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Tough calls await as U.S. opens WJC selection camp

by Mike G. Morreale

Jim Johannson, general manager of the United States National Junior Team, anticipates some tough decisions to be made this week when many young American hopefuls begin their push to earning roster spots for their country at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Coach Mark Osiecki will lead 30 invites at the USA Hockey selection camp that will take place on the campus of Boston University at Walter Brown Arena, Tuesday through Friday. The final 23-man roster, which will likely be revealed Dec. 24, might include 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders, according to Johannson.

USA National Junior Camp Roster

GOALIES: *Thatcher Demko, Boston College, H-EAST (Vancouver Canucks); Brandon Halverson, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (New York Rangers); Alex Nedeljkovic, Plymouth, OHL (Carolina Hurricanes)

DEFNSEMEN: *Will Butcher, University of Denver, NCHC (Colorado Avalanche); Brandon Carlo, Tri-City, WHL (2015 eligible); Ryan Collins, University of Minnesota, BIG 10 (Colorado Avalanche); Anthony DeAngelo, Sarnia Sting, OHL (Tampa Bay Lightning); Jack Dougherty, University of Wisconsin, BIG 10 (Nashville Predators); Michael Downing, University of Michigan, BIG 10 (Florida Panthers); Noah Hanifin, Boston College, H-EAST (2015 draft eligible); *Ian McCoshen, Boston College, H-EAST (Florida Panthers); *Steven Santini, Boston College, H-EAST (New Jersey Devils); Zach Werenski, University of Michigan, BIG 10 (2015 draft eligible)

FORWARDS: Jeremy Bracco, USA U-18, USHL (2015 draft eligible); J.T. Compher, University of Michigan, BIG 10 (Buffalo Sabres); Cole Cassels, Oshawa, OHL (Vancouver Canucks); Chase De Leo, Portland, WHL (Winnipeg Jets); *Jack Eichel, Boston University, H-EAST (2015 draft eligible); *Adam Erne, Quebec, QMJHL (Tampa Bay Lightning); Hudson Fasching, University of Minnesota, BIG 10 (Buffalo Sabres); John Hayden, Yale University, ECAC (Chicago Blackhawks); Dylan Larkin, University of Michigan, BIG 10 (Detroit Red Wings); Anthony Louis, Miami University, NCHC (Chicago Blackhawks); Auston Matthews, USA U-18, USHL (2016 draft eligible); Michael McCarron, London, OHL (Montreal Canadiens); Sonny Milano, Plymouth, OHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); Tyler Motte, University of Michigan, BIG 10 (Chicago Blackhawks); Nick Schmaltz, University of North Dakota, NCHC (Chicago Blackhawks); Alex Tuch, Boston College, H-EAST (Minnesota Wild); Miles Wood, Noble & Greenough School, HS-MA (New Jersey Devils)

*- Returning player

"We'll do a combination of scrimmaging and practicing at camp where we can get into our philosophy and how we want to play as a team in building our identity," Osiecki said. "But I do want to have the competitive situations where we can see these kids compete against each other. The good thing is that we have a tremendous staff of player personnel people, so we have a lot of eyes on these guys."

Practices will be held at Walter Brown Arena, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET. The team will conduct a morning skate on Friday from 10-11 a.m. before playing an exhibition game against Boston University at 7 p.m.

The U.S. has medaled in three of the past five WJC tournaments and Osiecki has played a major part in each of those placements. He won gold medals working on the staff of Dean Blais in 2010 in Saskatoon and Phil Housley in 2013 in Russia, as well as a bronze as an assistant to Keith Allain in Buffalo in 2011.

"At first glance, the team depth certainly stands out on this roster and I think offensive ability across the board, from our defense group and up front with some explosive forwards, also sticks out," Johannson said. "The world juniors is all about energy and speed, and this will be an energy and speed group."

Johannson said it remains to be seen if the staff will opt to keep two goalies or three, as it did at the 2014 WJC in Malmo, Sweden.

