The United States is hoping to ride players like Jack Eichel (left) to another World Juniors title. (Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
On Wednesday, USA Hockey released a 26-player preliminary roster for the 2014 World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.
The list includes three players who were members of last year's surprising gold-medal winning squad: forwards Riley Barber and Ryan Hartman, and goaltender Jon Gillies. Although the roster has to be whittled down to 23 players before the opener against the Czech Republic on Dec. 26, the returnees are locks to make the cut.
The group will convene in Minneapolis for the start of training camp on Dec. 15.
Here's a look at the roster; NHL team affiliation is noted where applicable:
Jon Gillies (Calgary Flames), Anthony Stolarz (Philadelphia Flyers), Thatcher Demko (2014 draft eligible)
Will Butcher (Colorado Avalanche), Connor Carrick (Washington Capitals), Tony DeAngelo (2014 draft eligible), Matt Grzelyck (Boston Bruins), Ian McCoshen (Florida Panthers), Brett Pesce (Carolina Hurricanes), Steven Santini (New Jersey Devils), Brady Skjei (New York Rangers)
Riley Barber (Washington Capitals), J.T. Compher (Buffalo Sabres), Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets), Tommy DiPauli (Washington Capitals), Jack Eichel (2015 draft eligible), Adam Erne (Tampa Bay Lightning), Hudson Fasching (Los Angeles Kings), Ryan Fitzgerald (Boston Bruins), Ryan Hartman (Chicago Blackhawks), Nicolas Kerdiles (Anaheim Ducks), Stefan Matteau (New Jersey Devils), Tyler Motte (Chicago Blackhawks), Dan O’Regan (San Jose Sharks), Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix Coyotes), Quentin Shore (Ottawa Senators)
• The name that immediately jumps out is Jack Eichel. The 1996-born center is a 6-foot-2, 191-pound offensive wizard for the US National Team Development Program, with 12 goals and 21 points through nine games. He's a Mike Modano-type, an effortless skater who finishes plays as cleverly as he makes them. Assuming he makes the cut, it'll be interesting to gauge his performance next to that of fellow 2015 draft candidate, Connor McDavid of Canada.
• Eichel is one of two invited players invited who weren't part of the American summer camp. The other is Ryan Fitzgerald, son of former NHLer Tom Fitzgerald. The Boston College freshman is small, but competes like a wolverine. He's scoring at a point-per-game pace for the Eagles, but will likely be used in an energy role if he makes the cut.
• Tony DeAngelo is the other draft eligible player on the roster, but he'll be in a tough position to make the club. The 18-year-old is leading all OHL defensemen in scoring, but his skill set is very similar to that of the older, more experienced Will Butcher. There's a long-held perception that USA Hockey won't take a CHL player unless absolutely necessary, so he might already have one strike against him as he heads to camp.
• DeAngelo is one of five CHL players (plus recent grads Carrick and Matteau) to earn invites to camp.
• Look for Jon Gillies to get the starting role in net. He's off to a tremendous start with Providence College (10-1-2, 1.81 GAA, .945 save percentage), but he'll be hard pressed to match John Gibson's star-making performance from last year's event.
• Gillies won't have the advantage of playing behind that soon-to-be legendary blueline that the US employed at the 2013 tourney. Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba have graduated to the NHL and Pat Sieloff is nursing an injury he suffered with Abbotsford of the AHL. Without those key returnees, this group is a shadow of the gold medal blueline.
• Ryan Hartman has been on IR since early November, and there's still some concern that he might not be ready in time for the tourney. That would be a huge loss for the States, which could use his experience, speed and ability to rattle the opposition.
• Henrik Samuelsson is one of just four first-round picks headed to camp, but he's a good bet to be one of the two forwards who are cut loose. He's proved to be a solid player with Edmonton of the WHL and would bring a rugged presence to the bottom six, but he struggled to make his mark in previous USA camps, and then there's that CHL thing.
• The snubs? I really liked Windsor's Brady Vail to fill a bottom-six role, and thought there was a good chance that toolsy, draft-eligible forward Sonny Milano would get the call. Foot speed probably torpedoed Vail's chances, and experience might have been Milano's undoing.