Team USA, with Philadelphia Flyers prospects Cam York and Bobby Orr Brink on its roster, is trying to improve from a disappointing sixth-place finish in last year’s World Juniors.
The 10-nation IIHF World Junior Championship runs from Friday until Jan. 5 and will be held without fans at Rogers Arena in Edmonton. The Americans, led by goalie Spencer Knight, are expected to be strong contenders — even though they have lost five players because of COVID-19.
Team USA, which is seeking its fifth medal in the last six years, will play its first game Friday at 9:30 p.m. against talented Russia. Defending champion Canada has 20 players who were first-round NHL picks the last two years and is favored to win the under-20 tournament, with Russia, Team USA, Finland, and Sweden also expected to contend.
Cole Caufield, a Montreal Canadiens prospect, will trigger the Americans’ offense. The Flyers bypassed on Caufield in the 2019 draft. Twice.
They could have had him at No. 11 overall. Instead, they traded down three spots in the first round — and again passed on the high-scoring Caufield. Instead, they selected York, a small but promising defenseman, at No. 14.
Caufield, who had a pair of goals in the Americans’ 3-2 exhibition win Tuesday over Finland, went to Montreal with the next pick.
The sting of not selecting the dynamic Caufield was lessened when Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher moved up 11 spots in a trade with Nashville and nabbed Brink, a gifted winger, in the second round (No. 34 overall).
York, a southern California native, is a mobile 5-foot-11½, 175-pound defenseman who finished with 16 points, including five goals, in 16 games as a Michigan freshman last season. He was off to a great start at powerful Michigan this season (two goals, three assists, plus-5 ratings in eight games) before joining the American team.
Three of York’s USA teammates are also from California.
“It’s pretty crazy to think where we all started from. I don’t think any of us imagined we’d be where we are today,” York, who was scoreless in five WJC games last year, told the NHL Network. “The game out there has grown so much. Its awesome to see so many California players coming through the ranks. I think we’re going to see California hockey grow. I’m just so proud of California and proud to be a part of that.”
York is the only returnee among the nine defensemen on Team USA’s roster, and he will likely quarterback one of the power-play units. The team will rely on Knight, the Boston College star goalie who was the Florida Panthers’ first-round selection (13th overall) in 2019 and will be playing in his third World Juniors.
York, who turns 20 on the final day of the tournament, is a smart player who is rarely out of position. In the Americans’ exhibition win over Finland, York was paired with Harvard’s Henry Thrun, a 6-2, 190-pound Massachusetts native who was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.
“If you want to win a gold medal, you have to be defensively strong,” York said.
Brink, 19, made an impressive debut last season at the University of Denver, an NCAA powerhouse. The 5-8½, 165-pound winger had 11 goals and 24 points in 28 games. This season, he had a total of three assists in three games before joining Team USA.
Like York, Brink played in last year’s World Juniors and had a goal and an assist over five games. The Minnesota native isn’t as flashy as Caufield, but he is an energy player in the mold of Flyers All-Star Travis Konecny. He has an uncanny ability to elude defenders and set up his teammates.
Team USA has won a gold medal four times: 2004, 2010, 2013, and 2017.
The NHL Network will televise all games in the tournament. Sweden defenseman Emil Andrae (5-9, 181), drafted in the second round in October, is the other Flyers prospect in the tourney.