For the last few days, many young hockey players have been playing in Lake Placid, hoping to impress coaches enough to play in the World Junior Championships in Sweden this coming December. While these practices and games are merely for evaluation purposes and no official roster spots will be given out during this process, it is a good place to see how these players will perform on the international level with some of the toughest competition in this age group. One player who has been notably impressive in the US evaluation process is New Jersey Devils 2013 2nd round draft-pick, Steve Santini. Along with Santini, Devils 1st round pick from 2012, Stefan Matteau is hoping to make the team. This post is going to look at how they have been performing in Lake Placid.
Since arriving in Lake Placid on August 2nd, Santini has impressed just about anyone who has been watching. He was one of 44 players invited and has been playing on the White squad for the USA. Before the first round of cuts on Tuesday, Santini had just one point - an assist in the tournament used to evaluate the American players. While he has not shown much on the score sheet, his defensive play has been quite notable, which is likely why he made it through the first cut.
Santini has been one of the more remarkable defensive defensemen at camp. He has stood out by being strong on the back end, and giving his defensive partner, Matt Grzelcyk a chance to play his offensive game. According to Chris Peters of United States of Hockey, Santini has shown top notch skating and positioning, even on the larger ice for international play. Peters believes Santini has a strong chance of making the final cut for the team.
Stefan Matteau was cut from the final World Junior Championship team in 2013, but was invited to redeem himself this year. One of the major reasons he didn't make the team was due to taking unnecessary and irresponsible penalties. Until yesterday, when he took two silly penalties, it didn't seem as though that would be a problem this time. It has been noted by the US coaching staff that the entire team needs to work on discipline. While he was a bit irresponsible yesterday, Chris Peters noted it seems as though Matteau is finding his game. He made it through the first cut although his play was inconsistent and unimpressive, but he seems to be getting closer to his full capability as the tournament goes on.
Matteau has been playing on the Blue squad for USA and has one assist since the camp started on August 2nd. During the tournament, Matteau was injured during the second period of a game against Sweden. Anton Lindholm hit Matteau high and was ejected from the game. While Matteau didn't play at all during the third period, he has been practicing with the team since and played in the game yesterday.
An important note to reference for all players going out for team USA - being cut this week doesn't mean they will not make the final team. This is simply an evaluation camp, so some players who have underperformed may be kept in order for coaches to gain familiarity with them. Santini and Matteau being kept for the rest of camp does not mean they are on the team, but they are headed in the right direction. In my opinion, I would expect to see Santini make the final roster to play in the WJCs but I don't see Matteau as a lock for the squad. Santini has been strong and consistent while Matteau is struggling to impress on a regular basis. If Matteau can play a disciplined game and find some consistency, he has the ability to make the roster, though. He is the only player for the US at camp this week with any NHL experience, which would help not only on the ice, but in the locker room, as well.
What are your thoughts on the US evaluation camp? Do you think Santini and/or Matteau have what it takes to make the final team? How much value do you put into this week for the final WJC teams? Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments section below! Thanks for reading.