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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Team USA in Under-18 championship: Chance to threepeat

USA Hockey announced the roster for April's World Under-18 Championship squad, which will travel to Dresden, Germany to compete in the final IIHF tourney for most young draft eligibles before the 2011 NHL Draft.

Here's a quick look at some of the key roster players and what they bring to the mix. Not every roster player is featured here, but we're just going to cut to the chase and based on results, may cover some of the other players later on.

Not every player on the roster is a 2011 draft candidate, with a few '94s and even one late '94 (Seth Jones) who can't be drafted until 2013. In a later post, we'll take a 2012 and 2013 look ahead with some of the young players on the squad.

Conspicuously absent from the '94s is Sarnia Sting center Alex Galchenyuk, a Russian dual-citizen who recently declared his intention of playing for USA in the various international competitions. His omission is a topic for another day, but is certainly a hot button topic today.

Cole Bardreau, F- Hustling energy forward is a smart, gritty kid who can play a variety of roles for coach Ron Rolston and brings leadership and a sterling work ethic to the mix. Although undersized, he compensates for the lack of strength with his hockey sense and anticipation. He may not be a high-end NHL draft prospect, but he's such a competitor and smart player that he ends up being more than the sum of his parts at the end of the day. Scouts we've talked to essentially say the same thing: Bardreau doesn't have a ton of skill, but he's got a big heart. They don't want to like him, but after the game, they look back and he worked his bag off and made things happen. It's hard to say how attractive that will be to NHL teams come June, but he's certainly going to be a nice NCAA player for Cornell.

Tyler Biggs, F- If Coyotes defenseman Paul Bissonette has made a name for himself as "Biz Nasty" in the Twitterverse, then Biggs is your resident "Big Nasty" were he to decide to indulge in that social media platform. Biggs is a good skater, but his real value lies in his physical game and powerful shot. He's a momentum changer when he's banging bodies and making room for his linemates. He's shown a penchant to play with the kind of aggression and nastiness that NHL teams love. He doesn't have elite skills and the hockey sense is questionable, but Biggs's lure is such that he'll go in the first half of the 1st round or at least inside the top-20. Biggs is going to be a handful for the European opponents on the bigger ice surface in Germany, and he'll get an excellent challenge when USA takes on Canada.

Travis Boyd, F- The youngest player in 2011 draft class by virtue of Sep. 14, 1993 birthdate (the day before the cutoff), this Minnesotan could have been listed in the recent sleepers post on this blog because he is unranked by Central Scouting, but is likely on the radars of some NHL clubs as a late option. Talented byt not flashy, he has strong offensive hockey sense and makes underrated, smart plays all over the ice. He may be a tad overlooked up until now, but the Golden Gopher recruit could have a coming out party next month. He's someone to watch as a solid, well-rounded player who doesn't do anything exceptionally, but has no glaring holes in his game.

Ryan Haggerty, F- One of two New England natives on the roster (he and Paliotta are both from Connecticut), Haggerty is another unheralded, solid guy who can play a variety of roles, but doesn't bring any kind of real high-end upside to the mix. Smart, hard-working, gritty yet honest, his experience and strong performance in the Five Nations tourney in February is going to make him a useful if unspectacular part of a potential winning formula in April. He understands the system and plays it to a tee. Committed to RPI.

Rocco Grimaldi, F- This blog has covered Grimaldi in near excruciating detail of late, so there isn't much to say that we haven't already other than to opine that as the dynamic little California pepperpot goes, so do USA's hopes for a threepeat. He is absolutely suited for the wide-open play of the Under-18 tourney and could light it up the way he did in the Czech Republic last month. With his speed and skill, we believe he's going to keep raising his stock for the 2011 draft as the proverbial straw that stirs Team USA's drink on offense. If you love the USA, how can you not root for this epitome of the American dream?

