The Americans have developed their program to be a threat for gold every year at the world juniors and while there is talent missing from the original Edmonton winter squad (Matty Beniers, for starters), Team USA shouldn't have any trouble scoring when the tournament gets a refresh this week in Alberta. Now, will this team need some players to step up in order to go for gold? Most certainly. There are flaws to the roster, but also some incredible upside. Let's break it down by position.
At first blush, Team USA has a couple of forwards who should be a problem for their opponents: Matthew Knies (TOR) and Matt Coronato (CGY). Both are talented players with strength and after excelling as freshmen at Minnesota and Harvard respectively, this summer tournament is the perfect tune-up for their sophomore NCAA campaigns. From there, you have to look at 2022 third overall pick Logan Cooley (ARI), who got hurt at camp but was expected to be OK for the tourney. Cooley and Thomas Bordeleau (SJ) give the Americans two high-end centers and once they butt up against the likes of Canada, Sweden or Finland, they're going to need those pivots to be difference-makers. Sasha Pastujov (ANA) will definitely help in the offensive department, too.
One trend we've seen with Team USA over the years is the inclusion of energy guys and role-players up front - some of whom were undrafted college players who got the nod over bigger names because of the grit and penalty-killing they could bring to the lineup. The Americans get the best of both worlds this year, with players like Red Savage (DET) Brett Berard (NYR) and Landon Slaggert (CHI) bringing experience and pedigree along with physicality and that dawg, as the kids say. It will also be fun to see what beastly 2023 prospect Charlie Stramel can contribute up front.
You have to start with Luke Hughes (NJ), right? The University of Michigan standout is an elite defense prospect whose skating and stickhandling is NHL-level already. He should be one of the best blueliners in the tournament. Captain Brock Faber (MIN), a key piece in the Kevin Fiala trade with Los Angeles, also happens to be an excellent skater, but he focuses his stick on the defensive end of things and the Americans will count on him to shut down top threats. With the exception of Tyler Kleven (OTT), this isn't a very imposing or physically intimidating blueline corps, but when you move as well as these kids do, your opponents tend to be trying to catch you with the puck and not the other way around. Very interested to see what Jack Peart (MIN) can do at the tournament in that regard.
This is where it gets really interesting. With no Drew Commesso, the Americans have three options, none of whom have been drafted by NHL teams. Kaidan Mbereko, the NTDP alumnus, has the most international experience of the group, having put in an heroic (but ultimately unsuccessful) performance at the 2021 world under-18s, though his size can be an issue. With Remington Keopple and Andrew Oke, the size is there (both are 6-foot-2; Mbereko is 5-foot-11), but there isn't much of a track record. Of note, all three netminders had sub-.900 save percentages last season. Now, could one surprise the field and go on a run? Anything is possible, but what is probable? Getting solid goaltending could be the difference between going for gold and going home after the quarterfinal.