August is a month of relative tranquility for the NHL, but for USA Hockey, it’s one of the most important months of the calendar year. Each August, more than 50 of the most accomplished young American hockey players gather for a week in Lake Placid for the 2008 National Junior Evaluation Camp. For most, their performance during this camp determines their viability for the U.S. Under-20 team that competes in the World Junior Championships at year’s end.
The camp includes the participation of the national junior teams from Sweden and Finland, and the approximately 50 Americans are split into two teams, White and Blue, resulting in a four-team, eight-game round robin slate of exhibitions. The results this month were largely good for USA Hockey: the two American squads won five of the eight games.
August 5: USA Blue 4, Finland 1; USA White 2, Sweden 3
August 6: USA White 7, Finland 1; USA Blue 7, Sweden 1
August 8: USA White 3, Sweden 7; USA Blue 4, Finland 5 (OT)
August 9: USA White 5, Finland 2; USA Blue 5, Sweden 4 (SO)
Thirteen Americans who were in Lake Placid have already been selected in the first round of the past two NHL drafts; 10 more were tabbed in round 2. There were a number of ’09 and even ’10 draft eligibles who will surely swell those ranks. We could see first-round talent skating on the American 4th line this December.
NHL.com offered blogging coverage of the camp that is worth checking out.
Quality and consistent netminding has been an achilles heel for the Americans at the World Juniors in recent years, but this August’s Evaluation Camp hinted that better days in net could be on the horizon. Three of the goalies in camp have already been drafted, including Detroit’s first-rounder from this past June, Thomas McCollum of the Guelph Storm. 2007 second-rounder Jeremy Smith (Nashville) played so well for Plymouth in 2006-07 — 23-6-0-1, with four shutouts — that he made the Caps’ talented goaltending prospect Michal Neuvirth expendable. Smith went 4-0 at the 2008 World Juniors, but he’ll need to improve on a .894 save percentage for the Americans to contend for gold. The Americans have fielded strong World Junior teams in recent years, and have played some excruciatingly competitive hockey against four-time gold medalist Canada then, but the Canadians have consistently boasted stud talent (Cam Ward, Carey Price) between the pipes.
Seven 17-year-olds were at this month’s Evaluation Camp, and perhaps none generated more buzz than netminder Mike Lee. NHL.com has already weighed in on Lee’s talent. He played high school hockey for Roseau in Minnesota last season, but he went 27-2-0 with a 1.10 goals-against and a .936 save percentage. Some of the most respected names in American hockey are already sold on Lee’s ability.
“I don’t see many goalies better than Mike Lee,” says Dean Blais, coach of the expansion Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League, “and I’ve coached three World Junior teams.”
Blais, a former coach at the University of North Dakota, doesn’t easily throw around praise. He sees something special in Lee and has made him the No. 1 goalie with the expansion Force this season. Lee has passed up his senior season at Roseau High to join forces with the Force.
“I have a pretty good feeling about him, that he will be a success at whatever he does,” said Blais. “He’s a very good goalie, fundamentally solid and competitive.”
Lee [is] already on NHL Central Scouting’s preseason watch list for players eligible for the 2009 Entry Draft . . .”
On the blueline, the Americans will return just three talents with World Juniors experience: Jonathon Blum, Ian Cole, and Cade Fairchild. But the American reinforcements on the back end are exciting: Zach Bogosian, drafted third overall by Atlanta this past June; Kevin Shattenkirk, 14th overall by Colorado in 2007; and Ryan McDonagh, 12th overall by Montreal in ’07.
Caps’ 2008 first-rounder John Carlson will get a good look. Keep an eye on 16-year-old Cam Fowler of Canton, Mass. In the past two years two OHL teams (Kitchener, Windsor) have selected Fowler in the OHL’s first round attempting to lure him away from his commitment to Notre Dame. He’s a wild card longshot who’s been ranked among the best talents in the world in his age group for years — including skating with the U.S. Under-17s as a 14-year-old.
Up front, the Americans will rely on the firepower of James vanRiemsdyk, Jordan Schroeder (8 points in the 2008 WJC), and Colin Wilson, the latter of whom enjoyed a breakout World Juniors in the Czech Republic last year that launched him into the the top 10 of this past June’s NHL draft (7th, Nashville). Jim O’Brien spent just one season with Minnesota of the WCHA before signing with Ottawa this summer. Two American forwards put up more than 100 points in the WHL last season: Santa Ana, California’s, Colin Long notched 112 points in 79 games with Kelowna in ’07-08, and Drayson Bowman went for 53 goals and 49 assists in 87 games with Spokane.
Caps’ fans might be interested in the name of another Lake Placid camp attendee: Ryan Bourque, brother of Chris. Like his brother, he’s packaged small (5’8, 170), but he enjoyed a strong season with the Under-17 team and had a solid Under-18 World Championship (5 points in 7 games).
This year’s World Juniors will be contested in Ottawa beginning December 26.