U.S. captain Derek Stepan, leading goal scorer Chris Kreider and top penalty killer Ryan Bourque all are highly regarded prospects, and if this tournament is any indication, there's a bright future looming on Broadway for the trio.
All three have played major roles as the U.S. advanced to Tuesday's gold-medal game (8 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) against Canada.
Stepan was as much a surprise to be named team captain as he is to lead the tournament with 9 assists and 12 points in six games.
"He's our captain and I think he deserves it," U.S. coach Dean Blais said. "He's not real vocal, but when he says something in the locker room, the guys listen to him. He's good on the penalty kill, he's good on the power play. He's getting his ice time, but he's backing it up by putting points on the board."
Chosen in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft (No. 51) out of Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school, Stepan has 22 points in 18 games as a sophomore this season at the University of Wisconsin.
"He's a very highly skilled guy with his head and hands," Gordie Clark, the Rangers' director of player personnel, told NHL.com. "We were hoping the body would have to mature and come along. He's a little ahead of the curve right now."
The same could be said for Kreider, who the Rangers chose with the 19th pick of the 2009 Entry Draft. Using great speed and size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), he's tied for the team lead with 5 goals, including a tournament-best 3 power-play goals. He had the only hat trick for a U.S. player in this tournament when he scored three against Latvia.
"He's certainly one of the most improved players from Lake Placid (summer evaluation camp)," Blais said. "He was on the bubble when he came into Grand Forks (training camp). … He's fast, he's strong, he's figuring the game out a little bit."
Kreider, who has 5 points in 14 games as a freshman at Boston College this season, said he had no idea what to expect entering the World Juniors.
"To be honest I had low expectations for myself coming in," Kreider said. "I knew my role -- I had to run around, be an energy guy, hit, create havoc. That's one of the easier roles to play -- you just have to get up for the game, you don't have to think the game so much. Having such low expectations for myself made it a little bit easier to adjust."
His teammates certainly have been impressed by what they've seen.
"He's stepped it up," Jordan Schroeder said. "His speed is unbelievable. He's one of the fastest guys in this tournament. Anytime he can use his speed and use it to his advantage he's going to create scoring opportunities. He's been doing great for us so far, he's putting numbers on the board."
"He is a go-to guy now," added Bourque, who has known Kreider since both were in middle school together in the Boston suburbs. "Whether it's to be an energy guy to get us going on a shift, or if we need a goal when we're down, he's been there to do that. He's a guy we can really count on in the tourney."
Kreider also has earned the trust of his coach, who has him on the second line and has been giving him lots of power-play chances.
"He's been very dependable defensively," Blais said. "He hasn't made a lot of mistakes defensively. When you're good on one end it seems to work out on the other."
Clark has been most impressed by Kreider's climb from Philips Academy, a prep school in Andover, Mass., to the world stage.
"He has, in a short period of time, come from probably what we as scouts view as the worst league, the U.S. high school/prep school league … and he's playing in the World Juniors right now and he's got 5 goals," Clark said.
"He's our captain and I think he deserves it. He's not real vocal, but when he says something in the locker room, the guys listen to him. He's good on the penalty kill, he's good on the power play. He's getting his ice time, but he's backing it up by putting points on the board." -- Dean Blais on Derek StepanClark also has been impressed by the all-round skill Bourque has shown. A natural scorer -- he has 12 goals and 27 points in 31 games with the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts -- Bourque has been used more as a checker and penalty killer in this tournament and has excelled.
"He's a scorer in Quebec," Clark said, "(but) Ryan accepted it and he's out there killing penalties. You'll see him out there in the last two minutes of every game because he's a guy you can count on."
Adding to his on-ice skill is a maturity not generally seen in most 19-year-olds. It's one of the things that motivated the Rangers to take him in the third round (No. 80) last June following three seasons with the U.S. National Team Development Program.
"He's got one of the best work ethics we've ever seen in a player," Clark said. "He does play power play, he does play five-on-five and he does kill penalties. He's a guy that isn't a one-skill guy."
Clark also has been pleased with Bourque's emergence as a solid player in his first season in the QMJHL, which marks a step up in competition.
"It certainly looks from what's going on he's having a heck of a time up there," Clark said. "The games I've seen he's been tremendous up there."
They can say that for all three of their prospects at the World Juniors.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.