-Team USA released their 30-man roster for evaluation camp December 14th-18h yesterday. I was somewhat shocked that Paul Bittner was the lone Portland Winterhawk representative listed. Here is a helpful list that Yahoo's Buzzing the Net posted:Big congrats to #USDivision players Scott Eansor, Paul Bittner & Brandon Carlo for #USAHockey prelim roster #WHL pic.twitter.com/Kv6ltAS5u8— The Sin Bin (@SeattleSinBin) December 7, 2015
Because, Dylan Larkin (along with fellow center Jack Eichel) will likely not be made available by their NHL teams, I figured that Dominic Turgeon was a lock for third or even second-line center. Team USA only kept three full-time centers that were at the Lake Placid camp (Matthews, Eansor and Nick Schmaltz). Instead, they brought in three other full-time centers, that were not invited to the summer camp (Alex DeBrincat, Ryan Donato and Clayton Keller). It almost seems like they decided to just start from as close to scratch as they could at the position, discarding the fact that the group of players they brought in during the summer, may have developed some chemistry. Some chemistry is an important thing to have for a short tournament, where most of the players have not played much together.
Caleb Jones and Jack Dougherty were also left off of the invite list for Team USA, which is not as surprising. Dougherty was sent home early from the summer camp, for the second year in a row. This likely meant that Team USA had written him off as an option on the back end. Dougherty has made a strong commitment this season to play a more physical, shutdown style, which, in my opinion, he has succeeded with. This change in style was likely something Nashville was requesting, but it could've also served to catch the eye of Team USA and get him back in their good graces. This did not happen, as he was left off the invite list for the second straight year.
Caleb Jones, meanwhile, hung around for the entire summer camp and I thought he had an up-and-down camp. He was out of position, quite a few times in the early going, but was Team USA's best offensive d-man not named Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski. Hanifin will likely not be released from the Carolina Hurricanes, meaning there appeared to possibly be a spot for Jones. Instead of bringing Jones back, though, they decided to bring in Casey Fitzgerald (Matthew Tkachuk's cousin and Tom's son). Leaving Jones off of the list did not shock me nearly as much as the absence of Turgeon though.
One positive for Portland though is with the three Team USA hopefuls hanging around, they will not be depleted nearly as much for the next month. If Bittner makes the final roster (which, with their decision-making, I really have no clue), they will miss him for eight games. Bittner has been missing for the past two games anyways, with what is thought to be a minor injury. If the injury is more serious, Team USA, may decide to leave him behind. That would be positively heart-breaking for a guy as talented as him to be left off of the team, for reasons not associated with merit. If he makes the final roster, all eight of the games he would miss would be inter-divisional games.
There were also two Portland Winterhawks' prospects that were invited. They were forward Kieffer Bellows (1998, committed to Boston U) and defenseman Ryan Collins (1996, currently playing for the University of Minnesota). Bellows was taken by Portland in the seventh round of the 2013 bantam draft, while Collins was taken in the eighth round of the 2011 bantam draft. Bellows is expected to be a top 15 pick in the 2016 NHL draft, while Collins was taken in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft by Columbus.
Besides Eansor, Brandon Carlo of the Tri-City Americans was the only other WHL player given an invite. Carlo should be a lock as he played in the tournament last season, but Eansor will have to impress to cement his spot.
Of the other rosters announced over the past couple of days here are some notes:
-Fredik Olofsson, whose WHL rights are owned by Portland was named to Sweden's preliminary roster. Oloffson currently plays for the University of Nebraska-Omaha and was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2014 (fourth round).
-Ivan Provorov (Brandon) and Radel Fazleev (Calgary) were both invited to Russia's camp.
-Radovan Bondra (Vancouver) and Patrick Maier (Kamloops) were invited to Slovakia's camp.
-Lasse Petersen (Spokane), Alexander True (Seattle) and Nik Andersen (Spokane) were named to Denmarks' preliminary roster.