2022 IIHF World Juniors Preview: United Statesby Jack Gaffney December 18, 2021 1 comment
Since 2010, no team in the World Juniors has won back-to-back gold medals. This year, the United States look to buck that trend north of the border. After Trevor Zegras and friends upset a Canada team said to be one of the best ever, the red white a blue bring an arguably better team for this year’s tournament. Although names like Zegras, Spencer Knight, and Cole Caufield have moved on, there is still plenty of talent here. Names like Brock Faber, Luke Hughes, Matty Beniers, Matt Coronato, and Drew Commesso will be key for this 2022 squad’s success.
Once again, an NCAA Hockey staff is manning the benches for the United States. Providence College Head Coach Nate Leaman serves in the same role here once again. Harvard Head Coach Ted Donato along with Michigan and Ohio State assistants Kris Mayotte and Steve Miller all will serve as assistants here as well. Being in Group B with Sweden and Russia, the United States will be tested right away. However, they should be up to the task.
Make sure to check out all of our other IIHF World Juniors Previews.
Beniers, the first-ever draft pick by the Seattle Kraken is the top dog in the forward group. Apart of a stacked Michigan Wolverines squad, he currently has an 11-11-22 statline through 20 games. Beniers was a part of Team USA a year ago as well, putting up a goal and two assists, along with a plus-three rating. Additionally, he is also the only returnee from last year’s forward group. Beniers has some options for his linemates, as they have been experimenting in camp. On his left is New York Rangers prospect Brett Berard, in the middle of a 12-12-24 season at Providence. To Beniers right, Chaz Lucius of Minnesota. Currently, the right-wing situation is in flux, as none of the four slots are set.
Outside of Lucius, who could also play center, another right-wing option for the top line is Coronato. The Calgary Flames first-rounder from Harvard is over a point per game player currently. As for the three centers behind Beniers, we start off with Notre Dame commit Logan Cooley. the 2022 draft-eligible Pittsburgh native is a consensus top 10 prospect for next year. Rounding things out are St Louis Blues prospect Tanner Dickinson, who is having a great year in the OHL. In addition to best name in the tournament candidate Red Savage, Detroit Red Wings prospect.
Others worth keeping an eye on are firstly Sasha Pastujov. Currently, the Anaheim Ducks third-rounder is going ballistic in the OHL, having 20 goals to this point. Another one worth watching is Matt Knies of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ system. Currently at Minnesota, Knies is just under a point per game player, as he was his last year in the USHL. As far as reserves go, look for another draft-eligible player in Dominic James from Minnesota to serve that role.
Saying that the defense for the United States is loaded would an understatement. Just two players here were not first or second-round draft picks in the last two years. According to Coach Leaman, the plan is the three major returns will each have their own pairings this year. Meaning that a Hughes and either Faber or Jake Sanderson pairing is close to assured. The youngest of the three Hughes brothers enters his first World Juniors after going No. 4 overall to the New Jersey Devils over the summer. He is yet another Michigan product that should be a key factor for this team. Assuming Leaman wants to put a left and right-shot defender, he’ll put Hughes with Faber. If not, Sanderson with Hughes is equally as good, if not better.
In any event, the Sanderson pairing will likely be the top unit for the United States. In fact, do not be surprised if Sanderson leads the entire tournament in minutes on ice. A great running mate option for him could be Carolina Hurricanes prospect and second-generation player Scott Morrow. Currently, in his freshman year at ‘ZooMass’, he is having a monster season. While more an offensive defenseman, putting him with Sanderson could be fun. Pairing three in this situation would by default be the returning Tyler Kleven, draftee of the Ottowa Senators, along with most likely Minnesota Wild draftee Jack Peart.
Peart making this team is also a great story. He was called to camp for the United States late and made the trip right after he got the phone call. To show up last minute and make any World Juniors roster is as impressive as it gets. The left-shot defender from St Cloud State is a solid playmaker as well. Currently, he is averaging .75 assists a game.
This could be the trouble spot for the United States this year. The entire trio from a year ago is gone, with the Boston University netminder Commesso set to play the Knight role this year. Behind him are a pair of 2022 NHL draft-eligible goalies. First is Colorado College commit Kaidan Mbereko. He currently ranks top 10 in both goals against and save percentage in his final year in the USHL. Next up is Boston College commit Dylan Silverstein from Calabasas, California. He currently has the best numbers on the Team USA National Development team. Currently, Silverstein is 7-3, with a .911 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average.
Although Commesso is likely the star of the show here, Both Mbereko and Silverstein just making the team should bode well for each of their draft stocks. Especially for Mbereko, who entered the 2021 draft at just 17 years old and went undrafted. This trio may not be as strong as the Knight, Dustin Wolf, and Logan Stein trio from last year, but it is far from bad.
Player to Keep an Eye On
Drew Commesso, 19, Goalie, Boston University (NCAA)/Chicago Blackhawks
Sticking on the same topic, goaltending was gigantic for the United States in tournament play a year ago. In their three tournament games, Knight gave up five goals in three games, including a gold medal game shutout against Canada. While the numbers at BU for Commesso are far from great, the team hasn’t been great period this year so far. Hard to put all of that on him, but he will absolutely need to be better in the coming weeks to give the United States a shot at gold.
A second-round pick in 2020 by the Chicago Blackhawks, Commesso could end up being the long-term answer in between the pipes in the United Center. If he could even hit 75-percent of what Knight gave the United States a year ago, that could be gigantic for himself moving forward. That and Boston University players have a proven track record of showing up big at the World Juniors as well. Zegras, Charlie McAvoy, Kevin Shattenkirk, so on and soforth.
This United States team has some question marks entering next week, but that’s not to say they are bad. Quite the opposite, they are one of the best squads in this tournament. Russia and Sweden should be nice tuneups in round-robin play, and both could be rematches down the road. As always Canada will be a part of the conversation when talking about the United States. Once again the great white north has a team being tabbed as one of the best ever. Although not unwarranted, the same thing was said last year and the U.S. blanked them for all the marbles. Going back to back in these World Juniors has proven to be a challenge as of late, but this United States squad has the ability to do it.
Prediction for the United States: Gold Medal
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