2023 World Juniors: Breaking Down The Forwards On USA's Camp Roster
2023 World Juniors: Breaking Down The Forwards On USA's Camp Roster
Prospect analyst Chris Peters breaks down the 18 forwards invited to Team USA's camp ahead of the World Junior Championship.
The U.S. National Junior Team camp roster was released Monday by USA Hockey. Of the 32 players invited to camp, 18 were forwards. USA Hockey's decisionmakers will have to cut that list down by about five players to get to the 13 they'll likely enter the tournament with.
The forward group as a whole is quick and skilled with a good amount of high-end scoring talent. It looks like the U.S. wants to have three legitimate scoring lines and a fourth line that has a bit more size and defensive capability to wear down opposing teams. The Americans will have more than a few options to play the game physically, depending on what the final makeup of the team looks like.
There are some very difficult decision to be made, but head coach Rand Pecknold has good options for how he wants to build his team.
For more in-depth player-by-player analysis: USA Defensemen & Goalies
Team USA Forward Candidates
Jackson Blake, RW, North Dakota (CAR): After a dominant USHL season in 2021-22 over which Blake scored 77 points in 71 games for the Chicago Steel, the son of former NHLer Jason Blake has made the smooth transition to college. Blake has put up 19 points in 17 games for North Dakota, providing a real bright spot for the team as it struggles this season. Blake has higher-end offensive skill and has shown an ability to play with strong instincts and some pace. He’ll be competing for a permanent spot in USA’s top nine because if they’re going to bring him, they’ll need him to score.
Tyler Boucher, RW, Ottawa 67s (OTT): A rugged forward with some size, Boucher is here more for his physical elements than his scoring ability. He can deliver a big hit, he can win battles along the walls and when he does have space, he can score. Boucher will have to prove to the staff that he can play his physical game without taking costly penalties and uses his physicality to disrupt defensively.
Gavin Brindley, C/W, Michigan (2023 NHL Draft eligible): Team USA wants to play fast and Brindley brings a lot of pace with him. He has skill and does a good job in transition with an ability to get behind the defense and create some problems in the offensive zone. He also has good worth ethic and can play aggressively off the puck. It’s harder to see what kind of role he is going to fit into, but he’s versatile enough to do a lot of different things. As long as he does those things fast, he’s got a chance.
Kenny Connors, C/W, UMass (LAK): Another versatile forward who is able to fit into a lot of different roles, Connors likely can find his way into a depth spot for Team USA. While his work ethic is a big part of what makes him attractive, his production this year at UMass also provides intrigue. He can score and often makes those around him better while being around the puck an awful lot. I like his chances of bringing that versatility and making the team.
Logan Cooley, C, Minnesota (ARI): A returning player and the No. 3 pick in the most recent draft, Cooley’s job is going to be to produce. He’s USA’s top center by a wide margin and will be looked to as an offensive focal point for the team. His speed and skill put him a cut above of most of USA’s forward group. After a so-so start production wise, Cooley has 11 points over his last five games and appears to be heating up in a major way. USA needs him to be a big factor for them as well.
Jack Devine, LW, Denver (FLA): Devine was one of the real surprises for inclusion for me. He hasn’t been able to find much production, but he can impact the game in other ways. He’s a good skater and can make some plays, but I’m having a harder time seeing where he fits on this particular roster. He does have championship experience with DU last season and his production has trended up this year.
Dylan Duke, LW, Michigan (TBL): A spark-plug player with some scoring ability, Duke’s expertise is getting to the interior and making plays at the net front. Duke is just shy of a point per game as a sophomore and has already nearly matched his freshman year goal total in half as many games. He could potentially land a role in USA’s top six.
Cutter Gauthier, C/W, Boston College (PHI): Though he has played well as a center at Boston College this season, I think Gauthier could slide back over to the wing to join Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud on USA’s top line. Gauthier is a legitimate goal-scoring threat, but he’s also one of USA’s bigger forwards. They need him to bring the power elements and play a solid two-way game to make an impact. I wouldn’t be shocked if USA feels like they need to strengthen their forward lineup by moving him to center. He gives them options.
