The Next Wave: Breaking Down American Defensemen
Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones and Pat Sieloff at the 2012 U18 World Championships Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
By Andrew Weiss (@WeissFC)
After an eighth place finish at the 1994 Winter Olympics, many USA Hockey fans would consider the year a forgettable one. Down the road, 1994 could be viewed as one of the most important years for USA Hockey. With the likes of Alex Galchenyuk and Seth Jones headlining the 1994-birth-years, many are already seeing the talent of this crop.
The defense of this birth year is what the 1994s could really be known for with many standout 19-year-old defensemen amongst the elite stature of NHL prospects.
While it could be considered more appropriate to publish this in December around World Junior time as this is the 1994’s final year at the tournament, at least two of the defensemen from this crop will not be playing in Malmo, Sweden. This year is bound to be a big year for these 19-year-olds and with the season nearing it will be interesting to see how these players continue to develop.
Much has been made of Seth Jones’ fall at the 2013 NHL Draft, but nothing changes the talent that the 4th overall pick possesses. Jones is likely to stick with the Nashville Predators for the entire year as the expectations placed on the smooth skating, highly athletic blue liner are enormous.
After having one of the best freshmen seasons in the storied history of the University of Michigan hockey program, Jacob Trouba is destined for big things in his first year of professional hockey. Named the World Junior Championship’s Best Defenseman at the 2013, Don Lucia and his staff would love to have Trouba back for his third World Junior tournament, but it is likely Trouba will be doing bigger and better things for Winnipeg the entire year.
Pat Sieloff consistently toes the line with his hard-to-play-against attitude, and is what the 2012 Calgary second round pick is known for, but Sieloff brings much more to the arena than physical play. Sieloff is an excellent skater and does have a bit of an offensive upside. The Flames do have the option of sending him to Abbotsford (AHL), but it is more likely Sieloff remains in Windsor to start the season. Sieloff will be key in the 2014 World Junior Championship for the United States.
Another key to the 2014 World Junior team will be Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk who narrowly missed making last year’s gold medal winning team. Grzelcyk constantly took a back seat to the four defensemen who ended up going higher than him at the NHL Draft at the National Team Development Program, but the Boston third rounder has been a standout since leaving the NTDP. Named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team, the undersized Grzelcyk was outstanding for the Terriers last season compiling 23 points in 38 games. His pro potential is still much in question standing only five-foot-nine, but the talent the Charlestown, Mass. currently possesses is not.
The strides Connor Carrick took last year in his rookie season with the Plymouth Whalers was simply outstanding. Carrick led all defensemen in scoring during the OHL Playoffs this past spring following up on a regular season that saw him score 44 points in 68 games. Carrick is not the biggest, but the Washington 5th round pick but always finds a way to be effective in all three zones. Not surprisingly, Carrick was one of the best players at summer World Junior Evaluation Camp and should be considered a lock at this point to make the World Junior team.
Brady Skjei took his lumps during his freshman year at Minnesota, but the speedy blue liner is simply too talented to not bounce back this season. The 28th overall pick by the New York Rangers in 2012 compiled just three points last season, but has shown more offensive upside in the past. Skjei’s two way ability and skating will be the biggest strengths that he will bring to the 2014 World Junior team assuming he is selected.
One of the most under rated defensemen in the 2013 NHL Draft, Brett Pesce is the best defensively in this group of 1994-birth-years. Pesce was one of the youngest players in college hockey last year but logged huge minutes for the University of New Hampshire. The Carolina third rounder does not get the attention because he lacks offensive ability, but still shows great poise with the puck.