USA's Players to Watch at the 2021 World Junior Championship

Even with a few missing stars, the United States look primed to challenge for another gold medal.
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Cam York

Cam York

O say can you see (gold)?

Sorry, yeah, not a great joke. But the American World Junior Championship roster doesn't fit that description. There's a reason to be jazzed about this lineup – it's one of the deepest groups in the tournament, even after losing five players due to COVID-19, including key contributors Thomas Bordeleau and Johnny Beecher.

With the way the United States operates its U.S. National Development Program, the Americans are bound to have a competitive team each time they compete at the World Junior Championship. This year, in particular, is a cumulative effort of the strong 2001-born unit that was considered the best team of its kind, with the likes of Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield making it the team to beat each night. It's a shame the centerpiece, Hughes, won't get one last shot to win gold with his teammates, but the Americans still look strong enough regardless to win it all.

There are so many players to be excited about on this American roster, but here's 10, in particular, to keep an eye on:

Trevor Zegras, C (Anaheim Ducks)

Zegras has spent quite a bit of time on the sidelines since foregoing his sophomore campaign at Boston University to sign with Anaheim back in March. But if anyone is going to get up to speed quickly, it's Zegras. Zegras led all players with nine assists a year ago, highlighted by a four-point night against Germany. It matched Zegras' U-18 performance a year before when he had a nine-point stat line through five games en route to a bronze medal. Zegras will be in USA's top six this year and as one of the strongest 2001-born players in the lineup, he'll need to step it up to give his country a shot at gold.

Cole Caufield, RW (Montreal Canadiens)

"Goal" Caufield had a tournament to forget a year ago, scoring just one goal and one assist through a disappointing five games for the United States. But Caufield is once again performing at a point-per-game pace with the University of Wisconsin and proving why he's one of the best prospects in the game right now. The extra time in the gym has done wonders for Caufield's on-ice performance and he does a better job of holding his own in more physical battles. This is the time for Caufield to have a breakout tourney. 

Arthur Kaliyev, LW (Los Angeles Kings)

Concerns about his defensive game aside, Kaliyev is one heck of a prospect. Kaliyev's 248 points are second among all OHLers over the past three seasons and 18 clear of Brett Neumann for the most goals in that span with 126. With the puck, Kaliyev is dynamic and he knows how to get himself into scoring position. He should have no problem topping his four-goal, six-point output from the last tournament. With Robertson out of the frame, Kaliyev becomes even more important.

Alex Turcotte, C (Los Angeles Kings)

Turcotte Like Zegras, Turcotte likely would have found himself contending for an NHL spot this season after signing a deal on March 11 – just a day before the NHL put a pause on the 2019-20 season. In Turcotte, the Kings are getting someone who's capable of being a No. 1 or 2 centermen in the NHL with gifted hockey sense, incredible skating acumen and a tremendous release on nearly every type of shot. Turcotte only had two assists a year ago but he'll have a bigger role this time around for the United States once he gets his legs moving after the long break from competitive action.

Spencer Knight, G (Florida Panthers)

Russia's Yaroslav Askarov will definitely have some competition when it comes to the top goaltender award this year. This will be Knight's third World Junior Championship (second as a starting goaltender) – an extremely rare feat for goaltenders at this tournament. Prior to leaving for camp, Knight recorded a pair of shutouts, stopping all 66 shots he faced against Providence College while playing for Boston College. That's the type of momentum that the Americans will want to see as he looks to be a leader at 19-years-old.

Cam York, D (Philadelphia Flyers)

With Alex Vlasic out of the picture, York's presence is even more important in 2021. The lone returning defenseman from the 2020 world junior squad, York was off to a strong start at the University of Michigan before joining camp, playing alongside projected 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power on a stout blueline. York is a smart defenseman who doesn't find himself out of position often and he does a fantastic job of setting his forwards up with long stretch passes – his teammates trust him with the puck. He'll get heavy minutes for the Americans.

Bobby Brink, RW (Philadelphia Flyers) 

Speaking of Flyers' prospects, Bobby "Orr" Brink (yes, his middle name is Orr) is one of the more intriguing forwards on this deep squad. For a small player at 5-foot-8, Brink brings a type of energy to his game that you can't ignore, and he's always been noticeable when he's suited up for his country internationally. Brink's biggest asset is how he alludes defenseman and sets his teammates up with patience, not willing to throw the puck away to just simply make a play but would rather make the right play instead. He'll be setting up some of the United States' best players in Edmonton.

Jake Sanderson, D (Ottawa Senators)

Sanderson was the first defenseman selected at the 2020 draft, and for good reason. Sanderson's game is a good mix of brains, skating and defensive reliability that makes him someone you want on the ice often, no matter the opponent. Sanderson had three points in three games with the University of North Dakota before leaving for training camp. Sanderson uses his speed to put create opportunities and wastes no time getting back in position after a rush, and that two-way play will be a highlight of USA's effort this year. Jake's dad, former NHLer Geoff Sanderson, never made Canada's World Junior Championship team as a teenager, but he did get three World Championship appearances during his career, winning gold twice.

Matthew Boldy, LW (Minnesota Wild)

Boldy didn't make the team last year after starting slow at Boston College, but there's a reason to be very excited about his play. Boldy had 12 points in his last tournament with his country at the 2019 U-18 World Championship, following up a nine-point run from the U-17 World Challenge a year prior. Boldy had two points in his first 14 NCAA games a year ago but followed that up with 24 points in his next 20 games before starting 2020-21 with eight in his first four contests. Boldy's comfortable with his play and that's coming at a perfect time for the top Wild prospect. 

Brendan Brisson, C (Vegas Golden Knights)

Brisson may not have the hype of others on this list, but ignoring him is just dumb. Brisson had a hot start to the 2020-21 season, recording seven points in eight games on Michigan while playing alongside fellow world junior teammates Thomas Bordeleau and Matthew Beniers. But what stands out the most about Brisson is just how untapped his play may still be – he's fantastic, but he may be even better than we all thought. Brisson played a year in the USHL before jumping up to the NCAA but he really came alive at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge, making the tournament all-star team with 12 points in just six games.  Brisson can bounce around nearly anywhere in the lineup and find a way to be effective – that type of swiss-army knife action could be valuable for the Americans.

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