After winning it all in 2017, America's young representatives won't find satisfaction with repeating as bronze medalists, trouncing the Czech Republic 9-3 in the third-place game a year ago. While oddsmakers deem the host Canadian crew the early favorite for gold at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Team USA ranks a close second. And with good reason.
Enviable depth down the middle -- including top draft prospect Jack Hughes -- an experienced and gifted defensive corps and a rich wealth of options in net present new coach Mike Hastings with an admirable set of tools.
While tournament-eligible Brady Tkachuk would be a lovely addition (Ottawa Senators: "No chance") and the squad may be a bit shallow on the wing, the welcoming back of five veterans in Joshua Norris, Ryan Poehling, Quinn Hughes, Dylan Samberg and Michael Anderson provides intangible benefits.
While six players must still be cut before submitting the final roster, here's a quick look at whom to watch more closely for Team USA as they challenge for gold.
Preliminary round game to watch: vs. Sweden, Saturday, Dec. 29, 10 p.m. ET
Jack Hughes, C, U.S. National Development Team (2019 eligible)
Finally the rest of the world gets the chance to gauge firsthand what all the fuss is about. Projected to be the first-overall selection in the 2019 draft, Hughes presents as the potential high-end prize for every struggling team in the NHL. The 17-year-old's exceptional intuition, speed and brilliant playmaking abilities are evident to even the most casual hockey fan. He's a game changer, each and every minute on the ice. This future NHL star will be a treat to behold on his largest stage yet, whether you're a Team USA supporter or not.