"I think we're the best team! We have a lot of speed up front, we're great defensively and we have good goaltending so I think we have all the pieces to win the gold medal." ~ Projected first overall pick and defenceman Seth Jones
[caption id="attachment_1547" align="alignright" width="300"] Seth Jones[/caption]
A bold prediction from the young defenceman suiting up in his first World Junior tournament. It will be no easy task for the boys in blue and white to reclaim the gold medal with only 3 players on the roster with World Junior experience and only 2 players who would likely be up in the NHL if not for the lockout. Jones who many are saying will be taken first overall in the 2013 draft, is by far the biggest name on the roster and may end up as the top shutdown defenceman for the Americans.
Outside of the rookie Jones, J.T Miller, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson are the 3 returning players from last years disappointing 7th place finish. These 3 will have to lead the team and help the younger rookies adapt to the pressures of the playing in the World Juniors.
“J.T. is key for us on and off the ice and we really listen to what he has to say." ~Jones
If the Americans have any shot of challenging for the gold medal they will need Miller to step up and lead this team in scoring. Miller is the only member of the team playing in the AHL and well on his way to a NHL career. Despite his slow start with the Connecticut Whale the New York Rangers junior team he's racked up 14 points in 26 games and will need to further elevate his game to lead the Americans to victory. He still has a bitter taste from last years tournament and will be looking to win big this year to erase last years pitiful performance.
In addition to the scoring threat of Miller, Sarnia Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk will be another dangerous offencive weapon. The third overall pick in the 2012 draft, he's the highest drafted player in the Americans line up and is virtually ready for his shot in the NHL. He's been lighting up the OHL in recent weeks racking up 19 goals and 40 points in his last 18 games and is 2nd in OHL scoring behind team Canada's Ryan Strome. If Miller goes quit look for Galchenyuk to pick up the slack and perhaps lead the team in scoring.
[caption id="attachment_1549" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Trouba[/caption]
On the back end the focus will fall on Jacob Trouba and Jones to shut down the opposition. Jones has lofty expectations for his team on the backend stating he wants the team to "Give up the least amount of goals in the tournament". A lofty goal which puts added pressure on the defence and goalies. While Jones has something to prove for the upcoming draft and facing off against fellow top ranked prospects Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, Trouba has already been drafted and is one of 3 returning players. Trouba's job will be to lead the defence and set the tone of play. Trouba was taken in the first round by the Winnipeg Jets and has had previous success with the U17 and U18 American team. After the dismal showing last year look for Trouba to be motivated to bring home a medal.
Between the pipes the US will turn to John Gibson who was the back-up netminder during last years tournament. Gibson got a first hand look of what it takes to win games from last years tournament and has the added benefit of a second chance to fix mistakes. Playing in 20 games this season with the Kitchener Rangers he's won 13 games and has a solid .929 Save Percentage. After playing second fiddle last year, Gibson is ready to take on the starting role and hopefully propel the Americans back into medal contention. He will have the benefit of playing behind a team that is focusing mainly on defence but will still need to stay sharp and come up big during the penalty kill.
While games against their rivals Canada and Russia will be big games, the Americans will have to stay sharp and get the "easy" wins against teams like Slovakia and Germany to insure their inclusion in the medal round. In addition to some of the big names up front the Americans will be relying on some of their smaller players to help give them a boost. Rocco Grimaldi is the smallest player on the roster at 5 foot 6 and wont add much in terms of physical play but if he's given the time and space, the big ice surface will give him room to do his thing and could add another offencive weapon. Speed kills in the World Junior tournament and Grimaldi has tons of that.
This years American team has an added focus on defence and is looking to play close games like their overtime win over Sweden in the pre-competition.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] Team USA will need to band together and stay out of the box[/caption]
Much like team Canada they will need to adapt to the way international refs call the game, the ruff, tough, hard hitting hockey played over in North America isn't
usually welcomed in Europe and the Americans have already found themselves in penalty trouble. The key for the Americans is to stay out of the box and play sound defensive hockey. While most people aren't expecting team USA to make it to the finals, they have the potential to be a surprise team. Coming in as the underdogs there is no room to slack off.