By Nick Barnowski –
Team USA begins the 2013 World Juniors tomorrow in Ufa, Russia, with a game against Germany (9 a.m. on the NHL Network). The players listed below are the Michigan connections we will be keeping an eye on during the tournament.
Jacob Trouba (University of Michigan) — Rochester
After being drafted in the first round of the 2012 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Trouba will look to further establish himself as one of the premier defensive prospects with a strong showing in Ufa, Russia, during these World Juniors. Look for Trouba and Seth Jones to battle it out to see who will not only be the best defenseman on the team, but possibly the best player on the team, as well. With WJC experience already under his belt, the 18-year-old assistant captain will give Team USA a leadership boost along with an intimidating presence on the blue line. He will also be reunited with Sieloff, his longtime defensive partner at Compuware and the NTDP.
Riley Barber (Miami University) — Livonia
One of the top freshman performers in NCAA hockey this season, Barber has put up 22 points in 18 games for the Miami RedHawks. He was named rookie of the month by the CCHA in both October and November. Barber could see top-six ice-time depending on how the team is doing, but regardless of which line he’s on, the right winger is a strong skater and puck handler sure to create scoring opportunities. The Washington Capitals prospect also grew up on the same teams as Trouba and Sieloff, starring for Compuware and the NTDP before heading to Ohio for hockey. Team USA is hoping that Barber can continue his NCAA hot streak into international competition.
Blake Pietila (Michigan Tech) — Brighton
Pietila, another NTDP alum, brings both scoring and toughness to the American depth chart. The Brighton native – and yes, another Compuware alum – has 10 goals in 17 games for the Huskies this season, and he’s got 28 penalty minutes at the same time. In a tournament that has seen its fair share of roughness over the years, Pietila can be the power forward the U.S. needs to advance to the medal rounds.
Patrick Sieloff (Windsor Spitfires) — Ann Arbor
Sieloff, a 6-foot-0 defenseman, spent many seasons with Compuware before moving to the U.S. National Development Program in 2010. After being drafted by the Calgary Flames last summer, Sieloff decided against a commitment with Miami University, and signed with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. If included on the roster, Sieloff will add toughness to the USA blue line, and he can also chip in offensively. The Ann Arbor native is also solid on the penalty kill.
Non-native Michigan connections
JT Miller — NTDP, Plymouth Whalers alum
Despite his move to the American Hockey League this season, Miller’s previous three seasons playing for Michigan-based teams certainly merits inclusion on our list. He put up 62 points for the Whalers last season before moving on to the AHL’s Connecticut Whale. One of the few returning WJC members on Team USA, Miller adds experience up front. Miller has five goals and 14 points in 26 AHL games this season, playing against seasoned professionals – we’re excited to see what he can do when put back in his age group.
Ryan Hartman — Plymouth Whalers
Hartman, who skated with the NTDP from 2010 to 2012, is versatile enough to fit into any role Team USA wants him in. The Whalers forward, who has 29 points in 32 games so far this season, has had a wonderful debut season in the OHL, which has led to an invite to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game for January 2013. He can play in a power forward mold despite his relatively small size, and the right winger should be effective in both zones of the ice.
Vince Trocheck — Saginaw Spirit
The Pittsburgh native is having an impressive year for the Spirit in the OHL, putting up 50 points in only 35 games this season. A center, Trocheck may see time on both the power play and penalty kill if his OHL play translates over into the tournament. In addition to his play on the ice, the Saginaw captain will add leadership to a team that will need a boost after their seventh place finish last season. Trocheck is solid along the boards and is smart defensively, which will be key against teams such as Canada and Russia in group play.