015 IIHF World Junior Championship - Quarterfinal - United States v Russia


There are 19 days until the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Under-20 World Junior Championships begins in Helsinki, Finland. Ten teams will compete for the yearly chance to capture gold, and reign supreme as one of the best countries in hockey.

Many teams have announced their preliminary rosters for the tournament, and will have just days to trim their rosters down to 23 players.

On Monday, the United States’ National Team announced its 29-man preliminary roster to go to Helsinki and compete for the gold.

The players will attend training camp at Boston University in Boston from December 14 to December 18. After that, they will travel to Finland to finalize its training camp, where the final 23-man roster will be named by December 24.

One name on this roster should sound familiar to people in Buffalo, and that is defenseman, Will Borgen.

Borgen, 18, was the Sabres’ fourth round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. Borgen is currently a freshman playing with St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. In 16 games with St. Cloud State this season, he has just seven assists.

What makes Borgen so notable is his puck play, skating ability, and his hockey smarts on the ice. To some, Borgen being on the roster for Team USA was a surprise.

Though Borgen was the only Sabres prospect on the roster, there are a lot of notable names that are up for a spot on Team USA.

Team USA features eight players who are eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft in June.

MatthewsAt the top of the list is 18-year old forward, Auston Matthews. Matthews is projected to be the top pick in the NHL Draft this season, and is currently spending his 2015-16 season with the Zurich Lions of Switzerland’s National League A level.

In 20 games this season, Matthews has scored 13 goals and has added 10 assists as an 18-year old rookie.

Like Jack Eichel was to Team USA last year, Auston Matthews will be the top-line center for the Americans, and will have a pivotal role on special teams and other on-ice situations.

Another notable name listed on the preliminary roster for Team USA is London Knights forward, Matthew Tkachuk.

The son of former NHLer, Keith Tkachuk, Matthew had a key role on the U-18 team that won gold in Switzerland in April. Playing on the top line with Matthews, Tkachuk was they guy feeding Matthews and linemate, Jack Roslovic the puck and piling up the assists.

So far this season in London, Tkachuk has scored 13 goals, while piling up the assists with 40 playing on a line with Team Canada’s, Mitch Marner, and fellow Team USA teammate, Christian Dvorak.

As for Dvorak, he is tied for the Ontario Hockey League with Marner in scoring with 58 points. Dvorak, an Arizona Coyotes prospect, is second in the OHL in scoring with 25 goals in 25 games, and has become one of the top prospects for the Coyotes since being drafted in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Who leads the OHL in goals? That would be Alex DeBrincat, and yes, another American.

DeBrincat'DeBrincat may be short in stature at 5′ 7″, however he is one of the best goal scoring prospects available in the 2016 NHL Draft. With flashes of former Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers forward, Martin St. Louis, DeBrincat continues to thrive in the OHL, even without Edmonton Oilers center, Connor McDavid feeding him the puck. DeBrincat has scored 32 goals in 28 games this season, and is currently third in the OHL in scoring with 54 points.

While the Americans in the OHL are dominating the scoring race, the U.S. National Development Program has a few invitees that have been playing well in their draft year this season.

Kieffer Bellows, son of former NHLer, Brian Bellows, is also in the mix for a spot on the U.S. roster at the World Junior Championship. Bellows is another player with goal scoring prowess, as he has netted 26 goals in time split with the U.S. U-18 National Team, and also the U.S. National Development Team in the United States Hockey League.

Bellows also brings a grittier side to his game, and has shown that he can be a pretty good skater. Bellows has proven that he could be a top-10 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and he has committed to play with Boston University as a freshman beginning next year.

KellerThe other forward on the preliminary roster with 2016 Draft eligibility is Clayton Keller. Keller plays on a line with Bellows in the U.S. Development Program, and is a play-making machine playing at center on the top line.

Keller has scored 20 goals, and has compiled 61 in his split time with both U.S. Programs. With his play alongside Bellows, his draft stock is quickly on the rise, and could get up towards the top-10 in the Draft. Keller is also expected to join Bellows at Boston University and play alongside his linemate.

On the defensive side of the puck, Chad Krys is quickly developing into one of the better puck-moving, and set-up defenders available in the draft.

With the U.S. Developmental Program, Krys has piled up 23 assists in 29 games between the two programs. Also, what do you know, Krys will be joining the Boston University hockey program in the fall of 2016.

