Team USA won last year, and now, going into this year’s tournament there is a considerable discussion going on as to whether them or Canada is the favorite. Canada has a great team, and I’ll break them down in another article, but for now, I think Team USA should be the favorite, and they are in my book.
The Americans have two elements of strength on this team, their defense, led by Ottawa Senators draft pick, Jake Sanderson. He’s the best defenseman in the tournament. He’s been starring at North Dakota for his sophomore and possibly his last season there. In 15 games, he had six goals and 19 points. In World Junior Camp, he practiced everything from running the power play to playing on the penalty kill to rushing the puck up the ice looking to set up the offense. He will do all of those things in the tournament, and he won’t be compromised by the large minutes he will log. Sanderson has been logging over 26 minutes a game at North Dakota.
The other element is their top center, Matty Beniers, the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and first-ever pick of the Seattle Kraken. He’s been starring at the University of Michigan, where he scored 11 goals and 11 assists in the first 20 games of his sophomore season. He was the best player in camp. He was the fastest, the best penalty killer, and I’m not sure he was playing at full capacity simply because he knew he made the team. He showed flashes of stardom even there, so wait until the bright lights are turned on in Edmonton. He’s one of the two or three best centers in the tournament. Beniers has been averaging just over 19 minutes in college, and I suspect he may go over that by playing in all situations in key tournament games.
The top goalie is Drew Commesso. He’s been a bit pedestrian at Boston University but is a good goalie. Great? No, but you never know what he might do in this tournament. Head coach, Nate Leaman stressed shot-blocking and that could help the American goalie.
Players to watch:
Logan Cooley – He’s a center with speed, a terrific shot, and a high hockey I.Q. He was winning face-offs against older players in camp.
Dominic James – This kid has speed and terrific stickhandling ability and is likely to play on the wing. He’s a master at zone entry, but can he finish? He’s shown some of that at the University of Minnesota. He’s a wild card.
Brock Faber – This Kings prospect defenseman can do everything. He’s the second-best defenseman on the team, and he might be the most versatile.
Ty Smilanic – He might be in the top six on left wing even though he can play center. He’s the fastest player in camp, and he does have some finish in his game. He can open up the offense when he needs to.
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