Noah Laba, C, Colorado College (NYR): A big, right-shot center with some two-way value, Laba has made a strong transition to college hockey after a standout season in the USHL in 2021-22. He brings a bit of the tough, physical factor to go along with that size. If he makes the U.S. team, it’s probably as their fourth-line center who gets tough matchups and has to give the U.S. good shifts in small doses, but he has enough skill to provide some scoring depth too.
Ryan Leonard, RW, U.S. National Under-18 Team (2023 NHL Eligible): One of two underagers to make the forward group, Leonard has been a high-end goal scorer at the U18 level, but he might have a harder time in that regard at this level. Leonard has some ruggedness to his game, which surely endeared him to the staff beyond his goal scoring. I think he’s got to prove a lot in camp if he wants to make the team, namely that he can play at the pace this team is going to require of its forwards, but he certainly has the talent to be part of this group.
Sam Lipkin, LW, Quinnipiac (ARI): Familiarity never hurts and playing for head coach Rand Pecknold on a regular basis certainly gives Lipkin a better chance to make the final team. What also gives him a chance is his energetic, productive play this season to go with his big 6-2 frame. Lipkin was the Chicago Steel’s captain in the USHL last season and a linchpin of their attack. He’d have to play in a depth role for this team and his being a QU Bobcat doesn’t guarantee him anything. He’ll have to prove it in camp, but his play this season suggests he belongs at this stage.
Chaz Lucius, C, Manitoba Moose (WPG): The only player from the professional ranks invited to camp, Lucius has actually been dealing with an injury that has kept him out of the lineup with AHL Manitoba. He’s appeared in 12 total games this season and has handled himself well with five points. The issue with Lucius over the last three seasons, however, has been his health. That has to be factored into the decision to include him. On talent, he’s a necessary asset for USA’s offensive attack, but his injury history has proven costly before. It’s still a factor as he was most recently listed by Manitoba as week-to-week on their injury report and with rosters back down to 23, there's not a lot of room for risk.
Cam Lund, RW, Northeastern (SJS): Lund has earned his spot in camp with a strong freshman season at Northeastern. He has the size and the skill to make an impact in a scoring depth role, but I think he is on the bubble to make the final roster. He’ll still be eligible for next year’s team if it doesn’t work out this time, but he’s definitely worth exploring further in camp.
Rutger McGroarty, LW, Michigan (WPG): McGroarty can really fire the puck and his goal-scoring ability likely locks him into a middle-six spot for Team USA. He’ll need to provide some scoring depth, while also bringing that good work ethic and physical play to the table. While McGroarty isn’t a towering player, he plays big and can be a handful in the offensive zone.
Red Savage, C, Miami (DET): One of the returnees from last year’s team, Savage is a bottom-six center who is going to get some tough matchups and be a thorn in the side of the opposition. He plays with some speed and gets his nose dirty often while also being pretty solid at the faceoff dot. He’ll likely be a staple of USA’s PK.
Will Smith, C/W, U.S. National Under-18 Team (2023 NHL Draft eligible): Smith is absolutely lightning up the scoreboards at the NTDP this season. He is currently sporting a 1.87 points-per-game average and brings a truly dynamic element to USA’s forward group. He should be a middle-six scoring threat who will make plays and those around him better.
Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, Minnesota (STL): Snuggerud has been absurd this season at Minnesota. Currently outproducing teammate Logan Cooley and everyone else on the Gophers, Snuggerud has 11 goals and 23 points. He is among the top freshman performers anywhere in the NCAA and the U.S. will hope his hot scoring touch comes with him to the WJC.
Charlie Stramel, C, Wisconsin (2023 NHL Draft eligible): A returnee from the summer team, Stramel is going to have to earn his way back onto this roster after playing a limited role last time out. Also, he has to show his physical game won’t land him in the penalty box at inopportune times. Stramel is the big, nimble, physical center that a lot of teams could find a role for. He’d likely be down USA’s lineup, but you put him with some solid wings and he can score for you as well as be a force in the middle of the ice and at the net front. He’s not a guarantee, but he brings a lot to the table that USA can use.
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