What to expect from Team USA at World Juniors – newsconcerns

Team USA enters the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship as the defending champion, having beaten Canada in Edmonton last year in one of the most complete performances by a U.S. team in the tournament’s long history. The Americans won that final 2-0 on the backs of Trevor Zegras and goalie Spencer Knight, on top of a perfect game plan from head coach Nate Leaman.

Most of the key players from that gold medal effort have moved on. Zegras has been putting together a potential Calder Trophy season with the Anaheim Ducks and Knight already has a win under his belt in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the end of last season with the Florida Panthers. The entire coaching staff, however, has returned for another trip. Leaman got each member of last year’s staff to sacrifice another Christmas at home to try and run it back in Alberta.

The U.S. squad will also have defenseman and Ottawa Senators prospect Jake Sanderson back. He led all American players in ice time in the gold medal game, in a spectacular defensive effort. Sanderson was just named USA’s captain for 2022.

The Americans will also rely heavily on the Seattle Kraken’s first-ever draft pick, Matty Beniers, who will be the club’s top center. Beniers was also part of the 2021 gold medal-winning team. In all, the Americans will have six returning players from their roster last year.

In addition to Sanderson and Beniers, the U.S. will have Brett Berard (New York Rangers), Landon Slaggert (Chicago Blackhawks), Brock Faber (Los Angeles Kings) and Tyler Kleven (Ottawa Senators) all back.

The U.S. has never won consecutive gold medals at the World Juniors, but it does have more gold medals than any other country dating back to 2010, when John Carlson had his iconic overtime game-winner. Team USA has won four of its five all-time gold medals in the last decade. Canada and Finland have each won three, while Sweden and Russia each have won once in that span.

In order to repeat, the Americans likely will have to go through Canada once again at some point, but the soonest they could meet is in the playoff round, due to being in different preliminary round groups. There’s no question that matchup is hoped for by both teams and fans on both sides of the border.

As we get set for the WJC, here’s a look at some of the storylines and players to watch as the U.S. looks to repeat as World Junior champions for the first time.

Storylines

Best blue line in the tournament: When looking at each team’s defensive group, with most teams opting to bring eight defensemen and 14 forwards, it is clear that USA’s biggest strength is its back end. If you’re looking at each defensive corps, 1-8 the U.S. has the deepest and most talented group with Canada a fairly close second.

Sanderson is the best of the bunch and is expected to log major minutes while also being both an elite defender and offensive driver, as he has been at the University of North Dakota this season. He will also wear the “C” for the U.S.

“When your best player is your hardest worker, it can drive your team,” Leaman said of Sanderson. “He’s a winner.”

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