The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship will begin play on December 26th 2019, running through January 5th 2020 and is held in Czech Republic. There are ten Countries competing in two groups as follows:
Perhaps one of the heavy favorites for a Gold Medal heading into the tournament is Team USA. The American roster is a team comprised mainly of that 2001 born class that comprised the best edition of the USDP that saw nine of its members selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL draft. That group will be coming into this tournament hungry as they have been excellent internationally but have yet to claim a Gold Medal. This group won Silver in the 2018 U18, Bronze in the 2019 U18, and a bronze at last years 2019 WJC. This is a mainly 19-year-old roster that has no first time draft eligible 18-year-old prospects and they have their sights set on a Gold or bust mentality.
In goal, USA will be riding Spencer Knight for the lion’s share of the games as he is by far the best option in goal. Knight was drafted 13th overall by the Florida Panthers in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft. Goalies have been falling at the draft for years now and his selection that high is a testament to his potential. In his D+1 season as an NCAA freshman with Boston College, Knight has been outstanding posting a 1.73 GAA and .940 SV percentage through 15 games. It is rare for a freshman goalie to see so many games, and to be as dominant as he has been. In a tournament where the Medal Round is single-game elimination and a bad goal can spell disaster, having a stud goalie that can steal games is critical. Backing up Knight are Dustin Wolf of the WHL and Isaiah Saville from the NCAA who are both in their own right reliable goalie that are NHL drafted.
While goaltending may be a strength of the USA roster, defense is not a strength, but still better than average. The anchor of the back end is without question New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller. Miller can do it all, he has size and strength standing at 6-4, 207 pounds and can skate like the wind. He has a cannon for a shot on the point, can skate the puck out of danger and carry the puck as well with authority in transition. His offensive game is well developed as he is a converted forward that should be in the NHL in one or two years. Backing him up with offensive support is Cam York, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect from the University of Michigan. York is a smart player that has excellent mobility and can run a powerplay. His best attribute would be his outlet pass and on the big ice surface that is a deadly weapon. Lending more size to the defense for USA are Mattias Samuelsson, and Alec Regula at 6-4, and more offensive support can be found in Zachary Jones and Jordan Harris.
Up front, any team would be missing a super star player like Jack Hughes but there is plenty of star power remaining. One player the watch may be sniper Cole Caufield who is short but just can not stop scoring goals. He scores big goals in big games and is an early favorite to lead the entire tournament in goals. The Montreal Canadiens prospect was an absolute steal at the 15th overall selection at the 2019 NHL Draft. As a NCAA freshman at the University of Wisconsin “Goal” Caufield already has 12 goals after 18 games.
USA also boasts two other elite goal scorers in Arthur Kaliyev from the OHL, and Oliver Wahlstrom who was a late release from the New York Islanders for the tournament.
The center ice position is another position of strength as USA will roll out Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, and John Beecher through their top three lines. Other options include Shane Pinto, Jack Drury, Jacob Pivonka and sleeper prospect Parker Ford.
USA might arguably have the luxury of the best top-six forward depth consisting of:
Arthur Kaliyev – Trevor Zegras – Cole Caufield
Nick Robertson – Alex Turcotte – Oliver Wahlstrom
Team USA is a Gold Medal contender to be sure. They have some of the best depth in the tournament, are an older team and have size, can score, play defense, have a stud goalie and are coming in hungry. Perhaps the only problem is that they are in Group B which also consists of Canada, Russia, host Czech and the upstart German roster that should not be overlooked.