To say Team USA will have their work cut out for them to repeat as gold medalists at the world junior championship this year would be an understatement.
Without Anaheim Ducks prospect John Gibson in between the pipes, Nashville Predators star Seth Jones and Winnipeg Jets defender Jacob Trouba on the blueline and Montreal Canadiens sniper Alex Galchenyuk up front, they have ultimately lost their gold medal-winning foundation from last year. Not to mention, they only have three returning players: Providence College puck-stopper Jon Gillies, Miami University winger Riley Barber and Plymouth Whalers agitator Ryan Hartman.
Nevertheless, they still seem have a strong enough squad to be in the running for gold in Malmo, Sweden. Of the 26 players named to their preliminary roster today, Hartman (Chicago Blackhawks, 2013), Edmonton Oil Kings forward Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix Coyotes, 2012), Albany Devils winger Stefan Matteau (New Jersey Devils, 2012) and University of Minnesota blueliner Brady Skjei (New York Rangers, 2012) are first-round NHL picks. In addition, Gillies, who has posted a .945 save percentage in 14 games with Providence College, and Anthony Stolarz, who has posted a .929 save percentage in 22 games with the London Knights, gives them two solid options in the blue paint.
Here is a look at the complete preliminary roster. Only two forwards and one defenceman will be cut from the list before the tournament kicks off on Dec. 26.
Goalies: Jon Gillies, Anthony Stolarz and Thatcher Demko.
Defencemen: Will Butcher, Connor Carrick, Anthony DeAngelo, Matt Grzelcyk, Ian McCoshen, Brett Pesce, Steven Santini and Brady Skjei.
Forwards: Riley Barber, J.T. Compher, Andrew Copp, Tommy DiPauli, Jack Eichel, Adam Erne, Hudson Fasching, Ryan Fitzgerald, Ryan Hartman, Nic Kerdiles, Stefan Matteau, Tyler Motte, Dan O’Regan, Henrik Samuelsson and Quentin Shore.
Of the players not named to the preliminary roster, only New York Islanders prospect Taylor Cammarata and Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Mike McCarron stood out to USA Hockey blogger Chris Peters as notable omissions.
The one player I’m especially surprised did not get an invite was Taylor Cammarata. The fact that he plays at Minnesota and has produced well as a true freshman led me to believe he’d make the roster. The one thing I’ve wondered about him all year is if he’d be able to produce against the pace of the World Junior. Apparently not in the eyes of Team USA’s brass and his own head coach. That had to be a tough cut, but not an altogether bad one.
This may be a surprise to the outside world, but really wasn’t to me. Canadiens first-rounder Mike McCarron was left off the roster. I don’t think he was doing enough in London to warrant a selection. If I’m a Habs fan, I wouldn’t be worried. McCarron is a long-range prospect who has a lot of smoothing out to do. I think he’ll be there next year as he continues to round out his game. So step back from the ledge on calling him a first-round bust.
Players to watch
Stefan Matteau, wing, Albany Devils (AHL) – The Devils prospect not only brings truculence with a scoring touch to Team USA, but he also adds experience from the pros. He suited up in 17 games for New Jersey last year and has started this season with their AHL affiliate, potting five goals and 11 points in 20 games. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder should be one of USA’s most versatile players. He’s skilled enough to play in their top six and has the physical edge to play a shutdown role.
Adam Erne, wing, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – On the big ice surface, the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect could play a big offensive role for the States. He is a smooth, quick skater who possesses elite play-making abilities and a strong shot. He has showcased that in his third season with the Ramparts this year, potting 10 goals and 32 points in 26 contests.
Jake Eichel, centre, U.S. U18 Team (USHL) – Having a late-1996 birthdate, Eichel is the youngest player invited to the camp and isn’t draft eligible until 2015. He brings both a mature frame – standing 6-foot-1, 190-pounds – and enticing statistics as he has netted 12 goals and 21 points in just nine games with the NTDP program this season. The Boston University commit is in the running to play a major role in the top six.
NHL draft prospects
Thatcher Demko, goalie, Boston College (NCAA) – Demko likely won’t see any action this year as he seems to be behind Gillies and Stolarz on the depth chart, but the college freshman’s world junior spot is a testament to USA Hockey viewing him as a front-runner to start next year. The San Diego, CA., native, whom NHL Central Scouting Service pegged as an A-list prospect in November, has held his own in Boston College this year, posting a .899 save percentage and 2.57 average in five games.
Anthony DeAngelo, defence, Sarnia Sting (OHL) – The 5-foot-11, 167-pound DeAngelo, who turned 18 in October, has made his case to be Team USA's power-play quarterback in his third season with the Sting. He has been on fire offensively, notching nine goals and 39 points in 27 games.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen