Team USA goes on merit for world junior camp roster

Ryan Kennedy
Fitzy

The Americans have released their 26-man final camp roster for the world juniors and through the additions and subtractions, it very much looks like a meritocracy.

Anthony DeAngelo, an early cut from the summer’s evaluation camp in Lake Placid, is back on the radar thanks to his amazing numbers with the Ontario League’s Sarnia Sting. The puckrusher leads the league in scoring among defensemen with nine goals and 39 points in 27 games.

Then there’s Ryan Fitzgerald, the Boston College freshman who has been excellent for the Eagles with a point per game on a loaded team. The son of Pittsburgh Penguins assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald also brings a great mind to the game.

But the most intriguing name on the list of 26 is center Jack Eichel. A member of Team USA’s National Team Development Program under-18 squad, the Boston University commit is not eligible for the NHL draft until 2015. He is, to make a lazy comparison, the Americans’ Connor McDavid.

Though he won’t usurp McDavid in either hype or draft rankings, Eichel will go very high in 2015 and is already showing off his elite hands and power forward makeup amongst older competition. He currently sits first on the squad with 17 goals and second in points with 35 in 19 games, trailing only Sonny Milano – a potential first-rounder in this year’s draft.

Is Eichel only in camp for the experience? Perhaps. But in looking at some of the players omitted from the roster, maybe not. Michael McCarron, who famously chose the OHL’s London Knights over Western Michigan University after he was drafted 25th overall and signed by the Montreal Canadiens this summer, did not make the cut. The power forward and NTDP alum has been great internationally in the past, but has struggled mightily in his first OHL campaign. McCarron has nine points in 25 games this season and only four in all of November. Cristoval ‘Boo’ Nieves, another big forward, was also snubbed. The University of Michigan sophomore is actually on pace for fewer points this year than he accrued as a freshman, so that may have been a factor.

Or perhaps there was just too much overlap of skill. Adam Erne, the Tampa Bay second-rounder, was a revelation in Lake Placid and showed great initiative. He’s a thick scorer from the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec League and a lot for opposition defenders to handle. Similarly, big forwards Nic Kerdiles and Hudson Fasching are playing great for Wisconsin and Minnesota, respectively.

In net, Team USA went with the status quo. Collin Olson was the first cut in Lake Placid and was not invited back (the fact he left Ohio State over playing time probably didn’t help his cause). Providence College sophomore Jon Gillies, a Calgary Flames pick, is the likely starter. Not only is he having a phenomenal year with the Friars, but he was also the backup to John Gibson on last year’s gold medal squad.

Gillies will be one of the few Americans back from that team, especially since fellow Flames pick Pat Sieloff is injured. Agitator Ryan Hartman is also on the shelf and may not be available, but he was included on the final roster, while Sieloff was not. That just leaves Riley Barber of Miami University with experience up front, though Boston U. defenseman Matt Grzelcyk did travel with the team to Europe before becoming a late cut for last year’s tourney.