The IIHF under-20 World Championships -- otherwise known as the World Junior Championship -- kicks off in a week. This is the first of a series of previews on the prospects playing in the tournament.
Coming off a gold medal at the 2012-13 tournament, Team USA will be looking for more of a committee effort this time around, without star prospects like Alex Galchenyuk, Seth Jones, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson. While the group isn't as strong -- and a golden finish is more unlikely than last time -- the USA should be in the mix for a medal.
Note that three names you see here will not play in the tournament, as they'll have to be cut before the IIHF directorate meeting on Dec. 25. These notes are based on personal viewings and discussions with scouts, and each drafted player is listed with his NHL club, with the players eligible for the 2014 and 2015 drafts are denoted as such.
Riley Barber, RW, Washington Capitals
Barber is a returning member from last year's gold medal team. He has been nothing short of fantastic in college this season (Miami (Ohio)), and has arguably been the most impressive prospect in college hockey. A sixth-round pick in 2012 by Washington, he has quickly become one of the top prospects in their organization. He's a very skilled offensive player, with above-average speed and finishing skills, and he also plays a quality two-way game. Look for Barber to be among the top players in the tournament.
Will Butcher, D, Colorado Avalanche
Butcher has been a big part of USA Hockey the last few years. He competed at the under-18s as an underage player, was the U.S. national team development program's (NTDP) second-best defenseman last season behind Steve Santini, and their top offensive weapon. He is a great skater who can be really dangerous with the puck, even if he's a little over-risky at times.