Screen shot taken from 2015 World Juniors broadcast at TSN
USA Hockey announced their National Junior Team Preliminary Roster. The roster includes 16 forwards, 9 defenders, and 4 goaltenders, none of which include Winnipeg Jets’ prospects Kyle Connor or Jack Roslovic.
I am not an American and I generally cheer for Team Canada. So from a selfish perspective, Team USA not taking the best players is a good thing.
The Jets fan in me feels it necessary to point out, however, that USA Hockey is leaving some of their best U20 talent at home for the 2016 World Junior Championship, which could hurt them.
Don’t get me wrong. Team USA is sending a decent squad. They have a lot of talent, particularly at the top-end of the forward group and their blue-line. They’re good enough to challenge for a medal.
Here are the numbers for the US’ preliminary roster:
The numbers above show the player’s statistics for this season: games played (GP), points, points per game (P/GP), NHL equivalent scoring per 82 game schedule (NHLE/82), shots on goal (SOG), and shots per game (S/GP).
For those that do not know, NHLE is a statistic translating a player’s point production into NHL currency. It uses the average change in point per game production when players move from their current league into the NHL. Feeder leagues like the USHL look at NCAAEs from the USHL, and then translate a second time using the NCAA’s NHLEs.
Of course, this causes some issues with selection bias. For the most part players who move straight from one of the Canadian major junior leagues or the NCAA into the NHL tend to be exceptional young prospects. This is not the same situation as the professional level leagues that Sonny Milano or Auston Matthews currently reside in, especially in the AHL where replacement level players move up to the NHL all the time.
It does give you a general picture of which players are the best scorers between the CHL and NCAA leagues though. Team USA is packed full of high-scoring talent from different leagues, like Matthew Tkachuk, Colin White, and Auston Matthews.
Overall they are a pretty good team.
But hockey management is not about constructing a good team, but rather the best possible team given the resources you have. Hockey management is about giving your team the best opportunity at winning. You want to tilt the odds into your favour as much as possible.
This is where Team USA has failed. They have left some of their best scorers off the list. To show that it’s not just an anti-Jets bias, here are the five most talked about players I found via Twitter:
That’s quite the scoring talent, especially with the top four of Conor Garland, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, and Jeremy Bracco.
I combined some of the lower scoring talent with the misses in a second list:
Seriously. That is how much better players like Garland and Connor have been this year than the some of the selections made by US Hockey.
Of course, some can argue that these are small samples. However, we can look at how many of these players performed the year prior (with Matthew Tkachuk added for some perspective).
By leaving home players like Garland, Roslovic, and Connor, Team USA is optionally and intentionally leaving home three of their most consistent and best scorers over the past two seasons.
Now point production is not always the best way to evaluate who the best players are. Of all people, hockey statistical enthusiasts know that there are things that players do that help a team win beyond putting the puck in the net, like what we see in the NHL level with shot metrics like Corsi. A 45 point player isn’t always better than a 40 point player.
However, we’re talking about large discrepancies, where the US is choosing players with essentially half the production in Ryan Hitchcock, Scot Eansor, and Anders Bjork, or players like Paul Bittner –who has taken a huge hit in production now that he’s no longer sapping points from former stud linemates Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nic Petan with the Portland Winterhawks.
Ultimately hockey is a goal scoring contest. The team with the most goals wins.
Point production does not tell the whole story. Scoring and outscoring is not the same thing. Defense matters. Teams often take this to the extreme though, conflating low-risk or role players as high defensive impact players.
The situation should be familiar to Canadian hockey fans. We saw this too often with both our junior and men’s teams, where top talents were moved aside for role players. It was this thinking that led Hockey Canada to a brief period of impotent performance. This line of thinking led to some of Canada’s most disappointing finishes in the Olympics and World Juniors.
Canada has since shifted back into simply selecting the “X” number of best players, which also begat some of the most impressive performances ever seen by Canadian Olympic and World Junior teams.
This experience isn’t new for American fans either. It was this same line of thinking that caused USA Hockey to select the likes of Brooks Orpik over Dustin Byfuglien or Keith Yandle, left Bobby Ryan at home, and kept Blake Wheeler on the bench until it was too late.
The Americans will still have a good team, but leaving Connor and Roslovic (and Tuch and Garland) at home prevents them from having the best team they possibly could carry.
It’s good for Canada, but it’s bad for Jets fans that were hoping to watch their teams top prospects play on the big stage this holiday season.