If Team USA falls short in the offense department, there's gonna be a whole lot of schadenfreude on the Internet. The national side just cut right winger Alex DeBrincat from the world junior team, depriving the Erie Otters star of a return appearance to the holiday classic.
DeBrincat, who was drafted 39th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2016, scored 51 goals in each of his first two OHL seasons and is on pace to beat that mark in his current campaign. He is one of the top scorers in the OHL and obviously would have helped Team USA in that department.
So let's dive into the debate.
We know the upside to DeBrincat, but in terms of a downside, he's a smaller player and he doesn't have flat-out speed, though he is quite quick and elusive in the offensive zone. That's an important distinction to make on an American squad that wants to play at a high pace. The right winger didn't show well in the summer National Junior Evaluation Camp (NJEC) and actually had a nightmarish world juniors in Finland before that. DeBrincat was tossed from his first game against Canada for spearing and then got hurt (shoulder) after that. He went from Auston Matthews' linemate to 13th forward. But for the record, when I asked coach Ron Wilson about DeBrincat near the end of the tourney, he praised the youngster for accepting the minutes he was given.
Team USA still has one player to cut, though it seems like it will be a defenseman. So, what can we parse from DeBrincat's absence? Well, Brock Boeser is hurt and Logan Brown was cut alongside DeBrincat after just coming back from a wrist injury. The Americans still have Clayton Keller, Tage Thompson and Jeremy Bracco, so there is offensive punch. Plus, if Patrick Harper can surprise the internationals the way he has the college circuit, he'll be deadly. And if Kieffer Bellows snaps out of his freshman funk, it will make a world of difference.
Will it be enough? That's the big question. Team USA has often been criticized for leaving skill at home and the optics here aren't good. But it's not like Joey Anderson, Tanner Laczynski and Troy Terry are oafs. Still, if a deep team such as Sweden or Canada (or, as per usual lately, the Russians) rolls the U.S. out of the tournament, there will be a lot of head shaking.