Team USA 2023 WJC Players to Watch

It feels like yesterday that the puck was dropping on the 2022 World Junior Championship, and here we are, just days away from the 2023 WJC tournament. At the 2022 WJC this past August, Team USA fell short of the medal round following a 4-2 loss to Czechia

The Americans look to make it back to the medal round this year, let alone go for the gold, and will be led by some of their returning members, with some new members looking to make their presence known. This article is going to take a look at five American players who you should be keeping an eye on during the tournament. I broke it down to two defensemen and three forwards; one of which may be a bit surprising. Let’s get started.

Luke Hughes, Defenseman

Luke Hughes isn’t just returning to Team USA as the team’s reigning defensive-scoring leader, but as team captain. The 2021 fourth-overall pick tallied a goal and six points in his five games at the 2022 WJC, and finished tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen in the tournament despite playing two fewer games than the leaders. In 20 games for the University of Michigan this season, he’s scored three goals and 18 points.

Team USA needs to have a strong special teams corps if they want to win the gold medal this year. In the 2022 WJC, they converted on 42.86% of their power plays, good for third in the tournament, and ranked second with an 84.62% penalty kill. If they’re going to emulate that success, Hughes and his skating/passing prowess are going to play a major part in it.

Logan Cooley, Center

Logan Cooley should be stepping into a big role for Team USA at this year’s tournament. He finished his five games at the 2022 WJC with two goals and six points, and went on to score 23 assists and 36 points in 24 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) in the United States Hockey League (USHL). He was drafted third overall in 2022 and made the jump to the NCAA for this season, where he has scored 10 goals and 25 points in 19 games for the University of Minnesota. He trails fellow Team USA forward Jimmy Snuggerud for the team lead in scoring.

Logan Cooley USNTDP
Logan Cooley, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

He plays a two-way game, and while he lacks size, he can be trusted in all situations which should help their special teams rankings rise to the top. His puck-handling ability combined with his high hockey IQ should help extend possessions in the offensive zone. He has a good wrist shot, and if he is lined up with wingers who also possess strong shots, it should allow him a plethora of options when he gets the puck with time to make a play. He’s definitely on my shortlist of players to lead Team USA in scoring.

Jimmy Snuggerud, Right Wing

The next guy I’ll be looking at was alluded to in my section about Cooley; Jimmy Snuggerud is currently second in the NCAA in scoring with 27 points in 20 games. The 23rd-overall selection in 2022 was coming off a season with the USNTDP where he scored six goals and 26 points in 26 games, and has already doubled that season’s goal total with 12 goals this season for the University of Minnesota. This will be his first taste of WJC action.

Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship

He has favorable size, standing at 6-foot-2, and with that size comes strength that feeds his lethal shooting ability. While he could improve upon his playmaking, lining him up with a player like Cooley or having him on the ice with Hughes should lead to a plethora of scoring chances. A right-handed shot, I wouldn’t mind seeing him occupy the left wing on the power play to channel his inner Alex Ovechkin and send one-timer after one-timer to the net.

Samuel Lipkin, Center

Sam Lipkin is the player who many might not have expected to make this list, but I wanted to go a little “off the board” with one of my selections. He currently sits tied for second on the No. 2-ranked Quinnipiac University Bobcats in scoring with 19 points in 18 games. The 2021 seventh-round pick has five goals, two on the power play, this season and leads the Bobcats with 54 shots.

I think the benefit to Lipkin is that he is conditioned to Pecknold’s schematic and systems, which even if there are changes to said systems for this (World Junior) squad, I would safely presume they won’t be drastic from how Lipkin plays in the QU brand and how he has pushed the boundaries of that game with his two-way game…

He passes with aplomb. He isn’t a bruiser but uses his frame to his advantage… When it’s time on offense, Lipkin moves the pick and is a quick decision-maker. He skates into position precisely and this allows him to find space for himself to find seams and beat defenders to blocking lanes across ice.

Matthew Mugno, Quinnipiac Men’s Ice Hockey Beat Reporter, Q30 Sports 

For the Bobcats, Lipkin has tallied both a four-assist game and a five-point game this season. He’s worked his way up the depth chart to both the first power-play unit and first line right wing positions, according to Mugno. That type of growth in just his first collegiate season is a good sign for Team USA. 

Related: 2023 World Junior Championship Team USA Final Roster

He won’t get handed ice time, especially with Rand Pecknold at the helm, but his quick climb to Quinnipiac’s top line is a good indication that he has the ability and drive to earn his ice time. According to Mugno, “Rand is as fair and honest as coaches come. So don’t assume it’s nepotism for his program; if Lipkin earns opportunities it’s because he very quickly adapts and grows.”

Lane Hutson, Defense

What Lane Hutson lacks in size, he makes up for in mobility. He’s a fantastic skater and it fuels his offensive ability. He’s scored seven goals, 11 assists, and 18 points in 16 games for Boston University so far this season, which ranks him second on the team in all three categories. This will be the 18-year-old’s first trip to the WJC.

Lane Hutson USNTDP
Lane Hutson, USNTDP (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

His high hockey IQ makes him dependable in the defensive zone and fuels his two-way play, which combined with his passing ability, should allow for some good breakouts from the defensive zone. Being that both he and Hughes are left-handed shots, I don’t think they’ll be paired together at even strength.

However, his offensive ability could allow for similar results to that of Lipkin’s; he could help provide depth scoring for Team USA. Even if he doesn’t compete for the team lead in defensive scoring or anything like that, keep an eye on how he looks on the ice, because I could see his impact seen beyond the scoresheet.

Team USA Has a Lot to Prove

I feel like Team USA has a lot to prove after their disappointing finish at the 2022 WJC. The handful of returning members really need to step up, lead the newer players, and iron out any kinks as early in group play as possible; or better yet in their pre-tournament games. The quicker they establish consistency, the better. Their special teams play is going to be key, and if they can establish dependable depth scoring, the sky’s the limit for their offensive weapons.