In 2016, a record-breaking 12 American players selected in the first round of the NHL draft, led by Auston Matthews, who was selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and other top-10 talents Clayton Keller and Matthew Tkachuk. The previous year, Jack Eichel was taken second behind prodigy Connor McDavid, and Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski weren’t far behind.
And unsurprisingly, the immense amount of talent produced at the junior ranks by the American National Developmental Program has translated to international success never seen before by the country. Since 2010, the Americans have won three gold medals at the World Junior Championships, dwarfing the one gold medal the country had won in the previous 35 tournaments since its official inception in 1977.
But the unprecedented level of success enjoyed by the United States National Program hasn’t been without valleys to go along with its peaks.
After winning gold in 2010 over Canada in front of their home crowd in Saskatoon, the Americans failed to follow through the following year at home in Buffalo, losing to Canada in the semifinals. The following year, the Americans ended up in the relegation round. In 2013, they beat Sweden in the gold medal game, then followed it up with back-to-back losses in the quarterfinals in 2014 and 2015.
This winter, the United States will host the tournament in Buffalo as defending champions. Last year, they beat Canada in a thrilling gold medal game that featured the Americans rallying from two separate two-goal deficits to win the game in a shootout.
Does that sound familiar? Just like in 2010, the United States stunned Canada in the gold medal game in front of their home fans. The following year’s tournament was held in Buffalo and there was a lot of hype surrounding the home team following it up with another gold medal on home soil. That didn’t happen.
The Americans will look to flip the script this year in front of their home fans in Buffalo with a team consisting of a lot of new faces. At least 15 players from last year’s roster won’t be back. Among them a standout player like Clayton Keller who is still eligible to participate, but is enjoying an excellent rookie seasons in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes, and will not be back for obvious reasons.
Casey Mittelstadt. Photo: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett
Players who figure to return to this year’s squad in Buffalo are goaltenders Jake Oettinger (who was a third-string) and Joseph Woll, defencemen Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, and forwards Joseph Anderson, Kieffer Bellows, and Patrick Harper. That isn’t a very big group of veterans, but still, the Americans have a load of fresh talent available to them for this year’s tournament to choose from.
Particularity, a major strength of the American roster will be a gauntlet of highly-skilled forwards. At the forefront of that is Casey Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2017 NHL draft. He wasn’t on the American team last year, but he’ll likely have a big opportunity to be a dynamic force on the team in front of hoards of excited Sabres fans. There’s also Kailer Yamamoto and Josh Norris, first-round picks of the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks in 2017, and Logan Brown, the 11th overall pick by the Ottawa Senators from the American-heavy 2016 draft.
Another interesting thing to watch from the Americans this year is future draft eligible players. On last year’s team, Oettinger was the only 2017 draft-eligible player on the roster. Otherwise, it was a team loaded with 19- and 20-year-olds who had already been drafted. This year, the United States is poised to be well-represented at the top of the draft yet again, and 18-year-olds Brady Tkachuk and Quinton Hughes could crack a spot on the American roster.
Regardless, it’ll be a new-look American team from the one that captured gold from Canada’s grasp last year in Montreal. Every other time that the United States has retuned home following a gold medal win, the team has failed to live up to the hype. Could this be the year that changes? They have the talent available and it would certainly be the escalation point on the American golden age of hockey if they could.
Michael Anderson, University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
Adam Fox, Harvard University (NCAA)
Quinn Hughes, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Cole Hults, Penn State University (NCAA)
Philip Kemp, Yale University (NCAA)
Ryan Lindgren, University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Andrew Peeke, University of Notre Dame (NCAA)
Scott Perunovich, University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
Dylan Samberg, University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
Reilly Walsh, Harvard University (NCAA)
Joseph Anderson, University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
Jack Badini, Chicago Steel (USHL)
Kieffer Bellows, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Logan Brown, Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Trent Fredric. University of Wisconsin (NCAA)
Patrick Harper, Boston University (NCAA)
Max Jones, London Knights (OHL)
William Lockwood, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Hugh McGing, Western Michigan University (NCAA)
Casey Mittelstadt, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
Joshua Norris, University of Michigan (NCAA)
Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State University (NCAA)
Brady Tkachuk, U.S. National Under-18 Team (USHL)
Riley Tufte, University of Minnesota Duluth (NCAA)
Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
* 28 players were selected for the preliminary roster. 23 of those will participate in the 2018 WJC. The last cuts will be made before the tournament starts on December 26th.