Traditionally, Staff USA has owned the world under-18s and it isn’t simply due to the expertise America has been producing. In fact it helps to have the likes of Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel or Seth Jones at your disposal, however the determination to ship the Nationwide Staff Improvement Program squad has additionally been a grasp stroke by USA Hockey.
Merely put, whereas each different main hockey energy is actually assembling a disparate group of all-stars for the event, Staff USA sends a workforce – children who’ve been taking part in collectively for the entire yr and, for probably the most half, two straight seasons relationship again to their time with the NTDP’s under-17 squad.
This yr’s event, which shall be held in Texas, poses a unique problem, nonetheless: as a result of pandemic, Canada can have a a lot stronger workforce than standard as a result of each participant from the OHL and WHL was obtainable to them, whereas normally the CHL playoffs drastically restrict the Canadians to gamers whose groups both missed the post-season or acquired eradicated early.
Meaning 2021 sure-fire first-rounders Brandt Clarke, Dylan Guenther, Mason McTavish, Corson Ceulemans and Cole Sillinger are all on board, plus prime 2022 prospect Shane Wright and prime 2023 choose Connor Bedard, who was eviscerating the WHL with Regina earlier than leaving for camp.
On prime of that, the Russians look very robust due to the cohort they’re bringing, which incorporates 2021 first-round prospects Fyodor Svechkov and Nikita Chibrikov plus 2023 phenom Matvei Michkov.
The final world under-18s was gained by Sweden (due to Lucas Raymond) and Finland gained the yr earlier than that. However between 2009 and 2017, the Individuals gained seven of 9 gold medals. In the event that they need to get again there in Texas, they’re going to must play to their strengths – and that is chemistry.
This yr’s under-18 squad options solely non-NTDP participant and that is goalie Braden Holt of WHL Everett, who will be part of NTDP regulars Gibson Homer and Kaidan Mbereko. Homer is your possible No. 1 right here and he is greater than competent as a starter.
Total, this is not probably the most gifted group the Individuals have assembled for the event, however they are going to be some of the troublesome to play in opposition to. Liam Gilmartin, Pink Savage and Justin Janicke (all 2021 prospects) trigger havoc up entrance, whereas massive 2022 prospect Rutger McGroarty (an under-17 who has performed up with the under-18s within the second half) is a load to deal with due to his measurement and ability.
In relation to pure goal-scoring, 2021 first-round prospect Chaz Lucius is probably the most gifted of the bunch, with Dylan Duke (2021) good for greasy in-tight offense. Sasha Pastujov, one other 2021 prospect, can each dish and shoot. Secondary scoring is out there from 2022 prospects Jack Dylan Hughes, Logan Cooley and Isaac Howard. Cooley and Howard are up from the NTDP under-17s however have performed loads with the under-18s, whereas Hughes is an under-18 with a late birthday.
The protection corps is sweet, however lacking the workforce’s finest participant, Luke Hughes, who has been out since early March with a season-ending damage.
With Hughes out, that gives extra room within the highlight for Aidan Hreschuk, who began off the yr sluggish however finally picked issues up. Sean Behrens has been nice all yr and he’ll must proceed that on the worlds. There’s additionally Roman Schmidt, the towering two-way blueliner with plenty of potential. All three blueliners are 2021 prospects.
If Staff USA goes to win all of it, the built-in chemistry shall be key. This was fairly evident once they stomped throughout a gaggle of USHL all-stars on the current Biosteel All-American Sport. That sport, a lopsided 7-1 affair within the NTDP’s favor, seemed like a aggressive sport on paper, however the NTDP was too cohesive.
It has been a pair years since Staff USA gained gold however this yr’s squad has potential. Now it is time to notice it once they hit the ice in Texas on the finish of the month.