"I think there's a little bit of a luxury with the tournament in the States or Canada as far having access to that goalie," Johannson said. "Whether or not we take all three goalies will be determined at camp and what the comfort level is going into the tournament from a goaltending standpoint."

The three goalies at camp are Brandon Halverson (selected by the New York Rangers, No. 59, in the 2014 NHL Draft) of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League, Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks, No. 36, 2014) of Boston College and Alex Nedeljkovic (Carolina Hurricanes, No. 37, 2014) of the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL.

Demko is the only returning player of that trio, but the 6-foot-3, 192-pound goalie did not see any action at the 2014 WJC.

Boston University freshman Jack Eichel, who will play for the United States National Junior Team against the Terriers on Friday, is one of five players invited to camp eligible for the 2015 draft. Eichel and defensemen Noah Hanifin (Boston College), Zach Werenski (University of Michigan) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City Americans, WHL) are A-rated skaters on NHL Central Scouting's players to watch list. Right wing Jeremy Bracco (U.S. National Team Development Program, USHL) is a B-rated skater, or projected second-round pick.

Johannson feels having Eichel excel for the Terriers is tremendous for college hockey. He is currently averaging 1.67 points per game, second behind Paul Kariya for average points for a draft-eligible freshman since 1992-93. Kariya, the last freshman to lead the NCAA in scoring, averaged 2.56 points at the University of Maine in 1992-93 when he totaled 100 points in 39 games.

"The unique part is that everyone, including opponents, knows Jack is in the game, yet somehow he manages to have the puck a lot and create offense and that just shows what a special player he is," Johannson said. "He showed last year [at the WJC] in how complete a player he is. He was very good in our end, stole pucks and created a lot of offense, and that was a bigger surprise to people than his pure offensive ability."

The United States will play its four preliminary-round games at Bell Centre in Montreal. The Group A field consists of the United States, Canada, Finland, Slovakia and Germany. The gold-medal game will take place at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Jan. 5.

Johannson will likely name his final roster on Dec. 24 after the United States concludes a pre-tournament exhibition schedule against Germany on Dec. 21 and Sweden on Dec. 23. After the exhibition games, the U.S. will open the 11-day tournament on Dec. 26 with a Group A game against defending champion Finland at Bell Centre in Montreal at 3 p.m. ET.

In addition to six first-round NHL Draft picks, the preliminary roster includes 17-year-old forward Auston Matthews of the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program. The native of Scottsdale, Ariz., considered by many the top choice in the 2016 draft, leads the USNTDP in goals (22) and points (47) in 26 games this season.

Eichel (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) and Matthews (6-0, 199) served as the top two centers for Osiecki during USA Hockey's WJC development camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August.

"[Matthews is] very strong and has been an outstanding player for us at the NTDP and our development camp in Lake Placid in August," Johannson said. "The little asterisk is that he's just two days short from being eligible for this year's draft, so he is young. He's a 200-foot player with outstanding offensive abilities; he's really hard to play against in every aspect of the game."

It remains to be seen if Boston College defenseman Steve Santini will be healthy enough to represent the United States. Santini sustained a wrist injury in October and was told he could be out until January. The steady Santini, a 2013 second-round pick (No. 42) of the New Jersey Devils, would certainly be part of the team if he is good to go.

"I told Steven that we'll ride this out as long as we can," Johannson said. "Everything is on schedule, but it's still too early to know where that stands. We would wait as long as we can, but we also wouldn't put him in a position to cause any more harm coming back too early. The care of the player is No. 1 when dealing with a high-caliber player."

After celebrating a third gold medal at the 2013 WJC, the United States arrived home empty-handed in 2014 after dropping a 5-3 decision to eventual bronze-medalist Russia in the quarterfinal round. The United States received goals from 12 different players in the tournament, including four from a defensive unit that chipped in with six goals and 17 points.


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