Commentary: The scouting report on the U.S. World Junior team

The pre-tournament games are over.

The team is picked.

Team USA enters the 2011 World Junior Championship as defending gold medalists for the first time since 2005. In 2004, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves won gold in Finland, and last season another WCHA coach (though technically a CCHA one at the time) in Dean Blais wrote another dramatic chapter in USA Hockey history, winning gold in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

This year, Keith Allain, whose Yale Bulldogs sit No. 1 in the Division I Men’s Poll will pilot the ride through Buffalo with a second consecutive gold medal in sights. The team is quick, skilled and paced by a corps of returning veterans from the golden squad of 2010.

Gone from last season are some key folks, starting with Derek Stepan, who is creating highlight-reel goals with the New York Rangers. He centered what we nicknamed “The Original Six” line of him, Jerry D’Amigo (a Toronto draft pick) and Danny Kristo (Montreal). That line wreaked havoc throughout its tenure together.

While Stepan and Jordan Schroeder were huge offensive weapons, role guys like A.J. Jenks, Luke Walker and especially Tyler Johnson are also players that don’t attract headlines but were key guys in the lineup.

Defensively, players like John Carlson and Cam Fowler provided both offensive and back-line presences that were unmatched in the tourney. David Warsofsky of Boston University was a rock in all three zones and in all situations. John Ramage and Brian Lashoff provided a physical dimension, and Ramage is the lone defender returning from a solid seven in Saskatoon. Part of the defense corps was goalie Mike Lee, who was brilliant in the medal round games against Finland and Sweden.

This year, the U.S. is loaded with offense. Jason Zucker could be a huge difference-maker; he has looked like a man among boys at times in the pre-tourney games. He and Denver teammate Drew Shore were linemates against Rensselaer but separated in the pre-tourney finale against Norway.

Ryan Bourque also achieved unsung hero status last season, doing everything a coach could ask that didn’t wind up on the score sheet. A tenacious penalty killer and a thorn in the side of every defender he chased into a corner, the Rangers draft choice played where he was needed and delivered big play after big play.

He returns along with Jeremy Morin, Kyle Palmieri, Chris Kreider, D’Amigo, Ramage, Zucker and goalie Jack Campbell.

Campbell brings a winning pedigree along with an athletic 6-foot-2 frame. He is the only U.S. goalie to win three IIHF gold medals, and that is not lost on his teammates.

He came off the bench cold when Lee’s magic ran out midway through the gold medal game last year and carried the U.S. to the dramatic overtime win. More than one teammate has marveled at Campbell’s competitive edge and his humbleness. As he will tell you, his first few games in the OHL were not great but he has stayed the course and got his season on the right track.

Here is a capsule look at the roster and some of The Skinny on some of the members of Team USA:

Jack Campbell ’92 Windsor Spitfires (OHL), 1st round pick (No. 11 overall) in 2010 by Dallas (goaltender): Tall, athletic goalie with tremendous competitive desire. Athletic goalie who is good covering low ice and plays the puck well. Has won at every big level he has played at. Comes to Buffalo as the No. 1 but will be pushed to keep the job, which is how the staff would like to see it. Tremendous confidence in his own ability. Not cocky but plays with an inner arrogance all successful goalies have. Lost the epic New Year’s Eve game last year to Canada in a shootout but played well in the game.

Andy Iles ’92 Cornell (ECAC), draft eligible (goaltender): Reminds folks of former Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg and former Providence and NHL star Chris Terreri. Quick, technically solid, intense and good with his rebounds. Handles the puck well. He and his head coach are the lone reps from the ECAC in the tourney. Ithaca native who is playing for his hometown Big Red. Like Campbell, he is an alum of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program. Love his competitive edge and his reflexes. Very athletic. Only draft eligible player on the squad.

Brian Dumoulin ’91, Boston College (Hockey East), 2(51)09 CAR (left defenseman, left shot): Tall, rangy defenseman who is good in his own end and is starting to assert himself offensively. Part of the Boston College national championship team last year. Good low shot that is improving along with his entire offensive arsenal. Underrated in his own end, good stick, smart and sees the options the offense is creating against him quickly. Allows him to be in good defensive position quite often.

