If the NHL lockout drags into January, the dynamic of this year’s World Junior Championship in Russia changes considerably. Players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov who would otherwise be playing in the NHL will have a chance to represent their country.
That doesn’t particularly help Team USA, which announced its preliminary roster this morning, but it’s an opportunity to see how its international development compares if this tournament truly features the best U-20s in the world.
“Whether we’re talking about U.S., Canada, Russia -- we want best on best,” said Team USA GM Jim Johannson. “I hope the best players are all on the ice.”
Looking at the U.S. roster announced Tuesday, there’s certainly enough American talent to compete even without NHL-experienced players. It’s an intentional blend of size and skating ability, featuring three WJC returnees in goalie John Gibson, defenseman Jacob Trouba and forward J.T. Miller.
But the American who will draw the most attention is defenseman Seth Jones, playing in his first U-20 tournament after suffering an injury last year during an exhibition game against Russia. He certainly would have been a factor for Team USA last year if he hadn’t been injured.
“I was just devastated,” Jones told ESPN The Magazine. “I was really looking forward to getting a chance to make the team.”
Now he gets another crack at it.
“He’s a special player, no doubt,” said Team USA coach Phil Housley during a Tuesday morning conference call. “He’s built for today’s game. He’s big, strong, athletic, skates well, makes the first pass out of the zone very crisp. Defensively, positionally, he has a great stick.”
Jones is expected to be one of the first two picks in June’s NHL draft. Up front, the Americans feature five first-round picks in forwards Tyler Biggs, Alex Galchenyuk, Stefan Matteau, Miller and Stefan Noesen.
One notable omission from the preliminary roster is Wisconsin forward Nic Kerdiles, who missed time this year because of a suspension. Johannson said he hasn’t ruled out making additions to the roster before camp in New York, with Kerdiles a prime candidate.