In part one, I examined the depths of Team Canada’s upcoming World Junior entry and what to expect from its top prospects. Now, let’s turn Canada’s neighbours (or is it neighbors?) to the south and highlight USA’s top talents. Unlike Canada’s nearly uncontested roster decisions, USA Hockey received loads of criticism surrounding its selections after leaving off highly touted prospects like Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Maple Leafs/Kitchener Rangers), Kyle Connor (Winnipeg Jets/University of Michigan), Jack Roslovic [Winnipeg Jets/Miami University (Ohio)], Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild/Boston College) and Conor Garland (Arizona Coyotes/Moncton Wildcats) off of their selection camp roster. There’s little doubt that any and probably all of these exclusions would have been impact players on Team USA; however, it is a testament to the nation’s great depth that it is able to fill out their roster and not have room for these great talents.
With that said, here are the Americans to key in on over the next few weeks.
Auston Matthews (2016 NHL Draft) was a household name on USA’s 2015 World Junior team as many anticipated the arrival of the unanimous number one ranked prospect for the upcoming NHL draft. Playing in Switzerland, Matthews has established himself as an impact player at the pro-level as an 18-year-old and will surely be the dynamic center USA builds it’s team around in Helskinki. He’s got all the coveted tools in a pro prospect including great size, smart hockey sense and a combination of grit and skill that franchise pivots are built around. There’s little doubt that Matthews is expected to be a World Junior top performer.
Matthew Tkachuk (2016 NHL Draft) is the second of eight potential 2016 draft eligible selections on Team USA and he’s slated to become a Top 5 pick when it’s all said and done. The son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, Matt is playing with the London Knights and currently leads the league in assists (45) as a first-year player. He’s an old pal of Auston Matthews from his NTDP days so it’s expected that he will line up next to the star pivot with OHL sniper Alex DeBrincat on the right side. Tkachuk is a very competitive forward who anticipates the play extremely well and his ability to create in tight quarters around the net is second to none.
Alex DeBrincat (2016 NHL Draft) shook off all doubters early this season that his outstanding production as an OHL rookie last season was a product of playing with Mr. Connor McDavid after exploding out of the gates to a tune of 33 goals in 30 goals to lead all OHLers. With DeBrincat slated to play alongside Matthews and Tkachuk there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down, especially with his ability to slip into scoring areas and unleash his killer shot. Scouts have come around on his diminutive size because it’s clear that his shooting ability and skill level is a natural quality that will translate to higher levels quite well.
Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets) may not be on USA’s top line but all bets are that he’ll be a go-to offensive weapon that the Americans lean heavily on. Known for slick and creative handling ability, Milano is capable of creating offense and his finishing ability is top notch as well. In his first pro season with Lake Erie (AHL), Milano has scored four times and added seven assists (22 games) – good production for a rookie. Playing against his age group, the Blue Jackets prospect should have no issues exceeding and could be a top tournament performer if his production catches fire.