Reid Boucher, F- Not very big, speedy or flashy, but this guy just knows how to get it done offensively. He led Team USA in scoring at the Five Nations and will need to again be a focal point for America's attack. Michigan State recruit is industrious and has off-the-charts hockey sense. He's not quite in Grimaldi's class offensively, but he is a dangerous scorer that opponents must account for.

Zac Larraza, F- As far as physical tools go, they don't come much better than this Arizonian. Good size? Check- 6-2, 195. Great skater? Check- rangy with quick burst and fluid stride and agility. Puck skills? Check- can make moves at speed and back defenses up. Where it gets dicey is in the intangibles department and thus far, he's not been able to put all of his impressive parts together. He's played better as the season progressed, and there is a lot of raw upside here, but some scouts just don't feel that he's ever going to get it. He's going to Denver University, so if he's going to develop into a legitimate NHL prospect, it will happen there or it won't happen anywhere. Worth a mid-round gamble because of what he brings to the table.

Adam Reid, F- Raw prospect has generated interest among NHL scouts because he's got the size, skill and upside to do more than he has in the NTDP to date. Northeastern recruit from California has a loping stride and brings some passion and intensity to the mix. He's a smart player who is starting to come on in terms of being a complete player as he grows into his nice 6-3 frame. He's more of a physical, grinding player, but with his hockey sense and soft hands, Reid could be much more even if the production hasn't arrived.

J.T. Miller, C- Another USA forward and draft prospect we've covered extensively on this blog, but Miller is heavy in the tools, not so accomplished with the production. This is a risky pick in the first round, but we're confident someone will take him because he is such a talented player. It isn't for a lack of trying that the offense has been slow in coming, and he's always willing to throw a hit or take the hit to make the play. He works hard, skates well and is a valuable presence. At the end of the day, however, you have to ask: "Where's the beef?" He and Grimaldi will get to keep working together with the Sioux in Grand Forks, N.D.

Blake Pietila, F- Stats do not tell the story for this strong defensive forward who brings a very high compete level and outstanding overall feel for the game. A relentless forechecker who has a knack for anticipating the play and intercepting errant passes, or forcing bad decisions because he's got such excellent closing ability and agility. One of the most dependable players on this squad, even if he doesn't put up big numbers. Michigan Tech is getting a good one in Pietila.

Connor Murphy, D- Team USA is thrilled to get this horse back just in time for the meaningful games. He was a big part of the silver medal-winning squad in Slovakia last August, and after battling back woes, got some action in at the Five Nations. He should have the rust knocked off his game in time to be one of the two-way anchors on defense. Good skater, big shot, solid positionally. Susceptible to the bad turnover when an aggressive forecheck takes away his time and space, but this kid could be a pretty high pick in June despite not having played many games.

Mike Paliotta, D- Solid, mobile shutdown defender has not put up the anticipated offense this season, but has the talent to be an effective player on the larger ice in Germany. We've liked Paliotta for some time, and he's a gutsy competitor who keeps it simple and doesn't try to do too much. He may not be the puck mover we thought when he was a prep standout a few years back, but he brings plenty to the table in terms of smarts and disciplined play.

Robbie Russo, D- USA needs Russo to step up and be for them what Adam Clendening was to the 2010 U18 champs. He can hit the long lead passes and has the vision/instincts to do more on the scoring ledger, so while this hasn't been a great year for the Notre Dame recruit, he has the potential to turn things around with a strong tournament. USA doesn't have the pure power shooters from the point that they did last year, so they'll need to get it done more with guile and smart distribution. It all starts with Russo and the team will be counting on him to make the right decisions.

John Gibson, G- Stud goalie is the workhorse that Team USA needs to jump on his back and ride all the way to a possible gold medal. If anyone can exhibit the requisite amount of skill and poise to win it all, Gibson can. We've talked about him enough, so check the labels and read up because aside from Grimaldi, Gibson is the one guy upon whose shoulders a threepeat rests.

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