Currently playing with the Terriers at Boston University is defenseman, Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy is one of six right-handed defenders on the preliminary roster for the United States, and will have a good chance at making the roster.

In 15 games this season with the Terriers, McAvoy has just one goal, but has five assists. McAvoy’s strong point to his game is his two-way play and his physical ability to make plays in both ends of the rink.

On the roster, eight players, including Matthews, are players who competed for gold in Canada last season for Team USA.

Aside from Matthews, the most notable player returning to the roster for a chance to compete for the United States is Columbus Blue Jackets prospect, Sonny Milano.

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 28: Sonny Milano #13 of Team United States shoots the puck during the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship game against Team Germany at the Bell Centre on December 28, 2014 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Team United States defeated Team Germany 6-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Last year with the U.S. Team, Milano had four points (two goals, two assists) in five games playing on the wing, and on the powerplay.

In 22 games this season with the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League, he has scored four goals and has eleven total points on the season.

Milano is expected to be a leader on this year’s U.S. roster, if he makes the team, and could be a candidate for a captaincy spot on the roster.

Some other notable names returning to the roster this season are Zach Werenski (Blue Jackets first round pick in 2015), Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks first round pick in 2014), Brandon Carlo (Boston Bruins second round pick in 2015), and Ryan Collins (Blue Jackets second round pick in 2014).

In net, Brandon Halverson and Alex Nedeljkovic will be relied on heavily in the tournament after Thatcher Demko was the go-to goalie for Team USA the past two tournaments.

Halverson played in one game last year, posting a 14-save shutout over, since relegated, Team Germany.

In 15 games this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL this season, Halverson has struggled in net going 8-9-1 with a 3.42 goals-against average and a .888 save-percentage. The New York Rangers’ second round pick in 2014 has been the topic of trade talk in the OHL, and could find himself with a new team before the end of his OHL career.

As for Nedeljkovic, he has already found himself a new home with the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL. Nedeljkovic was part of the United States’ roster last year, but did not see any game action in the tournament. In 19 games this season, all with the Flint Firebirds, Nedeljkovic was 9-7-2 with a 3.21 goals-against average and a .907 save-percentage. Nedeljkovic was a second round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Team USAAs for the remaining players on the preliminary roster, there is an impressive list of players who will compete for a spot on the final 23-man roster.

There are eight players playing in the NCAA bidding for a roster spot. At forward, there is Brock Boeser (University of North Dakota), Ryan Donato (Harvard University), Anders Bjork (University of Notre Dame), Ryan Hitchcock (Yale University), and Colin White (Boston College). On defense, Brandon Fortunato (Boston University), Louie Belpedio (Miami University), and Casey Fitzgerald (Boston College) are on the roster.

As for the remaining players on the preliminary roster, they are all spread out throughout the Canadian Hockey League. This list includes Paul Bittner (Portland Winterhawks), Scott Eansor (Seattle Thunderbirds), Ryan MacInnis (Kitchener Rangers), Luke Opilka (Kitchener Rangers), and Tyler Parsons (London Knights).

So who will survive the cuts, and make the 23-man roster for the United States at the World Junior Championships in Finland this year?

Forwards:

Matthew Tkachuk – Auston Matthews (C) – Brock Boeser

Sonny Milano (A) – Christian Dvorak – Alex DeBrincat

Kieffer Bellows – Clayton Keller – Nick Schmaltz (A)

Ryan Hitchcock – Colin WhiteRyan Donato

Ryan MacInnis

Defense:

Zach Werenski – Brandon Carlo

Chad Krys – Charlie McAvoy

Brandon Fortunato – Ryan Collins

Casey Fitzgerald

Goalies:

Brandon Halverson – Alex Nedeljkovic – Luke Opilka

The name of the game for Team USA this year will be high-end offensive firepower, combated with speed and play-making capabilities.

This year, head coach Ron Wilson will have to keep the dynamic duos of Tkachuk-Matthews and Bellows-Keller together. With both of those pairings working well together, it will be a difficult task of finding the last piece to go along with the others on their line.

Wilson will have a short list of veterans from last year to rely on, however they will be key for the United States to have any chance of winning gold. The most important of these veterans Wilson will have is Auston Matthews. Matthews, last year, had a goals and two assists in a second or third line role in five games. This year, he will be heavily relied on, and he is expected to show the world why he is projected to be the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft in June.