Justin Faulk ’92, Minnesota Duluth (WCHA), 2(37)10 CAR (right defenseman, right shot): Solid, composed, big shot, real good in his own end, very good stick start to describe a player I wrote up in preseason as someone who could become an elite NCAA defenseman. Alum of the NDTP, was in camp with Team USA last year in Grand Forks also. Scored against Norway in the pre-tourney finale with a bomb from the top of the offensive zone on the power play. Should make his impact felt with the man advantage, runs a great power play. It is obvious this kid has, A, been well coached and, B, sees the game very well.

Derek Forbort ’92, North Dakota (WCHA) 1(15)10 LAK (left defenseman, left shot): Offensive-minded defenseman who also can play in his own end. Lost some time with mono in the first half of the season. A cross between teammates Ben Blood in his size and strength and Chay Genoway in terms of his skating and puck skills. Reads the rush against him well. Can be a rock in his own end.

Nick Leddy ’91, Rockford (AHL) 1(16)09 MIN (right defenseman, right shot): A draft choice of Minnesota traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. As he said, it was odd to find out he got traded by looking online to see it but was thrilled to go to the Stanley Cup champs. Great stick, mobile and agile and good hockey sense. Could be a key on the power play, should run it from up top. Quick feet.

Jon Merrill ’92, Michigan (CCHA) 2(3)10 NJD (left defenseman, left shot): Tremendously impressed with his ability to not get himself trapped in bad spots on the ice with the puck on his stick. Very good recognizing where to move the puck quickly and does that well. Good passer, great shot, one-timer threat. Opened some eyes with a pair of goals against Michigan State in the outdoor game earlier this month. Humble kid who has shown he can become one of the great defensemen ever to play at Michigan. Models himself after Nik Lidstrom. Has a bomb from the point.

John Ramage ’91, Wisconsin (WCHA) 4(103)10 CGY (right defenseman, right shot): Team captain and a very good choice. Ramage is the kind of player you’d want on your team as he leads by example and is a tenacious hitter. As he joked, his offensive contributions are a bonus but he can be effective in the offensive zone and benefited from Wisconsin’s mobile defense from a year ago. He is the kind of player that gets a lot of ice bags filled in opposing dressing rooms. He’ll be at his best when the chips are down.

Patrick Wey ’91, Boston College (Hockey East) 4(115)09 WSH (right defenseman, right shot): Can fly under the radar at times, especially with the high skill level at BC on the back line. Solid, steady, good hands, good in his own end. Can play against opposing top lines while also making a good outlet pass. Mention his name to Hockey East coaches and they summarized him complimentary as a a cog in the wheel that doesn’t get enough credit for the role he plays at BC. Comes to the team via the USHL and central Pennsylvania, one of many players developed for the elite levels of USA Hockey from the nontraditional areas.

Nick Bjugstad ’92, Minnesota (WCHA) 1(19)10 FLA (center, right shot): Big-bodied pivot who protects the puck as well as, if not better than, anyone on the roster. Excellent wrist shot with a quick release. Strong on the walls and in the slot, good hands, deceptively quick in short spaces. Better with a little space to work with but he can work in traffic. Great bloodlines in hockey. Might have the biggest quads in the tourney.

Ryan Bourque ’91, Quebec (QMJHL) 3(80)09 NYR (left wing, left shot): Tremendous little-things player who this time around will also contribute some of the bigger things needed if Team USA wants to repeat. Great skater, agile, quick hands and tremendous competitor. Skates very well and turns well with or without the puck. Kind of reminds you of a sports car on skates. Focused, smart with and without the puck, scorers’ pedigree in the Q. Proved he can handle a role player’s mentality last year. Could be a player to watch as someone who could fill the shoes of Jordan Schroeder.

Chris Brown ’91, Michigan (CCHA) 2(36)09 PHX (right wing, right shot): Came to camp ready after not making it last year. One of those many players from the non-grassroots areas of the U.S. to make an impact on NDTP coming from the heart of Texas. Scoring well in the pre-tourney games and displaying the mean streak those in Ann Arbor are used to seeing. Has a scorer’s mentality, a finisher’s resume. If he stays on a line with Drew Shore and Jerry D’Amigo, he could wind up with scoring chances almost every shift.

