HELSINKI, FINLAND – Team USA rebounded from its semifinals 2-1 loss to Team Russia to capture bronze by defeating Team Sweden in a rout 8-3. With the Americans coming back with some hardware, here’s what we learned from their 2016 World Junior Championship.
USA Needs a More Physical Lineup
The downfall of this Team USA team was its inability to win key physical battles, particularly along the boards and protecting the front of the net. This is where Team Russia took advantage of the Americans by wearing them down and driving hard to the net.
Team USA only sent two players which hit the 200-pound mark to Helsinki. While they had what was one of the fastest and most skilled teams in the tournament, they could have used a bit of a mean streak and a better blend of physical play. In tournaments like these which have teams playing so much in such a short time frame, having the physical edge can be a decisive advantage.
It will be interesting keeping tabs on Team USA’s 2017 camp and team selection. Will they make a concerted effort to add a few grinders or at least add a bit of size?
Auston Matthews & Matthew Tkachuk Cement Draft Status
While their wasn’t much of a discussion with Auston Matthews, as he’s been talked about for years, he leaved no doubt that he should be the first-overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.
“I think I played pretty well,” said Matthews. “I thought I got better as the tournament went along.”
As of writing this, he lead the tournament with seven goals and routinely created chances for himself and his teammates. He should be a cornerstone top line center in the NHL for many years to come. He’s one of those players that jumps out even to the untrained hockey eye.
“What I take away from the tournament is I built a lot of good friendships.” #wjc #thw pic.twitter.com/REDz3b3TQN
— Joseph Vito DeLuca (@joevitodeluca) January 5, 2016
His linemate for the tournament, Matthew Tkachuk played just as well. Tkachuk showed that he has the skating, stick work and play making ability that will make him difficult for NHL defenders to handle. It doesn’t hurt that he comes from NHL pedigree, as his dad is former USA Hockey star Keith Tkachuk.
“I’m lucky to play with some pretty great players in Matthew Tkachuk and Coline White,” said Matthews. “I think we really meshed well together and had a really good tournament.”
Alex DeBrincat Doesn’t Seize The Moment
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Alex DeBrincat. He was given a golden opportunity coming into the tournament as he was the third member of the Tkachuk-Matthews line. Unforunately, he took a foolish spearing penalty early in the opening game against Team Canada that lead to a game misconduct. The following game he was knocked out of action after going hard into the boards, so he’s had to battle back from injury.
He never made the impact that he was hoping for. As an undersized draft-eligible winger, he really could have used a strong tournament to increase his draft stock.
Zach Werenski Has The Skill, Needs to Get Tougher
Back to the positives. On the backend, Columbus Blue Jackets’ first-round pick Zach Werenski had a mostly solid tournament. He showed that he has the skills, puck carrying and passing ability to make it at the next level. On the offensive side, he was the best defenseman in the tournament. He was routinely creating scoring opportunities for his teammates.
The only knock on Werenski’s game is that he needs to be more physical. Even as the heaviest player (at 214 lbs.), he was outmatched on the boards and as the opposition crashed the net. Since he does have the size, this is a part of his game that he can develop, as he prepares himself for bigger and stronger opponents at the NHL level.
Although there are plenty of players to mention here, let’s briefly mention a few others who stood out. The play of Columbus Blue Jackets’ first-round pick Sonny Milano and Chicago Blackhawks’ first-round pick Nick Schmaltz stood out. Their skating and stick work created a lot of scoring chances for Team USA.
As previously discussed, Carolina Hurricanes’ second-round pick Alex Nedeljkovic had an impressive tournament and could be consider the best netminder of the entire tournament.