WJCIn last year’s tournament, Connor McDavid had eleven points (three goals and eight assists) in seven games played with Team Canada, and was taken first overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. The pressure will be high on Matthews, but if he can produce numbers similar to McDavid’s last year, Matthews could be one of the best players in the tournament.

As for the rest of the offense, the young group of prospects will be pressured, and it will go to show if they have what it takes to compete on the highest stage for their age group. Look for the guys like Tkachuk, Boeser, Bellows, Keller, Dvorak, and DeBrincat to produce for the U.S. team, and create a majority of the scoring opportunities.

On defense, there will be a good mix of puck moving ability, size, and physical status among the seven blue-liners. Werenski, Carlo and Collins will play their second consecutive World Junior Championships, and will be looked upon as veterans to the guys who are new to the team.

As for the pair of Krys and McAvoy, both will play a role on both ends of the ice and being relied upon to play on the powerplay and the penalty kill with their good puck moving ability.

In net, the time will probably be spilt primarily between Halverson and Nedeljkovic, with Opilka getting the chance to dress and back up for a game or two during pool play. Who will get the majority of starts in net? It is tough to say, because both Halverson and Nedeljkovic can handle the pressure and take the reins in net. Expect Halverson to get the first crack at being the starter, but do not be surprised if both goalies rotate until the elimination rounds begin after the New Year.

While we look at the players that have made the 29-man preliminary roster, and who could make the final 23-man roster, who was left out of the picture that maybe should have been considered?

Jack_RoslovicJack Roslovic

The Winnipeg Jets first round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft was electric playing on a line with Tkachuk and Matthews at the U-18 World Championships this past April in Switzerland.

In seven games with Team USA, he scored six goals and added five assists, and finished the tournament tied for fifth in scoring.

Roslovic is also having a good season with Miami University of Ohio this season, having put up eight goals and eight assists in 16 games. Roslovic is currently playing as a second line winger with the Red Hawks.

It is upsetting that we may not get a chance to see Tkachuk-Matthews-Roslovic work its magic once again. Even if that line was not together, Roslovic would have brought another scoring and playmaking weapon to the lineup, and that is never a bad option in this tournament.

Even though Roslovic will not get his chance this year, expect Roslovic to get a call for the roster in 2017 when the tournament will be in Montréal and Toronto.

Kyle Connor

Though Connor was not part of the U-18 team in Switzerland, Connor was expected to, at least, get an invite to the World Junior camp this year.

The Jets’ other first round pick this season, 17th overall, is having a good start with the University of Michigan Wolverines in his freshman season. Connor has scored six goals, and has added 10 assists in 16 games as the teams top-line left winger. In addition, Connor is playing on the top line with former Team USA players J.T. Compher and Tyler Motte.

Like Roslovic, Connor will, most likely, get the call next year for the 2017 tournament, but it was surprising not to see Connor’s name on the 29-man preliminary roster.

Alex Tuch

After playing a solid tournament last season with Team USA in the World Junior Championships, Tuch was likely going to return to play with the Americans once again this year. Unfortunately, Tuch’s name was not called upon this time around.

Not sure as to why Tuch was not brought back this season, but it seems as though others beat him out for a spot on the preliminary roster.

So far this season in his sophomore year with Boston College, Tuch has 12 points (five goals and seven assists) in 15 games with the Eagles.

Disappointing not to see the Minnesota Wild prospect returning to Team USA, as he was a nice source of offense while providing nice size in front of the net at 6′ 4″ and 220-pounds.

Hopefully for Team USA, this decision to not bring back Tuch to camp will not be a costly mistake.

BraccoJeremy Bracco

After having a stellar U-18 World Championship tournament, where he finished second in scoring behind Matthews, many thought that Bracco would have his chance at cracking the U.S. team for the U-20 World Junior Championships.

Bracco, standing at 5′ 9″ and 172-pounds, put up 13 points in the World Championships, and was a playmaking machine on the team’s second line with Clayton Keller and Colin White.

Bracco started the 2015-16 season playing with Boston College, but left the college in October to join the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. He put up just three assists in five games with the Eagles, and has since put up five goals and 14 assists in 16 games with the Rangers.

Bracco is just another name that will be heavily sought after by Team USA next year when the tournament returns to Canada. However, it was a surprise to many not to see Bracco’s name one the list this season in Finland.

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Written by Brayton Wilson

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