USA Hockey conducts their summer evaluation camp in a much different style than that of Canada. They begin their camp with enough players for two rosters, Blue and White, and, as camp progresses towards the exhibition tournament with Canada, Finland, and Sweden, they make cuts to form one team. Being cut in the summer evaluation camp doesn’t necessarily mean that the players will not have any chance of making the World Junior team, though it does make the process even more difficult for them.
The full USA roster of invites is available here (includes players on each camp team). USA Hockey has invited 5 returning players though, Colin White will likely be available to them. He is not participating in the camp as he recovers from wrist surgery. Luke Opilka, goaltender for the Kitchener Rangers will also miss the camp due to injury. Almost all of the invited players have some experience with USA Hockey through last years World Junior tournament, or past u18 tournaments. The roster also includes Sean Day, who has previously been invited to international tournament camps by Hockey Canada. Day, a dual citizen between Canada and the United States, has yet to play in an IIHF sanctioned event so, he’s eligible to attend camps with either country until he officially plays for one.
The Leafs will be well represented by the Americans this summer with Jeremy Bracco, Joseph Woll and JD Greenway attending. Woll will begin the tournament on team White and will be looking to use his large size to his advantage to play in the tournament against the three participating teams. Because of his size, it’s difficult to get pucks past him, which the Leafs love about him, i’m sure. Something he’ll need to really work on is his rebound control but, that’s something that’ll come as he develops further at Boston College. USA Hockey will be looking for him to display his agility, strong reaction decisions/time in the crease as well as his compete level. Greenway will be looking to use his size to his advantage in Plymouth though, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he isn’t selected to make the team for the tournament unless he really stands out compared to the others invited. He’ll be competing against returnees Charlie McAvoy and Chad Krys, as well as Casey Fitzgerald, Caleb Jones, Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren. He’s a left shooting defenseman in a year where USA Hockey has a plethora of left shooting D available to them. What could potentially set him apart is the mobility he has for a player of his size and his experience with the National Development Team Program. Though his punishing style of play could be a determining factor against keeping him, as IIHF rules are very strict when it comes to physical play and he has a style that’s more rough than USA Hockey might be willing to play. Bracco was invited to USA Hockey’s summer evaluation camp last year, but he wasn’t selected to compete for a spot in Helsinki. He’ll be in stiff competition, USA has a strong group of eligible players. His ability to dominate offensively, as well as his speed and on ice awareness to create strong scoring chances could give him the edge over other camp invitees.
Auston Matthews, and last years World Junior team captain, Zach Werenski, are both eligible to play for USA this year but, were left off the roster as it is highly unlikely that either will be loaned from their respective NHL teams.
After a disappointing fourth place finish for the second consecutive year at World Juniors, Sweden will likely be looking at this summer camp as a key determining piece in how their roster should be formed this coming December. Based on their roster (below), it looks as though they’re going to be relying on some of their national junior team veterans to lead the way, along with a couple highly touted draft eligibles in Marcus Davidsson (ranked 3rd by Craig Button in his 2017 projections), and Lias Andersson (ranked 14th by Future Considerations). Andersson was a key piece in Sweden’s u18 tournament in Grand Forks, ND, leading them to a 2nd place finish and was selected by Kitchener in the CHL Import Draft. He was described as “A smart, mature, two-way centre. A three zone player who has an advanced understanding of the game. Protects the puck very well and has solid offensive instincts. Has good balance and decent speed but there is room to grow in his skating. A potential two-way guy in the Zetterberg mold” by Patrik Hansen, Scout for Djurgardens (SHL). Both were highlighted on NHL Central Scouting Futures List.
Sweden will have eight returning players from last years tournament for this summer in Felix Sandstrom, Jacob Larsson, Gabriel Carlsson, Carl Grundstrom, Alexander Nylander, Joel Eriksson Ek, Jens Looke, and Rasmus Asplund. It is likely they will all be available to return, however Nylander has a shot at making Buffalo’s roster (I wouldn’t consider it to be the greatest opportunity. if he doesn’t return to Mississauga, I think it would be far more likely that he returns to Sweden to play pro). Including Alexander Nylander, Sweden has invited three players from their silver medal winning u18 team, Filip Gustavsson, Jacob Moverare, and Lias Andersson.
