With the calender turning to December, the hockey world turns its eyes to the future and one of the sport's great tournaments begins to get rolling in the World Junior Championship. With no NHL hockey to occupy us (thank you very much for THAT one) this tournament will be getting a lot more attention as it could be our only source of hockey for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, Team USA revealed its preliminary roster for their 2013 World Junior Championship which can be viewed here. This is not the final team mind you as that will be finalized after practices and scrimmages that will take place at the New York Rangers training center in Upstate New York.
A couple of names that should immediately jump out at you are right winger J.T. Miller and defenseman Brady Skjei. Miller, who is currently playing for the Connecticut Whale, is one of only three American players who played on last year's disappointing 2012 squad that finished out of the medal round while Skjei is looking to make his first World Juniors team as a freshman playing for the University of Minnesota.
I know some may bristle at Miller leaving the Whale to play in the tournament, but I support it wholeheartedly. While Miller is a young prospect focusing on developing his game with the Whale, Team USA will be looking for Miller to take a leadership role as well as take on the tough minutes most likely playing on USA's top line with Montreal uber prospect Alex Galchenyuk and Boston College star Johnny Gaudreau. I like this opportunity for Miller to stand up and make a name for himself as one of the better power forward prospects in hockey. I expect JT to have a big tournament similar to Kreider's 2010 WJC.
Brady Skjei, on the other hand, will be walking into his first real test on the international level and will look to make an impact on the blue line with guys like 2012 returnee Jacob Trouba and top 2 2013 draft prospect Seth Jones also on the roster. One thing that will keep Skjei on the roster will be his fantastic skating and ability to play a solid two way defensive game. While he may not be as hard of a hitter as Trouba or have the offensive upside as Jones Skjei could be a very solid, productive defenseman for the Americans should he make the team.
Some other names to keep your eyes on:
Alex Galchenyuk: There's a reason the 6'1 197lb center was the 3rd overall choice in this years NHL Draft. Galchenyuk is an elite playmaker and has a great scoring touch and while he is coming off of limited action (knee surgery last year limited him to 11 games with the Sarnia Sting) Galchenyuk will most likely be playing with an chip on his shoulder to prove that he is America's best offensive prospect not in the NHL.
Johnny Gaudreau: Known around twitter as #GaudreaubyBaker, the diminutive winger hit the national spotlight running last year as a freshman during BC's National Title run and is continuing his goal scoring touch as a sophomore. At 5'9 Gaudreau doesn't have the size of Galchenyuk or Miller but on the wider international ice surface Johnny's speed and smooth hands will be a vital asset on that top line if the US wants to contend for a medal.
Seth Jones: This tournament could be a big coming out party Jones. The 6'5 204lb defenseman has just about every tool you want in an elite defenseman; size, strength, speed, skill and most importantly defensive awareness. Jones is a monster in his own end and knows how to throw his weight around. In the offensive zone Seth knows how to run the point on the PP as well as join the rush and create havoc for opposing teams.
The roster will be trimmed down throughout the next two weeks and the tournament starts the day after Christmas so at least that's something to distract us from this CBA nonsense