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Wilson sees size, skating ability in U.S. camp invitees

by Mike G. Morreale /

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Despite being one of the most heralded coaches in the history of USA Hockey, Ron Wilson has never once had an opportunity to visit the historic Lake Placid Olympic Training Center.

He'll get that chance as coach of the United States National Junior Team when he leads 39 invitees to USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp from Aug. 1-8 here at Lake Placid Olympic Center's 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.

The invitees will be auditioning for spots on the team that will represent the U.S. at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, from Dec. 26, 2015, through Jan. 5, 2016.

"I've never been to Lake Placid, so I'm also looking forward to it," Wilson told "We'll be in the big building, and there's a lot of history there and everybody still talks about the 1980 Olympic team, so we're going to actually be able to live and breathe the same air those guys did, and that's a long time ago.

"That's going to be the fun part for me; that's the same building that Herb Brooks' team played in."

Since being named coach, Wilson said he has reviewed a lot of video and spoken to many people familiar with the players he will direct at the evaluation camp. Wilson and assistants Chris Chelios, Danton Cole and Kevin Reiter will have their team practice and scrimmage against Finland and Sweden.

"I watched probably 20 videos of different guys and I was impressed by everybody," Wilson said. "The one thing we can do especially well is skate, and I think that's an ingredient a coach always wants on his team. In some cases, we have pretty good size; guys who are comparable to NHL players."

Wilson said he likely will cut 12 or 13 players by the time camp breaks following a scrimmage against Finland on Aug. 8. Center Jack Eichel, who served as U.S. captain at the 2015 WJC, was invited to camp but will not attend. The Buffalo Sabres, who selected Eichel with the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, signed the Boston University freshman July 1.

"I haven't seen these guys play, so what they do in camp is going to be really important to my final decisions and the decisions we have to make as a coaching staff," Wilson said. "Everybody will get an equal opportunity, and we're not going to rely heavily on certain people to do certain things."

The United States has medaled in three of the past six WJC tournaments (gold in 2010, 2013; bronze in 2011) but finished fifth in 2015.

Wilson coached the U.S. to a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a gold medal at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and a bronze medal at the 1996 World Championship.

He has coached 1,401 NHL games with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs. He was fired by the Maple Leafs on March 2, 2012, and he has not coached since. Wilson joins Lou Vairo as the only Americans to coach a U.S. team at the World Junior Championship, World Championship and Olympics.

Wilson will have some tough decisions to make; 10 NHL first-round picks have been invited. The white roster has six first-round draft choices: defenseman Zach Werenski (Columbus Blue Jackets, 2015) and forwards Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks, 2015), Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings, 2014), Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets, 2014), Jack Roslovic (Winnipeg Jets, 2015), and Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks, 2014).

The blue roster features four first-round picks: defenseman Noah Hanifin (Carolina Hurricanes, 2015), and forwards Kyle Conner (Winnipeg Jets, 2015), Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild, 2014), and Colin White (Ottawa Senators, 2014).

There also are two players expected to be selected in the top five of the 2016 draft: center Auston Matthews and left wing Matthew Tkachuk.

Wilson said he doesn't anticipate any issue as an older veteran coach of these young players. Wilson is the first former NHL coach hired to lead the U.S. National Junior Team. He said he will make his first round of cuts Aug. 4 in order to form one team.

"I'm going there talking hockey and I'm assuming that I'm going to be able to talk at a fairly high level, so that's going to be the key right there," Wilson said. "They're all able to excel at a high level. I'm assuming these kids will be able to do everything I'm going to ask of them. It's not rocket science; it's going to be a very simple way to play, and from what I can see, these players should be able to pick it all up very quickly."

Wilson said one of the areas he'll stress at camp is quick puck movement.

"I don't want anybody to be a static player," Wilson said. "From the video I've watched, we already excel at [puck movement], so I don't think there's going to be any problem."

He and the coaching staff will also be looking for versatility.

"If we have anyone on this team who can play up front and defense and do so without losing any offensive or defensive ability, that's a bonus," Wilson said.

USA Hockey invited 22 forwards, 13 defensemen and four goalies to camp.