The Leafs will be represented by two prospects at the camp wearing the Tre Kronor by Jesper Lindgren and Carl Grundstrom. Lindgren has previously represented Sweden internationally at the 2015 u18s, and played in 2016 games with MODO (SHL) last season. He has signed to play with MODO for next season though, there’s a chance he will be loaned to another SHL team as MODO was relegated to Sweden’s Allsvenskan league. Sweden will be relying on him for his offensive abilities, skating, and making a great first pass to get out of his zone. With the tournament being held on a smaller ice surface the European size, his game should translate fairly well, though he could be exposed by faster, creative players if he tries to control the pace of the game with the puck too much.
Grundstrom, a returning player from last years team, will likely play a very important role for Sweden over the holidays. He plays an aggressive style that many European players typically don’t. He’ll play a key role on the penalty kill, and in the bottom six. Despite not being the most skilled player, he’ll make up for it in other ways. He’s a strong skater, forechecks well and is able to read the play fairly well. His character will be a strong attribute to having in the room or on the bench with younger players competing for a spot this summer.
While the Leafs will not be represented by the Finns this summer in Plymouth, Finland will have a relatively strong group, headed by seven returning players who won gold in Helsinki, and eight from the gold medal winning team at u18s. Jesse Puljujarvi, who represented Finland at both tournaments was also named to the roster, though it is doubtful the Edmonton Oilers will be making him available this Christmas. The full roster is available here. It is not fully accurate of right now, as Finland will be making some cuts prior to heading to Michigan.
Patrik Laine will not be taking part in the tournament, as he suffered a leg injury just prior to the NHL Combine, and has not yet recovered. Though, it may be for the best that he doesn’t partake since he, too, probably won’t be available to the Finns in December.
It is more than probably that OHL defensive standouts Olli Juolevi and Vili Saarijarvi will be playing in the summer tournament for Finland. Juolevi, who was recognized for his outstanding play in the 2016 World Juniors by being named to the all-star team, remains unsigned by the Canucks but, would still be heading back to London for the season. He will likely be joined by his future Knights teammate Janne Koukkanen in Plymouth. Koukkanen will complement the Finnish style of playing with his on-ice IQ, speed and effectiveness down low between the circles. It’s assumed that he’ll be on a line with Puljujarvi this summer, which will make both of them even more dangerous. Koukkanen’s vision and abilities as a playmaker help him make pinpoint passes that would make a player like Puljujarvi lethal. He isn’t the strongest player defensively, which could expose holes in his game but, I think that’s where Finland’s strength in goal with Vehvilainen returning and experienced defenseman like Juolevi, Saarijarvi will come into play.
Other CHL players expected to be playing for Finland next week in Plymouth include Windor’s Julius Nattinen, Saginaw’s Niemelainen, Portland’s Jokiharju, among others. Nattinen was recently acquired by Windsor from Barrie to help improve their chances of going on a long run in the OHL playoffs and being a contender at the Memorial Cup, which they’re hosting. An omission from Finland’s invited roster was Flames 2016 draft pick Eetu Tuulola, who recently committed to playing for Everett in the WHL. He is on the lower end of the age spectrum, which could have been a factor in his omission, he had a strong u18 tournament . He plays a heavy styled game, which could be an asset to Finland, who has struggled when the tournament has been hosted in North America. He uses his size and strength to go into the dirty areas and win puck battles. He has a strong net front presence that makes him difficult to defend against. He also strong in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill that can make his expendable to the Finns come Christmas. By committing to playing with the Silvertips this upcoming season, he’s opening himself to more games and more opportunities to develop and get noticed. Finland is typically a team that doesn’t stray from their summer camp roster when it comes to naming their official World Junior roster, but I could see him being added.
The USA Hockey evaluation summer camp is sure to be an entertaining tournament, as well as a good glimpse into what hockey fans can expect out of their team’s top prospects at World Juniors this year in Toronto and Montreal. For those in Canada, the tournaments games will be aired in full once Canada joins the camp on August 3rd.
For an evaluation of Canada’s summer camp roster, visit http://leafshub.com/breakdown-of-canadas-wjc-summer-camp-roster/