Mitch Callahan ’91, Kelowna (WHL) 6(180)09 (RW, right shot): Has played sparingly as the 13th forward, but he could make a significant contribution as a penalty killer and in a defensive role. Quick feet, good compete level, plays well positionally.

Charlie Coyle ’92, Boston University (Hockey East) 1(28)10 SJS (center, right shot): Great physical strength combined with high-end skills make him a threat whenever he is on the ice. Has very good acceleration, can get separation from a defenseman or his check going to the net. Good hands in tight spaces, can be a playmaker or a scorer. Impressive statement for him being less than a season removed from the Eastern Junior Hockey League and now centering the top line at BU and perhaps doing the same for Team USA.

Jerry D’Amigo ’91, Toronto Marlies (AHL) 6(158)09 TOR (left wing, left shot): You could make a case, with no disrespect to Stepan, that D’Amigo was the MVP of the 2010 tourney. Timely goals, hits, great penalty killing and, as Dean Blais said, “the kid was a great team guy and a great character guy.” His leadership and pro experience will come in very handy.

Emerson Etem ’92, Medicine Hat (WHL) 1(29)10 ANA (right wing, right shot): Good hands, good feet. Hands are sneaky; he can create of the end of his stick, which makes him a unique threat. Gets chances driving off the wing with his speed and puck control. Quick release, good low shot. Chance to be this year’s unsung hero.

Chris Kreider ’91, Boston College (Hockey East) 1(19)09 NYR (left wing, left shot): If you bet that Kreider could lead the team in scoring, you just might be right. If you bet he could lead the team in hits, you could be right. Kreider is unique in that he can be a physical menace, a scoring threat or an overall impact player. Pro shot, pro speed, pro hands. Played on the World Championship team last April and found the experience unique for his game in terms of keeping his feet moving and staying involved in the play. Could be a huge impact guy again.

Jeremy Morin ’91, Rockford (AHL), 2(45)09 ATL (right wing, right shot): Morin pure and simple is a shots-on-goal machine. Shooter’s mentality, great release, accurate. He could shoot the headlights out of a moving car. Last year he played a valuable role on the penalty kill and five-on-five and scored some big goals. Solid rookie pro season so far, and that experience makes him a big part of the puzzle for Team USA.

Brock Nelson ’92, North Dakota (WCHA) 1(30)10 NYI (center, left shot): Impressive on draws, quick hands and good anticipation. Has good speed, breakaway speed from defenders, goes to the net well. Pretty responsible in the defensive zone. Had a good start to the season, hit a wall a bit in November but rebounded to have a good December and a good camp to make the team.

Kyle Palmieri ’91, Syracuse (AHL) 1(26)09 ANA (right wing, right shot): Provides the team with a physical identity. He just doesn’t take any gruff from anyone, and that is why he is successful. Great hands, great speed and a NHL shot. Has the kind of speed and strength where he can lean in on a defenseman one-on-one and get to the net off of either wing. Has an NHL goal to his credit already. Should be a big part of this team’s offense and could be devastating on the power play especially in the pool play.

Drew Shore ’91, Denver (WCHA) 2(44)09 FLA (center, right shot): Another kid playing for his hometown team at Denver. Has good speed and a scorer’s mentality and is very creative with the puck. Plays well on the walls, wins a ton of 50-50 battles and will take a hit to make a play. Good support player, creative with the puck and not selfish. Shook off a summer camp injury from Lake Placid to earn a shot at the team.

Jason Zucker ’91, Denver (WCHA) 2(59)10 MIN (left wing, left shot): Zucker could remind you of a Claude Lemieux type of player. You love him as a teammate but you hate to play against him. Why? Great teammate, a leader, can adapt to any role and play it well. Was great in a penalty-killing role last year in Saskatoon and was as physical as anyone in the tourney. Zucker oozes composure with or without the puck and has been a shot machine in the pre-tourney games. Should be an impact player and another example of a non-grassroots kid making a huge splash. He hails from Las Vegas and played a bit in California as a kid.