USA Hockey named several 1994 birthdates to the squad that will compete in the Under-18 Championship tournament in a few weeks.
The squad may not include Sarnia center Alex Galchenyuk, but USA Hockey has always taken a predominant majority of its NTDP roster to the U18s, and Galchenyuk is an OHL player who only recently declared his intention to represent the USA during international play.
Our view is that Galchenyuk is more talented than Nicolas Kerdiles, but it isn't always about talent. One of the reasons Team USA has been successful over the past two tourneys is because they have players who can execute the system to a tee and buy into the team dynamic. While there is little doubt that politics played into the decision to take Kerdiles or one of the lower-end '93s over Galchenyuk, it's hard to argue the decision too vociferously when you're looking at the program that has grabbed gold in both the '09 and '10 seasons.
So, with that in mind, here's a quick look at the youngest members of the Under-18 team who will likely be key contributors to the 2012 Team USA edition as well.
Seth Jones, D- The buzz is starting early for this 6-3, 195-pounder who is going to keep draftniks waiting until 2013 by virtue of his October, 1994 birthdate. The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones (who was a Boston Celtic for a short spell and involved in the infamous Rick Pitino trade that sent rookie Chauncey Billups out of Beantown before his career had barely begun) fell in love with hockey when his father played for the Toronto Raptors and carried it with him to Dallas. This offensive threat is a very nice skater with a long, fluid stride and the coordination and agility inherited from a big-time hoops player. In just 37 games with the Under-17 team this year, Jones has 21 points, which is outstanding production for a player so young. According to scouts, he sees the ice well, has an excellent touch on the puck for crisp breakouts and is isn't done growing, either. If he continues on his current developmental curve this kid will be a beast by the time his draft season rolls around.
Jacob Trouba, D- Another offensive defenseman with size and some bite to his game, this 2012-eligible from Michigan has been one of the Under-17 team's standouts for his consistency and skill this season. Red Line Report ranked him 6th overall among all the 2012 draft eligibles in the Feb. bulletin- the first look at next year's class. He split time this season between the U17 squad and the Under-18 team, so he's progressing nicely in the program. This kid has some impressive tools including his quickness, footwork, powerful shot and willingness to use his body to play a physical game. Trouba appears to have the makings of the kind of two-way defender NHL teams covet, but has a long way to go. Hockey sense and decision-making may be an issue for him, and this tournament will be a nice measuring stick to see how he does against an aggressive forecheck that limits his time and space. There is a lot to like with this player and scouts are looking forward to seeing him against elite competition with an unprecedented third straight gold medal on the line for USA.
Jake McCabe, D- Wisconsin native and Badger recruit is a solid, dependable player who doesn't have the same kind of potential 'wow' factor of Jones or Trouba, but brings a heady, steady defensive game despite being only average sized. Good mobility and an active stick; exhibits strong gap control and a good understanding of where he needs to be. Has a low center of gravity and is tough to knock off his skates- uses his body leverage effectively to separate bigger opponents from the puck. Tenacious; not fancy, just tough. EDIT: As pointed out by NF, McCabe is a late '93, which makes him a 2012 draft candidate, but technically not a '94.
Nick Kerdiles, F- At 6-1, 185, this California native has good size and offensive skills. He also competed for USA at the Five Nations, so he's the one '94 who has a realistic expectation of what he's in for. Poised, confident kid moves well with a rangy, loping stride and has a quick stick. When he takes the puck to the net, he's at his best. Works hard and willing to pay the price- not nearly as talented as Galchenyuk, but knows what is expected of him and what coach Ron Rolston needs him to do.