USA Hockey has released its roster for the annual World Juniors pre-tournament camp, held in Boston again this year.
A lot of the guys on the list were not very surprising. There were 13 players from college hockey (six forwards, seven defensemen), 11 from major junior (six forwards, one defenseman, all four goalies), three from the USHL (two forwards, one defenseman), and two from pro leagues (both of them forwards).
A few NHLers are missing — Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Noah Hanifin, etc. — but it's tough to say whether they'd even be allowed to go by their teams. In Eichel and Larkin's case, almost certainly not. In Hanifin's case, it looks like a “maybe.”
Interestingly, though, many of the players who ended up on that list are guys you largely would have expected. However, there's a long list of guys who ended up making the cut but weren't even invited to the summer camp, held annually in Lake Placid as sort of a proving ground.
By my count, six forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies are now on the outs with the US World Junior team after earning a look over the summer, for varying reasons. Dylan Larkin isn't on the list because he's in the NHL and excelling, so Detroit won't release him. Ditto Hanifin. Jake Walman was recently told by the IIHF that he's not eligible to play for the US despite having dual citizenship, and anyway he's out until Christmas with an injury, so he probably won't play for Canada either despite a massive start to the season at Providence College.
Here's the complete list of players who will have attended both camps:
There are four guys left off the winter camp that were thought to be major locks for this team: Jeremy Bracco, Jack Roslovic, Kyle Connor, and Alex Tuch.
Each of these snubs — let's call them what they are — is confusing.
First there's Bracco, selected 61st by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2015 NHL Draft, who started the year with 0-3-3 in five games at Boston College before jumping to Kitchener of the OHL, where he's 4-12-16 in 14.
The immediate reaction a lot of people probably had was that the decision to change teams perhaps rubbed USA Hockey the wrong way, but we don't have any actual indication that's the case in and of itself. Most people seem to think, instead, that he's got an Attitude Problem in general, which the “leaving school” thing certainly plays into, and when you have Ron Wilson and Chris Chelios making the team selections (Wilson was at a few college hockey games in Boston this past weekend to make final decisions) that's going to be weighed in, probably more heavily than it should.
Tuch, too, you might be able to say there's some reason to see why he wouldn't be invited. He's a first-round pick who made last year's World Junior team, and was invited over the summer but hurt his knee pretty early on. Moreover, he “only” has 5-7-12 in 15 games for a white-hot BC team (13-1-1). It's not like he's been bad, but he just hasn't been dominant. Another iffy case, but one where you'd normally think USA Hockey would err on the side of “this guy should make the team” even if he's lower on the depth chart than you might think.
The two truly baffling ones that are difficult to comprehend are Roslovic (Winnipeg Jets draft pick, currently 8-7-15 in 14 games as an 18-year-old at Miami University, leading the team by five points) and Connor (he turns 19 on Dec. 9, and has 6-10-16 in 13 games for Michigan, which also leads the team). Anyone you talk to in college hockey has a lot of praise for them, but despite their age they're not going to make the team unless someone gets hurt between now and the start of the tournament. It's bizarre.
In their place, USA Hockey has invited Ryan Donato (4-5-9 in 10 at Harvard) and a few others that might have seemed like bubble players — Anders Bjork, Scott Eansor, and Ryan Hitchcock — now appear to be lot more like locks.
These are guys who, let's say, play more of a “work ethic” type of game than the skill guys who were left out bring every night. They're certainly not going to provide the points that Connor or Roslovic. And while I'm the first to tell you that evaluating player quality based on points alone is often foolish, at this point it's probably going to be at least somewhat telling.
So you have to imagine that this is something Wilson and Chelios covet, given their old-school backgrounds and the facts presented by the roster itself.
Up until last year, Canada — routinely the team best equipped to win gold on an annual basis at this tournament — had spent half a decade doing something similar. They went for the Herb Brooks-ian “right” players instead of the best players.
They also didn't win gold until last January, when they said to themselves, “Let's just load up with skill guys and score 1,000 goals and maybe not worry about letting some WHL thug scoring half a point a game cripple a Latvian.”
I wonder how that worked out for the reigning gold medal winners.
Probably bad, right?
(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)