This winter, the United States will look to defend its under-20 gold medal in Malmo, Sweden. Last week, the team held its National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., going up against Sweden, Finland and Canada. The U.S. played mediocre for most of the camp, although it had a strong final game against Canada.
Without high-end talent on its roster like last year, when it boasted Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and Alex Galchenyuk, the current roster lacks a game-breaking element. This current U.S. team is deep, but deep in solid players and those with two-way value.
"We have to be a blue-collar, lunch-pail, go-to-work-every-day [type of team]," head coach Don Lucia said. "We're not going to outskill a lot of teams. We have to have a good work ethic."
General Manager Jim Johannson reinforced the team approach, adding, "I think this is going to be a pack of wolves, a group effort in all parts of the game."
Despite the lack of top-end stars, there was still a lot to talk about at the camp, as several defensemen stood out. Though the evaluation process will continue into next season and the December camp, here are some notes on U.S. players from my observations:
Connor Carrick, D, Washington Capitals (Plymouth-OHL)
Carrick was the talk of the camp for the U.S. team as their most impressive player, a mostly consensus opinion. "He played very well," said Lucia. "He's got some offensive skill, he can run a power play and he's got a lot of confidence with the puck." Carrick was a fifth-round pick by Washington in 2012. He was a third-pairing defenseman on the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) team in his draft season, but has really elevated his game after a good first OHL season and some great performances at this camp. Carrick's speed and puck-moving skills were all on display as he generated a lot of offense while also displaying some solid physicality. "We're looking for consistency in his play and playing percentage hockey," added Johansson,"and he did that this week."