2015 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp rosters

Team Blue

Goaltenders: Brandon Halverson, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (New York Rangers); Kris Oldham, Omaha, USHL (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Defense: Ryan Collins, University of Minnesota, Big Ten (Columbus Blue Jackets); Jack Dougherty, University of Wisconsin, Big Ten (Nashville Predators); Brandon Fortunato, Boston University, HEA (free agent); Noah Hanifin, Boston College, HEA (Carolina Hurricanes); Joshua Jacobs, Michigan State University, Big Ten (New Jersey Devils); Caleb Jones, USNTDP, USHL (Edmonton Oilers)

Forwards: Paul Bittner, Portland, WHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); Jeremy Bracco, USNTP, USHL (Toronto Maple Leafs); Kyle Connor, Youngstown Phantoms, USHL (Winnipeg Jets); Christian Dvorak, London, OHL (Arizona Coyotes); Christian Fischer, USNTP, USHL (Arizona Coyotes); Erik Foley, Cedar Rapids, USHL (Winnipeg Jets); Jordan Greenway, USNTDP, USHL (Minnesota Wild); Ryan MacInnis, Kitchener, OHL (Arizona Coyotes); Alex Tuch, Boston College, HEA (Minnesota Wild); Dominic Turgeon, Portland, WHL (Detroit Red Wings); Colin White, USNTDP, USHL (Ottawa Senators)

Team White

Goaltenders: Luke Opilka, USNTDP, USHL (St. Louis Blues); Evan Sarthou, USNTDP, USHL (2016 draft eligible)

Defense: Louie Belpedio, Miami University, NCHC (Minnesota Wild); Brandon Carlo, Tri-City, WHL (Boston Bruins); Chad Krys, USNTDP, USHL (2016 eligible); Johnathon Macleod, Boston University, HEA (Tampa Bay Lightning); Charlie McAvoy, USNTDP, USHL (2016 eligible); Jake Walman, Providence College, HEA (St. Louis Blues); Zachary Werenski, University of Michigan, Big Ten (Columbus Blue Jackets)

Forwards: Anders Bjork, University of Notre Dame, HEA (Boston Bruins); Brock Boeser, Waterloo, USHL (Vancouver Canucks); Scott Eansor, Seattle, WHL (2016 eligible); Conor Garland, Moncton, QMJHL (Arizona Coyotes); Ryan Hitchcock, Yale University, ECAC (free agent); Dylan Larkin, University of Michigan, Big Ten (Detroit Red Wings); Auston Matthews, USNTDP, USHL (2016 eligible); Sonny Milano, Plymouth, OHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); Jack Roslovic, USNTDP, USHL (Winnipeg Jets); Nick Schmaltz, University of North Dakota, NCHC (Chicago Blackhawks); Matthew Tkachuk, USNTDP, USHL (2016 draft eligible)

2015 Sweden Junior Evaluation Camp roster

Goaltenders: Erik Kallgren (Arizona Coyotes), Felix Sandstrom (Philadelphia Flyers), Linus Soderstrom (New York Islanders)

Defensemen: Gabriel Carlsson (Columbus Blue Jackets); Sebastian Aho (2016 draft eligible), Rasmus Andersson (Calgary Flames), Gustav Bouramman (Minnesota Wild), Andreas Englund (Ottawa Senators), Gustav Forsling (Chicago Blackhawks), William Lagesson (Edmonton Oilers), Jacob Larsson (Anaheim Ducks), Marcus Pettersson (Anaheim Ducks)

Forwards: Rasmus Asplund (2016 draft eligible), Christoffer Ehn (Detroit Red Wings), Joel Eriksson Ek (Minnesota Wild), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (Boston Bruins), Axel Holmstrom (Detroit Red Wings), Anton Karlsson (Arizona Coyotes), Adrian Kempe (Los Angeles Kings), Oskar Lindblom (Philadelphia Flyers), Jens Looke (Arizona Coyotes), Fredrik Olofsson (Chicago Blackhawks), Robin Kovacs (New York Rangers), Dmytro Timashov (Toronto Maple Leafs), Henrik Tornqvist (2016 draft eligible)

2015 Finland Junior Evaluation Camp roster

Goaltenders: Kaapo Kahkonen (Minnesota Wild); Veini Vehvilainen (2016 draft eligible); Nico Viksten (2016 draft eligible)

Defense: Matias Haaranen (2016 draft elibile); Miro Keskitalo (2016 draft eligible); Otto Leskinen (2016 draft eligible); Jesper Mattila (2016 draft eligible); Eetu Sopanen (2016 draft eligible); Markus Niemelainen (2016 draft eligible); Niko Mikkola (St. Louis Blues); Sami Niku (Winnipeg Jets); Vili Saarijarvi (Detroit Red Wings); Juuso Valimaki (2017 draft eligible)

Forwards: Jesse Puljujarvi (2016 draft eligible); Miska Siikonen (2016 draft eligible); Joel Kiviranta (2016 draft eligible); Teemu Lamsa (2016 draft eligible); Sebastian Repo (2016 draft eligible); Frank Gymer (2016 draft eligible); Patrik Laine (2016 draft eligible); Sebastian Aho (Calgary Flames); Juho Lammikko (Florida Panthers); Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche); Aleksi Saarela (New York Rangers); Jonne Tammela (Tampa Bay Lightning); Julius Nattinen (Anaheim Ducks); Kasperi Kapanen (Toronto Maple Leafs)

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