It's That Time Of Year Again For The United States Of America To Kick Some Ass At The World Juniors
We're just a week away from the start of the 2023 World Junior Championships. Year after year, this is typically one of the greatest tournaments in all of sports. Unfortunately due to circumstances outside of the boys' control, it feels like the tournament currently has less buzz than an electric toothbrush. I don't mean to start off this blog on a negative note, but we have to be honest with ourselves here.
Last year's tournament was a disaster. The first go at it in the winter ended up getting cancelled just a few days in due to COVID. Then the rescheduled version of the tournament in the summer had the whole Hockey Canada scandal to deal with. And now heading into this year, the tournament loses a huge draw with Russia not able to compete. There are only 5 countries who have played for a World Juniors gold medal in the past 20 years, and losing one of them right off the bat makes this tournament less intriguing.
Just calling it how I see it, the tournament is running a little low on juice right now. Which means that someone needs to step up and bring some juice of their own. So allow me to introduce you to the 2023 United States U20 Men's National Hockey Team who will be heading up to Moncton, New Brunswick and kicking the shit out of every team who stands in their way.
- USA is bringing back 8 players from the 2022 roster that lost to the Czechs in the quarterfinals (2 goalies, 3 forwards, and 3 defensemen).
- The star power on this team is coming from the 7 first round draft picks on the roster. Luke Hughes ('21 NJD) and Tyler Boucher ('21 OTT) were both top 10 picks in their draft year, and Logan Cooley ('22 ARI) and Cutter Gauthier ('22 PHI) were both top 5 picks in last year's draft.
- There are only 3 players who aren't currently playing in the NCAA this season. Tyler Boucher is playing for Ottawa in the OHL. Backup goalie Andrew Oke is playing for Saginaw in the OHL. And then Chaz Lucius ('21 WPG 1st rd) made the jump to the AHL this year playing for Manitoba. Huge tournament coming up here for college hockey.
- The biggest notable name missing on this roster is Will Smith (2023 Eligible). He's projected to be a top 5-10 pick in the upcoming draft and currently has 47 points in 26 games with the U18 Development Program. But he got sick right before the camp started, so he didn't make the cut.
America Loves Speed. Hot, Nasty, Bad Ass Speed
The thing you're going to hear the most about Team USA heading into this tournament will be about their lack of size, especially on the blue line. Instead they've gone with a bunch of puck-moving defensemen who can get up and down the ice and fill up the scoresheet. Lane Hutson ('22 MTL), Luke Hughes, Seamus Casey ('22 NJD), and Jack Peart ('21 MIN) are all top 20 in defensive scoring in the NCAA this year. Considering they won't have much of a test in this tournament until Finland on New Years Eve, that'll be plenty of time for all those guys to get into a flow and have the US team snapping it around like a bunch of mad men out there. Which is perfect for this type of tournament. You take a penalty against the US? Bad idea. You get caught out of position on the forecheck against the US? Bad idea. You get lazy on the backcheck against the US? Bad idea.
Cooley and the Gang
The one thing you really have to keep in mind about Logan Cooley is that this kid rules so freakin' hard. He was the 3rd overall pick in the 2022 Draft and has looked every bit of it so far this year at Minnesota. He has 10 goals and 15 assists in 19 games. He's got some of the best hands in this tournament, and he'll already have some built-in chemistry when he gets to play with his linemate Jimmy Snuggerud ('22 STL) at this tournament (he's #81 in all those Logan Cooley highlights). Snuggerud has the 2nd most points in college hockey so far this year with 12 goals and 15 assists in 20 games.
Then I'd have to imagine rounding off that top line for the US will be Cutter Gauthier ('22 PHI), who has been going nuts at Boston College lately with 12 points in his last 8 games.
Gauthier, Cooley and Snuggerud all played together last year at the Development Program. They all had at least 90 points in 75 games. That top line is just as dangerous as any in this tournament.
And once you're done dealing with that first line, then teams will have to deal with a 2nd line that has Chaz Lucius ('21 WPG) down the middle.
He's spent the year playing with Manitoba in the AHL so far this season. 2 goals and 3 assists in 12 games isn't necessarily lighting the world on fire, but this can be a huge tournament for him after playing against men for the past couple of months. You look at a team like Canada with a few guys on the roster who already have legitimate NHL experience under their belt, and you need a guy like Chaz Lucius in the lineup who have at least seen something similar. I don't think it would hurt to put a fellow Jets prospect on his wing with a guy like Rutger McGroarty ('22 WPG).
He has 8 goals and 19 points through 20 games so far this year at Michigan.
Other names to look out for on this team are Redmond Savage ('21 DET) and Tyler Boucher ('21 OTT). Both of these guys are a couple of honey badgers. They'll run around out there and let the body fly.
So just when teams feel like they can breathe a little after dealing with USA's top 6, they'll have to deal with a 4th line trying to remove their head from their shoulders.
USA might not have a bonafide stud between the pipes this tournament. But Kaidan Mbereko proved himself to be more than serviceable at last year's tournament. Granted, USA had a cake walk through the group stage. They spanked Germany 5-1, they smoked the Swiss 7-1, they crushed Austria 7-0, and then had a tight 3-2 win over Sweden. So they didn't necessarily need any superhero performances out of Mbereko. But he still had a solid tournament and has been having a really good year with Colorado College this year with a .927 sv% through 14 games.
Group B Schedule
- 12/26 @ 4pm vs Latvia
- 12/28 @ 4pm vs Slovakia
- 12/29 @ 4pm vs Switzerland
- 12/31 @ 4pm vs Sweden
The US is clearly one of the favorites to win the World Juniors this year. But the gap between Canada and everybody else just seems even more outrageous this year than ever. As long as they take care of business during group play, I don't have any doubts that they'll medal. They went 4-0 through group play over the summer and then came up short against the Czechs in the quarterfinals. I don't see anything like that happening again. A little chip on their shoulder heading into this tournament could work out great for them. Hungry dogs run faster. USA vs Canada in the gold medal game. We'll save that prediction for later.
PS -- I'll have a full tournament preview tomorrow. I'm not going to breakdown every team's roster like I have in the past. But we'll at least talk about the rest of the big hitters here with Canada, Sweden and Finland. In the meantime, play the song!