When Bob Motzko looks at the forwards he and the USA Hockey staff will be evaluating at the National Junior Evaluation Camp, he sees what could be the best and most difficult part of his job.
Motzko, who will coach the United States at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, will be overseeing 42 players at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, MI from July 30-Aug. 6, who are taking the first step in competing for a spot on the team that will look to improve upon the bronze medal it won at the 2016 WJC in Finland.
The forward group at the camp will feature 11 first round NHL draft picks, including nine selected in the first round in 2016, and two players who could be high first round picks at the 2017 draft, right wing Kailer Yamamoto of Spokane of the Western Hockey League and center Casey Mittelstadt of Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School.
"We think with the group of forwards that are there, it's going to be very difficult player selection from a forward standpoint because the numbers are high from a talent standpoint," Motzko said. "We have the ability to be a relentless team on the forecheck with great speed and get after the puck."
That aggressive offensive style is something Motzko said he's going to begin incorporating right from the start of camp, which will include practices and games against Finland, Sweden and Canada.
"We start to send the message immediately," he said. "We want to be a team that plays with great speed and puck pursuit and an aggressive style of play. It's a North American style, it's a USA style and one we don't want to deviate from. On paper, we've got a group that we believe can do that."
Among the leaders on the forward group will be three of the five players from the 2016 WJC team that won the bronze medal in Finland: Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks), Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary Flames) and Alexander DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks). Tkachuk led the U.S. with seven assists and tied Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) for the lead with 11 points in seven games. Boeser had one goal and two assists in seven games, and DeBrincat had one goal in five games.
Matthews, the first pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, is eligible to play for the U.S. but was not invited to the camp.
"Last year's team, when you look at the overall tournament, they had an outstanding tournament," Motzko said. "There's one game they would like back. When you look at how you play a tournament, and one game you want back that they would have liked to have go in a better direction for them, that team had a lot of success. There are a number of guys with the opportunity to come back, and if they're hungry and they want it and they're back at it, they'll be a great influence on the direction."
Among the players Motzko said he's looking forward to seeing is Yamamoto, a 5-foot-7, 147-pound forward who had 19 goals and 71 points in 57 games with Spokane last season. He helped the U.S. win the bronze medal at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship with seven goals, tied for the most at the tournament, and 13 points in seven games.
"Tremendous speed, he gets after the puck," Motzko said. "The puck finds him. He finds a way to get in the action. Very excited to see him in this camp."
The defence will have two returning players, Charlie McAvoy (Boston Bruins) and Chad Krys (Chicago Blackhawks). It makes for an inexperienced defensive group, but Motzko doesn't see it as an issue.
"That is going to be an area that's wide open that we're anxious to get a look at, to see the direction that's going to lead us," Motzko said.
One player who will be looked at is Luke Martin, a 6-2, 207-pound right-shot defenceman who had four goals and 20 points in 63 games with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team last season. He will play at the University of Michigan this season.
"A complete package with size, strength and skating," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr said. "He can play a complete game and is effective in all situations."
Motzko said he hasn't seen much of Martin in action, similar to a number of the players coming to the camp. As much as he's excited to see them on the ice, he said he's also looking forward to getting to know them better away from the rink.
"The biggest thing is get to know the players," he said. "That's the first and foremost. Throughout the summer, whether we have some phone conversations or e-mails, that's what you're doing. It's all a mystery; it's all online or in conversation. Now we actually get to put a face to a name. … It's a starting point that starts to put us all in the same room together, puts us on the same ice sheet together and we can start to get some familiarity with who we have and what we have and the direction that we want to go."
USA HOCKEY SUMMER EVALUATION CAMP ROSTER
GOALIES: Jake Oettinger, Boston University, H-EAST (2017 draft eligible); Tyler Parsons, London, OHL (Calgary Flames); Evan Sarthou, Tri-City, WHL (2017 draft eligible); Joseph Woll, Boston College, H-EAST (Toronto Maple Leafs)
DEFENCEMEN: Jack Ahcan, St. Cloud State, NCHC (2017 draft eligible); Nicholas Boka, Michigan, BIG10 (Minnesota Wild); Joseph Cecconi, Michigan, BIG10 (Dallas Stars); Sean Day, Mississauga, OHL (New York Rangers); Casey Fitzgerald, Boston College, H-EAST (Buffalo Sabres); Adam Fox, Harvard, ECAC (Calgary Flames); James Greenway, Wisconsin, BIG10 (Toronto Maple Leafs); Caleb Jones, Portland, WHL (Edmonton Oilers); Chad Krys, Boston University, H-EAST (Chicago Blackhawks); Ryan Lindgren, Minnesota, BIG10 (Boston Bruins); Luke Martin, Michigan, BIG10 (2017 draft eligible); Joseph Masonius, Connecticut, H-EAST (Pittsburgh Penguins); Charlie McAvoy, Boston University, H-EAST (Boston Bruins); Jack Sadek, Minnesota, BIG10 (Minnesota Wild)
FORWARDS: Joseph Anderson, Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC (New Jersey Devils); Kieffer Bellows, Boston University, H-EAST (New York Islanders); Brock Boeser, North Dakota, NCHC (Vancouver Canucks); Jeremy Bracco, Kitchener, OHL (Toronto Maple Leafs); Logan Brown, Windsor, OHL (Ottawa Senators); Alexander DeBrincat, Erie, OHL (Chicago Blackhawks); Christian Fischer, Windsor, OHL (Arizona Coyotes); Erik Foley, Providence, H-EAST (Winnipeg Jets); Trent Frederic, Wisconsin, BIG10 (Boston Bruins); Jordan Greenway, Boston University, H-EAST (Minnesota Wild); Max Jones, London, OHL (Anaheim Ducks); Clayton Keller, Boston University, H-EAST (Arizona Coyotes); Luke Kunin, Wisconsin, BIG10 (Minnesota Wild); Tanner Laczynski, Ohio State, BIG10 (Philadelphia Flyers); Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie, HIGH-MN (2017 draft eligible); Thomas Novak, Minnesota, BIG10 (Nashville Predators); Rem Pitlick, Minnesota, BIG10 (Nashville Predators); Jack Roslovic, Manitoba, AHL (Winnipeg Jets); Troy Terry, Denver, NCHC (Anaheim Ducks); Tage Thompson, Connecticut, H-EAST (St. Louis Blues); Matthew Tkachuk, London, OHL (Calgary Flames); Riley Tufte, Minnesota-Duluth, NCHC (Dallas Stars); Brendan Warren, Michigan, BIG10 (2017 draft eligible); Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane, WHL (2017 draft eligible)
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor