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U.S. looking for high-compete players for 2015 WJC

by Adam Kimelman

Jim Johansson, like the rest of the hockey world, watched the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final and saw how the game needs to be played to be successful.

"You saw in the NHL playoffs, whoever came over the boards for the Los Angeles Kings was pretty hard to play against," said Johansson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey and the general manager of the United States for the 2015 World Junior Championship. "The World Juniors has become that. The skill level is really high across all the countries. It comes down to goaltending and the guys that are really hard to play against as a 23-man team unit and keep coming in waves."


GOALTENDERS: Brendan Burke, Portland, WHL (Phoenix Coyotes); Thatcher Demko (pictured), Boston College, HEA (2014 draft eligible); Brandon Halverson, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (2014 draft eligible); Alex Nedeljkovic, Plymouth, OHL (2014 draft eligible).

DEFNSEMEN: Louie Belpedio, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Mike Brodzinski, Minnesota, Big Ten (San Jose Sharks); Will Butcher, Denver, NCHC (Colorado Avalanche); Brandon Carlo, Tri-City, WHL (2015 draft eligible); Connor Clifton, Quinnipiac, ECAC (Phoenix Coyotes); Ryan Collins, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Jack Dougherty, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Michael Downing, Michigan, Big Ten (Florida Panthers); Anthony Florentino, Providence, HEA (Buffalo Sabres); Clint Lewis, Cornell, ECAC (2014 draft eligible); Ian McCoshen, Boston College, HEA (Florida Panthers); Steven Santini, Boston College, HEA (New Jersey Devils); Scott Savage, Boston College, HEA (2014 draft eligible); Tommy Vannelli, Medicine Hat, WHL (St. Louis Blues).

FORWARDS: Anders Bjork, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Taylor Cammarata, Minnesota, Big Ten (N.Y. Islanders); Cole Cassels, Oshawa, OHL, (Vancouver Canucks); J.T. Compher, Michigan, Big Ten (Buffalo Sabres); Kyle Connor, Youngstown, USHL (2015 draft eligible); Chase DeLeo, Portland, WHL (2014 draft eligible); Jack Eichel, USNTDP, USHL (2015 draft eligible); Adam Erne, Quebec, QMJHL (Tampa Bay Lightning); Hudson Fasching, Minnesota, Big Ten (Buffalo Sabres); John Hayden, Yale, ECAC, (Chicago Blackhawks); Connor Hurley, Green Bay, USHL (Buffalo Sabres); Keegan Iverson, Portland, WHL (2014 draft eligible); Dylan Larkin, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Vinni Lettieri, Minnesota, Big Ten (2014 draft eligible); Anthony Louis, Miami, ECAC (Chicago Blackhawks); Ryan MacInnis, Kitchener, OHL (2014 draft eligible); Sean Malone, Harvard, ECAC (Buffalo Sabres); Auston Matthews, USNTDP, USHL (2016 draft eligible); Michael McCarron, London, OHL (Montreal Canadiens); Sonny Milano, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Tyler Motte, Michigan, Big Ten (Chicago Blackhawks); Nick Schmaltz, Green Bay, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Alex Tuch, USNTDP, USHL (2014 draft eligible); Dominic Turgeon, Portland, WHL (2014 draft eligible).

Those skilled, competitive players are what he's looking for to fill the roster for the United States at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. That starts with USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, which will be held Aug. 2-9 at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Of the 42 players invited to the camp, seven were part of the team that finished fifth at the 2014 WJC in Sweden after a loss to Russia in the quarterfinals.

However, the most important of those players might be the one who never dressed for a single game.

Thatcher Demko was the third goalie on last year's team but will enter this year's camp as the favorite to be the starter at the 2015 WJC. The 6-foot-4, 192-pounder went 16-5-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games as a freshman at Boston College; he backstopped the Eagles to the Frozen Four. Demko also is NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American goaltender for the 2014 NHL Draft.

"You want a guy to take the net," Johansson told "You want him to command the net and show that it's his net and exude that confidence in his game. Solid play and consistent play from a goaltender makes your team so much better. Your defense can play with more confidence, they're not afraid to give up a shot. ... Thatcher has a great track record with the national team and the [World Juniors] presents the next challenge. There'll be other guys challenging him for that spot but you have to look at his track record and hope he commands the net."

Demko is one of 18 players from the 2014 draft class who will attend the camp. Joining him will be two others ranked by Central Scouting in the top six of North American goaltenders for this year's draft: No. 4 Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League and No. 6 Brandon Halverson of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL.

Six players listed among Central Scouting's top 30 North American skaters for the 2014 draft will be at the camp, among them four members of the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team: right wing Alex Tuch (No. 12), left wing Sonny Milano (No. 16), center Dylan Larkin (No. 17) and defenseman Jack Dougherty (No. 30). In addition, center Nick Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League (No. 19) and center Ryan MacInnis of the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL (No. 20) received invitations.

Also returning from last year's World Junior team is defenseman Will Butcher, a 2013 fifth-round pick (No. 123) of the Colorado Avalanche, who tied for second on last year's team with two goals and also had five points.

The other defensemen from last year's team attending the camp are Ian McCoshen, a 2013 second-round pick (No. 31) of the Florida Panthers and Steven Santini, a 2013 second-round pick (No. 42) of the New Jersey Devils.

Buffalo Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching, who had two goals and four points at the 2014 tournament, is one of three forwards back from last year's team. Joining him are Adam Erne, a 2013 second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning (No. 33), and Jack Eichel, a candidate to be the first pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. Eichel had one goal and a team-high four assists last year.

The group embodies what Johansson hopes to have with the group picked for the 2015 WJC: Strong, skilled and hard to play against.

"J.T. Compher embodies all of that," Johansson said. "We look at a player like that and a coach says I can use him in any and all situations. He's hard to play against. Hudson Fasching did that last year. Hudson was extremely hard to play against for everybody."

Eichel will be a player watched closely, as his strong showing at the 2014 WJC catapulted him into the discussion for the top pick of the 2015 draft.

"He's a unique player," Johansson said. "A highly gifted player, but he's also a player who is looking to play at the World Juniors. You have a young player we asked a lot of last year and we'll ask a lot more of this year."

Eichel is one of three players from the 2015 draft class invited to the camp, along with center Kyle Connor of the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL and defenseman Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League.

Also invited to the camp is forward Auston Matthews, a 16-year-old right wing who had 12 goals and 17 points in 20 games with the USNTDP U-18 team this season and is eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft.

"This is another guy that keeps accelerating his development," Johansson said. "This camp for us is not a perfect science. We bring players for a reason, to measure them in a pool and for us to see them. ... With Auston, trying to put him in that setting, see where he is in the pool. He's a very talented player for us."

In all, 12 NHL teams will have at least one prospect at the camp, topped by five from the Sabres: defenseman Anthony Florentino, and forwards Fasching, Compher, Connor Hurley and Sean Malone.

Johansson said he, coach Mark Osiecki and the rest of the USA Hockey staff will be looking for players who are "pure competitors and they're hard to play against. You think of Mark Osiecki, the kind of players he likes, how he likes to play, and those players can come in all sizes. Doesn't have to be all big guys. Regardless of size and weight, we have to be competitive and hard to play against."

The camp will feature practices and exhibition games against Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

The United States will play in Group A at the 2015 WJC, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2015, in Toronto and Montreal. Joining the U.S. in its group is defending champion Finland, Canada, Slovakia and Germany. Group A preliminary-round games will be played at Bell Centre in Montreal.

Group B, which consists of Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark, will play its preliminary-round games at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Preliminary-round play runs Dec. 26-31. The quarterfinals will be held Jan. 2, the semifinals Jan. 4, and the bronze- and gold-medal games Jan. 5. The semifinals and medal games will be played in Toronto.


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