NCAA Hockey: Which college forwards are the key pieces for Team USA?

With the 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships just under a week away, the United States are poised to once again emerge as one of the favourites. As selection camp draws on, Team USA has already trimmed its roster down to twenty six; all of whom are set to travel with the team to the Czech Republic for pre-tournament preparations. 

The United States’ roster consists of a healthy mix of top prospects hailing from a variety of top college hockey programs. 

With returning 2019 silver medalists in K’Andre Miller and Mattias Samuelsson, the Americans also have a fair share of World Junior experience on the blueline. This will go a long way in setting a strong example for American rookies like Philadelphia Flyers prospect Cam York.

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K’Andre Miller with the Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA Hockey)

Up front, the Americans pack size and speed. Notable forwards include Arthur Kalyiev and Nick Robertson; both former second round selections who have been lighting up the OHL with Hamilton and Peterbourough respectively. Other standouts include Oliver Wahlstrom, fresh off a stint in the NHL with the New York Islanders, as well as Bobby Brink, who’s torching the NCHC at almost a point-per-game pace with the University of Denver.

The United States has assembled one of the most well-rounded rosters in their nation’s recent history. Backed by a combination of youth and experience on the blueline as well as heavy shots and foot speed up front, there’s no doubt that the Americans will be one of the team’s to beat come Boxing Day. 

The Key Three

Amongst a talented group of forwards proudly selected to represent the red, white and blue, three standouts will be under the microscope when the Americans hit the ice overseas. They include Boston University product Trevor Zegras, as well as Wisconsin teammates Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte. While they are three of the youngest players on Team USA, they will be heavily relied upon in a very competitive Group B. Each forward is quite different from one another; something that will provide the Americans with much needed versatility throughout their lineup. 49 Sports takes a look at how exactly each forward will be key in aiding Team USA on their quest for another gold medal.

Cole Caufield, University of Wisconsin

Standing at just five-foot-seven, Cole Caufield is the living embodiment of the phrase “height doesn’t measure heart”. A steal by the Montreal Canadiens who selected him fifteenth overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Caufield’s knack for scoring goals is a staple in an already potent American offense. 

Caufield made headlines at the 2018 U-18 Championships; scoring a couple of highlight reel goals while leading team USA to a silver medal. A pure goal scorer by nature, the Stevens Point, Wisconsin native has racked up the points in any competition that he’s played in. Scouted by ESPN’s Chris Peters as having a “deadly accurate shot”, Caufield sure knows how to fill up the net. Many scouts advise to ignore his size as he remains one of the most prolific goal scorers to ever don the stars and stripes. 

His elite offensive sense has been on display ever since his early teenage years, most notably at the U-17 World Championships where he racked up thirteen points in six games en route to a gold medal. This season, Caufield has remained consistent; scoring at a point-per-game pace with the University of Wisconsin. Notching ten goals and eight assists in seventeen games, keep an eye on this lethal winger over the course of the tournament. Gunning for a roster spot in Montreal, he’ll look to carry his success from past World Championships in order to establish yet another offensive weapon for Team USA. 

Trevor Zegras, Boston University

In a detailed contrast to Caufield’s skillset, Trevor Zegras provides a much bigger physical presence to Team USA. Once projected to go as high as the top three in the 2019 draft, Zegras slipped to ninth, where the Anaheim Ducks wisely made their selection. The mobile power-forward brings yet another physical presence with great vision to an already lethal American attack.

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Trevor Zegras putting on the Ducks’ jersey for the first time (NBCSN)

Never falling out of the top ten in any scouting report leading up the 2019 draft, Zegras has been constantly improving. Once primarily focused on his own goal scoring abilities, he’s been scouted as drastically improving his vision and strength. His versatility as both a winger and a center will pay dividends moving forward for the United States and his size and scoring touch makes him the ideal power play quarterback for the US. 

The Anaheim prospect has enjoyed another dominant season at Boston University; racking up seventeen points in sixteen games, including twelve assists. Making his teammates better has become an increasingly important priority for Zegras whose puck movement skills and ability to create space will generate an increased level of scoring chances. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Patrick Kane and Corey Perry, Zegras will definitely be heavily relied upon by both the coaching staff and his teammates over the course of the tournament.

Alex Turcotte, University of Wisconsin

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Alex Turcotte (USA Hockey)

The final standout on the list is Los Angeles Kings prospect Alex Turcotte. Playing bigger than his size at five-foot-eleven, Turcotte’s two-way game will be essential in maintaining control in the neutral and defensive zone. Gifted in both assets of the game, it’s Turcotte’s 200-foot mentality that allows him to excel while simultaneously making his teammates better.

Ranked as high as the fourth pick leading up the 2019 draft, the Kings chose him at number five and for good reason. Playing alongside Jack Hughes during his time with the United States National Team Development Program, Turcotte has molded his game into a rare and effective two-way style which allows for quick puck transitions and passes. In combination with the speed of the United States, Turcotte will be able to transition from the defensive end to the offensive end in the blink of an eye. With countless NHL teams trying to mold their superstars into the ideal 200-foot player, it seems as though Alex Turcotte is already well ahead of the pack.

The Illinois native is spending another efficient season at the University of Wisconsin alongside Cole Caufield. With fifteen points in fifteen games, Turcotte can be seen setting up his teammates and registering his fair share of goals. An effective power play resource and handy penalty killer, keep an eye out for Alex Turcotte at the upcoming tournament and don’t be shocked if head coach Scott Sandelin puts the two Wisconsin products on the same line.

With these three players headlining an already talented group of forwards, the US could be primed to take home a medal from this year’s tournament. All three are locks to be on the team when the final roster is announced, but who the cuts may be remains in  question.

Cover Photo: USA Hockey Federation

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