The United States national junior team begins its 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship on Friday afternoon at the Bell Centre in Montreal - and two Blue Jackets prospects will be part of the Americans’ quest for gold.
Sonny Milano, Columbus’ first-round pick (No. 16 overall) in 2014, was seen as a lock to make the team for his dynamic offensive ability and his tremendous track record of success with the USNTDP. He was a star for the U.S. at last year’s under-18 tournament, and is expected to play a key role for head coach Mark Osiecki.
Osiecki also has Columbus ties, having served as head coach of the Ohio State men’s hockey program for three seasons (2010-2013).
Also part of this year’s American team is defenseman Ryan Collins, a second-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2014 and a young man who’s thought to have a bright future. He’s currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota, alma mater of Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards (Richards is the all-time leading scoring defenseman for the Gophers. No. 2 on that list? Jordan Leopold).
VIEW: NHL Network's 2015 Team USA WJC broadcast schedule
Collins was on the roster bubble for much of the summer during evaluation camp and then into the season, where the U.S. seemed to key in on 8-10 defensemen as the process drew to a close.
An injury to Boston College blue liner Steve Santini - a smart, mobile defender who eats a lot of minutes - opened the door for the 6-foot-5 Collins, who may begin the tournament as Team USA’s seventh defenseman but could earn an increased role. While it’s a devastating outcome for Santini, it’s a terrific opportunity for Collins to step up and make an impact when his number is called.
Collins, 18, has history with the USNTDP and has represented the United States in international competition before; he joined the USNTDP in 2012 and played for the bronze-medal winning American team at the World Hockey Challenge (under-17), and at the 2014 under-18 World Junior tournament, played seven games with a plus-4 rating.
Collins played 56 games for Team USA’s under-17 team and 59 games for the under-18 squad, so he’s no stranger to the program.
Want to know more about Collins’ game? Here’s a scouting report form Hockey’s Future:
"Collins is a defensive defenseman whose size and skating ability make him effective in his own end of the ice. His reach and positional awareness allow him to prevent opponents from creating scoring changes and he has a strong first pass to start the transition. As with many players his size his agility and mobility is a concern but should improve during his time at the University of Minnesota."