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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2011 WJC Team USA Analysis: Forwards

Christopher Walken: I have a fever, and the only cure is...more Rocco Grimaldi!

Eehhhh...well, maybe not this year.

Surprising cuts by the U.S. National Junior Team today included Grimaldi and power forward and 2011 top prospect Brandon Saad.

That said, the Americans have quite a potent group of players up front, both in terms of returning gold medalists and new guys to the WJC.

Let's take a look at 'em:


Drew Shore, C-- Panthers prospect has all the physical tools to be an impact player in Buffalo for USA. He's been an outstanding player at DU this year and he presents a matchup problem because of his size and skating ability. During his draft year, there were questions about his intensity and consistency, but he's taken that next step since joining the Program in Denver.

Nick Bjugstad, C-- Florida's second selection last June after Erik Gudbranson (who will be there for Team Canada) Bjugstad has enormous potential (pun intended) and was a dominant high schooler in Minnesota last season, winning the prestigious Mr. Hockey award. Nephew of former U.S. Olympian and NHLer Scott Bjugstad, this guy has the size, skating and hands to be an impact offensive player. Interestingly enough, he was on the 2009 Ivan Hlinka team, but was left home for the Under-18 Championships last spring in Belarus in favor of Connor Brickley (who didn't make the WJC cut today) and Austin Watson (picked ahead of Bjugstad by Nashville, but didn't even make the prelim roster). That just goes to show you that things do change and you get evaluated based on what you show the team now, not last year.

Charlie Coyle, C-- If you read the B2010DW blog last year, then you know how much I loved this guy. His freshman season at BU has been a validation of the San Jose Sharks taking him near the end of the first round, just a few selections after Kevin Hayes, the only other New Englander taken in the first 30 by Chicago. Coyle doesn't have the greatest burst, but he has very good straight-line speed and is a real competitor. He initiates contact, goes hard to the net and has very nice hands. Being Tony Amonte's cousin is a nice touch, too. He may not have Amonte's wheels, but Coyle is a real player and terrific pro prospect who's made an immediate impact on Comm. Ave.

Brock Nelson, C-- I talked to one scout in L.A. last June who just raved and raved about the former Warroad High scoring hero and current North Dakota freshman. Big (though he needs to fill out his 6-3 frame quite a bit), strong, skilled, excellent hockey sense. Like Bjugstad and Coyle, he's got the bloodlines as nephew of Miracle on Ice Olympian and NHL 40-goal man Dave Christian. The numbers aren't there at the D1 level yet (ditto Bjugstad at Minnesota), but they'll come.

All four of these pivots are big, strong, skilled. Shore and Coyle are the more dangerous offensive threats, but with Bjugstad and Nelson, it's all about the upside.


We'll start with the returning players here.

Jason Zucker, F-- How do I love (pure mancrush here, nothing else) thee? Let me count the ways. Skating? Check. Hands? Check. Hockey sense? Check. Tenacity? Check. Intelligence? Check. Character? Check. The only thing he lacks is size. But, his heart is bigger than most and I said it before-- this kid gave me one of the most impressive interviews I've conducted. Ever. In more than a decade of doing this. He was impactful last season as the youngest player on the WJC team, and that's only one reason why Minnesota took him in the 2nd round. He'll do even more this time around.

Jeremy Morin, F-- Like Leddy, he has NHL experience with Chicago and an NHL goal under his belt. "Jet" played for Kitchener last season and was another guy who had a strong WJC. Team USA is going to get a lot of mileage from this guy. He's skilled, competitive and just one hell of a shooter. You talk about players who have the puck follow them around the ice. Morin is one of those guys. Power play stud, should be able to play a lot of minutes in all situations for Keith Allain.

Kyle Palmieri, F-- Not big, but a real offensive threat. He's one of these guys who can do a lot and has been quite productive. Another NHL/AHL player who will bring some real skill and experience to the mix with him. Like Morin, he's gotten the NHL goal monkey off his back with Anaheim and had 9 markers and 13 points in 20 games with their Syracuse AHL affiliate after leaving Notre Dame. He'll see a lot of ice and can kill penalties. Watch him as a threat to score shorthanded.

Jerry D'Amigo, F-- This guy was money for Team USA last year. The Toronto Maple Leafs sixth-round draft pick in '09 played one year at RPI before turning pro with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL this year. Although he isn't all that tall, he's got a powerful build and is very tough to knock off the puck. He's not lit it up in the AHL, but he'll prove his worth again in this tournament.

Chris Kreider, F-- One of two Boxford, Massachusetts natives on the roster, both of whom belong to the NY Rangers (Ryan Bourque being the other). How rare is that? What's more rare is Kreider's speed and explosive leg drive. This kid is just a beautiful skater and he showed it last year at the WJC, using his wheels to score six goals. Kreider has a pretty good shot-- it isn't overpowering, but he gets it off quickly and has improved the accuracy on it. His hockey sense is still a hot debate among scouts-- does he have the vision and creativity to maximize his impressive physical gifts? He still needs to prove that and started slowly at BC for the second consecutive season. That said, this is a great kid, who comes from a real good family. He's humble and a terrific teammate. He could sit on the bench and he'd help that club.

Ryan Bourque, F-- Small, speedy checking two-way winger is back for another go. He's playing well for the Quebec Remparts this season- 20 goals in 27 games already one more than he scored all of last season. He's a buzzsaw little guy and a valuable penalty killer even without the size and strength because he has Papa Bear Ray's hockey sense. His international experience and ability to play that system the U.S. employs is his biggest asset. He just needs to play a disciplined game and not hurt the team with bad penalties.

Here come the new guys:

Emerson Etem, F-- I liked him pretty well as a first-round prospect and he slipped all the way down to 29th overall for the local Anaheim Ducks, a dream kind of situation for him in retrospect. His explosive speed and ability to generate instant offense makes him an intriguing player to watch this tourney. Talk about bloodlines-- mom, Pat, was an Olympic rower while dad was on the Navy crew team. Older brother and sister are both elite athletes (rowers as well) and Etem is a chip off the old block. What I like about Emerson is that he sacrificed a great deal to pursue his hockey dreams, leaving home at a young age (like Zucker) and bouncing around to hockey hotbeds to get into the elite level competition. That speaks well to the commitment Etem has and I think he and Kreider are going to give opponents fits.

Chris Brown, F-- This power forward and Phoenix Coyotes prospect by way of the University of Michigan and Flower Mound, Texas will bring the size and jam, but his skill level/production is limited. I was never all that big a fan because I saw him take some undisciplined penalties in his draft year. He'll need to play it smart and keep things simple. There is a place for Brown on this club, especially since they cut Saad, but he's going to have to be smart about it.

Mitch Callahan, F-- This Kelowna Rockets buzzsaw is a productive agitator despite being only about 5-11, 175. The Detroit Red Wings have a nice find with this Southern California native and he's going to bring speed and versatility to the lineup. He's tough little nut, too. And you need at least one of these guys to win tourneys like the WJC.

That's a wrap. Looking forward to covering this team in the coming days, so if you have any questions or input, fire away!

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