USA, Canada and Slovakia Announce WJC Preliminary Rosters

USA, Canada and Slovakia Announce WJC Preliminary Rosters
Jun 28, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; New York Rangers draft pick Gabriel Perreault stands with Rangers staff after being selected with the twenty third pick in round one of the 2023 NHL Draft at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

So it begins. Rosters are finally being announced for the upcoming tournament as Slovakia, Hockey Canada, and USA Hockey have revealed their preliminary roster for the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship. Both Slovakia and USA feature Rangers prospects, with the Americans potentially having two players represent the Blueshirts. For Team USA, the group of 29 players heads to Plymouth, Michigan for a training camp taking place December 14-16, during which the final four players will be cut and the roster will then assume its final form. From here, Team USA will fly to Gothenburg, Sweden to compete in the tournament. Team Slovakia’s process is currently a bit muddier, as the team was informally announced via a Slovakian journalist on Twitter.

It is only sad news for Rangers fans on the other side of the North American border. Team Canada, for the first time since 2020, won’t have a single Rangers prospect on their roster. Of course, that 2020 tournament featured Alexis Lafrenière, who entered the organization a mere 6 months later, but I digress. Earlier this year, when most countries held meetings with potential players, Bryce McConnell-Barker, a 2022 Rangers third-round pick, was invited to those meetings. However, for some reason or another, an invitation was not sent his way for the actual training camp.

With McConnell-Barker returning for what is likely his final season in the OHL, people may have expected more from the young center. Last year with the Soo Greyhounds, he posted above a point-per-game average on an objectively weaker team. This year, as the Greyhounds have been playing a more competitive brand of hockey, he got off to a slower start and while scoring at a respectable pace, has not dominated the entire way through as was hoped. Though this past November saw McConnell-Barker return to his old form, it may have been “too little, too late” for him to save his spot at the preliminary training camp.

While seven other countries still haven’t released their roster yet, there may not be any other Rangers prospects participating in the 2024 WJC. This is due to a few reasons: one, Russia isn’t allowed compete so that prohibits the chance for Maxim Barbashev to show his stuff, two, the Rangers’ draft capital the last two years has been lacking—what they have done with their picks is for the most part commendable, but the majority of their eleven picks have been in the fourth round or later—and three, the team has, whether intentional or not, focused on drafting North American players and those junior squads are generally amongst the most competitive. Now let’s quit talking about who won’t be there and take a quick look at those Rangers prospects who have so far made the cut.

Drew Fortescue

The Rangers selected this young defender with their third-round pick, 90th overall in the 2023 NHL draft. Fortescue, an NY native, isn’t known for his offensive prowess but instead for his defensive efficiency and reliable play. Having watched several of his games playing for the Boston College Eagles this season, I can tell you right now, if you’re searching for a flashy player you will need to look elsewhere—but one thing Fortescue has been is consistent. Tasked with top pair minutes he is still making clean breakout passes and boxing opponents out superbly well, often turning around plays and springing his forwards into action adeptly.

This season Fortescue has scored 3 goals in 16 games, but he is no stranger to international action. Fortescue won the gold medal in the 2023 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, with current Rangers Assistant Coach Dan Muse behind the helm. WJC squads need all types of players, and Fortescue is one of the better defensive players in camp. There is most definitely a spot for him on the team if he plays well  enough.

Gabriel Perreault

Where to start with this kid? First off, the son of former NHLer Yanic Perreault, Gabriel was drafted with the Rangers’ first-round pick, 23rd overall in the 2023 NHL draft, and let me tell you, many hockey pundits considered him a steal at that spot pretty much right away. Having smashed the USNTDP points record last year, Perreault set his sights on Boston College; the winger wasted no time acclimating to NCAA hockey in his rookie year and is leading the team in points with 4 goals and 19 assists.

Perreault is lauded for his vision and playmaking ability and he has proven that tenfold time and time again, but what is becoming more and more apparent is his goal-scoring ability. When the kid shoots the puck, good things happen—he just needs to shoot more often. It doesn’t take an expert to notice Perreault is a selfless player who often passes on prime shooting opportunities, but he does have have a 12.5% shooting percentage after taking 34 shots in BC’s season so far. This is an objectively good percentage to have; in the NHL many star players historically wield a lower shooting percentage. While this is an extremely small sample size and this point is cherry-picking favorable stats, it needs to be said if he can maintain this success rate and increase his shot quantity he’ll be a legitimate scoring threat in every situation.

Perreault has been involved all over the ice, racking up primary assists but also scoring highlight-reel goals when his team needed it. In his draft profile, his skating was pointed out as the one serious flaw, but whether he’s put in work to erase said flaw or it was exaggerated, he has been moving quickly all over the ice. Look at his stride and pace in the video below. He zooms by the UConn forward and defender. Yes, the defenseman had to pivot, but Perreault is seen still gaining ground and uses his edges to cut to the middle and get a dangerous chance.

Reviewing his stats, it’s hard to remember Perreault is still a kid at just 18 years old. Measuring in at 5’11” and 165 lbs, he’ll need to spend the next few years adding muscle to his frame to more easily acclimate to professional hockey. The NHL is the end game for the prodigious scorer, but the ultimate question is whether his skills will translate to a bigger and faster game. At every level, he’s proven he can raise his game and be among the best and it’ll be a great and interesting opportunity to see how he performs on the big international stage that the WJC has become. The Rangers somehow drafted a stud and it’s safe to say barring any unforeseen incidents, Perreault is not only a lock for this team, but will more than likely be relied upon to score for Team USA.

Adam Sýkora

While there hasn’t been much in the way of official announcements regarding Sýkora’s participation in the WJC, the Slovakian journalist who initially released the team’s roster included a tidbit on Sýkora’s inclusion. To be overly confident and frank about this, it does make sense. How could their national team not include him? While not their most productive player last year, he did lead the team in ice time per game and brought his energetic wrecking ball style to every situation they threw him in.

Now that he’s been a mainstay on the Wolf Pack this season, he is starting to wreak havoc on AHL opponents. He scored a goal and three assists in last Friday’s game against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and with Brodzinski seemingly up with the Rangers for the foreseeable future, there is ice time aplenty for the young forward. Which brings us to the ultimate question: will the New York Rangers allow him to go represent his country?

There are most definitely pros and cons to Sýkora participating in this year’s WJC. As he is just starting to his his stride in the AHL, do they want to interrupt this and have him leave the team for a month plus? His development is the most important aspect to consider here. Regardless of how this impacts the Wolf Pack, what would be better for Sýkora? On one hand hockey players are very routine creatures. Improving his familiarity and comfort in North America could get the upper hand, but you’d also need to consider whether he would get a better confidence boost from a successful tournament. Another concern is there has been a history of teams allowing prospects to participate and having them suffer season-ending injuries—look no further than the Dach brothers. While it’s still up in the air, if the Rangers do allow it, we will almost certainly see Sýkora on Team Slovakia.

The WJC kicks off the day after Christmas and will be broadcast on NHL Network in the United States. As we get closer, Blueshirt Banter will release more information on the official rosters and Rangers prospect participation. While we may be biased here, these preliminary rosters have indicated this year, Team USA is the team deserving of the most support from Rangers Nation.

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