Next week, USA Hockey will announce the players that will attend their World Junior Selection Camp, to select the team that will defend last year's gold medal. This is my take on which players USA Hockey should be selecting for their camp, and their final roster.
This installment will focus on the players that could make up the US team's blueline on defense.
First off, there needs to be some clarification on just who is available. Cam Fowler has pretty well established himself as an NHL regular, so it's pretty much a guarantee that he won't be made available. Nick Leddy is also playing professional hockey, but has been in the AHL since mid-October. It's not necessarily a guarantee that he'd be made available, but it seems like a pretty solid bet. So for our purposes, we'll assume Fowler is out and Leddy is in. Adjust the number of camp invitees accordingly if either status changes.
The '91 age group for the US is a little thin on the blueline, especially after losing their crown jewel in Fowler. Leddy has emerged as a player capable of playing in the NHL, and has spent the season playing pro hockey, meaning he'll likely be a player the US leans on quite a bit for ice time.
The decision to add John Ramage to last year's team, especially over a player like John Moore, was controversial at the time, but looks genius now, because now the US can bring back at least one defenseman with some World Juniors experience with Fowler no longer available. Ramage played a smaller role on last year's team, but should be able to step up and fill a bigger role this year, especially with the physical aspect of the game.
I think Dumoulin has earned a spot based on how great he has played at Boston College through a season and a half. Has a rock solid, smart defenseman, he'd make a perfect partner for one of the younger, smooth-skating, more offensive-minded defenseman.
That leaves the rest of the group to be made up of '92-born players, which just happens to be the deepest group the United States has ever produced. Derek Forbort, Justin Faulk, Adam Clendening, Jon Merrill, Stephen Johns, and Jarred Tinordi were all fantastic at the U18 level last year, and have shown near unlimited potential, so there's no reason to not give them a camp invite.
I also decided to go with Scott Mayfield of the USHL. Like the goalies, getting experience for future years isn't as big a deal since there are so many good '92s available that will be around next year. There's nobody from the '93 group that is ready for this type of level yet, but I think it's a good idea to give a draft eligible player a shot to see just how much talent he has, even if Mayfield, as a late '92, will only have one year of eligibility beyond this year.
It was a tough decision getting down to the end of the list between three talented OHL defensemen in Jarred Tinordi, Austin Levi, and Brandon Archibald, and at one point or another, I had each on my camp list. Tinordi has the most potential, but also probably having the toughest year of the three. Levi is having the best year, but I still have huge concerns about the skating against faster international competition, and Archibald is maybe the most mature and experienced, playing top pairing for the Soo for the second straight year, but doesn't quite have the high-end upside of the other two. Ultimately, I landed on Tinordi just because of his USA Hockey experience, but no result would shock or disappoint me.
As for the others, Wey, Wrenn, and Rogalski are nice players, but aren't really bringing anything to the table that Ramage doesn't already provide. Aronson, Bennett, Alt, Mattson and Holl can all move the puck pretty well, but I don't see them being as effective as a Forbort or Clendening in this tournament.
There's going to have to be some very tough decisions to be made. Defensemen one through five seem pretty clear to me. And then there's a little bit of a drop and about five to seven different guys that could compete for those last two roster spots. It will likely come down to which players are selected for the camp, and then who performs the best at camp.
Final Roster Choices: John Ramage, Nick Leddy, Derek Forbort, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Faulk, Jon Merrill, Stephen Johns