Canada is the favorite to win the U20 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship, but with Jack Hughes in the lineup, Team USA is a team that should not be overlooked.
Hughes is considered by some the sport’s next star attraction. He is, according to one of the more recent stories written about him, “an American-born hockey phenom, earmarked as the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in June.”
“Hughes skates around dudes like he’s doing salchows,” writes the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Benjamin Hochman. “He’s swift and nifty, and he scores a lot, though he’s still working on that,” because, says the 5’10,” 170-pound forward, “you can never become too good of a goal scorer . . . so that’s something I’ve been focusing on.”
Hochman points out that while Hughes’ 116 points last season for the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program was one short of Auston Matthews’ all-time record of 117 points, Hughes put up those gaudy numbers a year younger than the age Matthews was at when he set the new mark.
Jack Hughes is not the entire team, though. His brother Quinn, also born in Orlando, Fla., is a premier defenseman who was drafted in the first round in 2017 by the Vancouver Canucks. Hockeyprospects.com calls him a “calculated” puckhandler who is “well-versed in his ability to limit time and space for the opposition without the puck.”
But just as Team USA is not all Jack Hughes, it’s not all Hughes Brothers, either. Several on the 23-man roster have been drafted in the first round, including Ryan Poehling, a forward at St. Cloud State University (Montreal, 2017, 25th overall); Josh Norris, a University of Michigan forward (San Jose, 2017, 17th overall, rights traded to Ottawa); Oliver Wahlstrom, a Boston College forward (New York Islanders, 2018, 17th overall); K’Andre Miller, a defenseman at the University of Wisconsin (New York Rangers, 2018, 22nd overall); and forward Joel Farabee from Boston University (Philadelphia, 2018, 14th overall).
There are quite a few other NHL draft picks on the team, as well, including six second- and third-rounders. In fact, the only three players who haven’t been chosen are Jack Hughes, goalie Kyle Keyser, who has signed a free-agent contract with Boston, and goalie Spencer Knight, who will be eligible for the draft in 2019.
This year’s team has a chance to do something no other U.S. junior hockey team has done, and that’s medal in four straight U20 WJC tournaments. The record was set last year when Team USA took the bronze after winning gold in 2017 and bronze the year before.
Just medaling, though, probably won’t be enough for head coach Mike Hastings. He’s seen the talent on his team and the dedication from his veteran players, and knows Team USA has high potential.
“They’ve gone to work every day,” he told the Seattle media while preparing his team for the tournament up the road in British Columbia. “They haven’t assumed that they’re back on top of this club until they’ve earned it. I’ve appreciated that as a coach.”
The International Ice Hockey Federation’s WJC “has become one of the best tournaments in the world, with future stars,” Hastings added.
“To have an opportunity to represent your country and surrounded by the staff that I am, it’s exciting. We know we have a lot of work to do so we’re really trying to stay day by day.”