Image Bahumbug. That's what Portland Winterhawks mainstay Michael Sauer and OHL superstar Bobby Ryan will be saying for the second Christmas in a row. Despite plenty of talent, neither will make the trip to Sweden to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships. But in spite of such high-profile snubs- the result of an unwillingness to play for the US Development program as youngsters- Team USA has all the makings of a contender. Forwards

Justin Abdelkader (Michigan State, CCHA): A spectacular 52-point rookie campaign for the USHL's Cedar Rapids RoughRiders made Justin Abdelkader a much-ballyhooed prospect at the 2005 Entry Draft. Faster than Al Strachan's toupee in a windstorm, the relatively obscure left wing rose from somewhere in the triple digits to the second round. And that's where the Detroit Red Wings snatched up the top-notch two-way forward, taking him 42nd overall. Clocking in at 6'2, 203, the '87 born winger brings a good mix of size, skill and defensive awareness to the table/rink/other miscellaneous surface. The youngster will be relied on for all three assets in both Sweden and Detroit. Depending on if and how long they're resigned, veteran grinders Kirk Maltby and Kris Draper will make excellent tutors and linemates for the short-term, with Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula replacing them in the next few years.

Upside: Checking forward with above-average size and skill
Production Potential: 20-20-40,+15

Michael Carman (University of Minnesota, WCHA): Team USA head coach Ron Rolston will never be confused with John Lennon, but just the same, he's hoping Instant Carma's gonna get them. And he's not the only one. While the Augusta, Georgia native and Minnesota freshman has tallied only a sparse 9 points through 19 games, the real story has been the variety of situations in which the 18 year-old plays. Carman's sheer utility ability, if you will, makes him a veritable Jack-of-all-Plays. But Avs fans can sleep easy (well, except when it comes to Joe Sakic nearing retirement, the horrid play of Jose Theodore, the equally craptastic play of Milan Hejduk, and so on and so forth). Carman showed flashes of brilliance during a highly productive high school career, demonstrating the excellent vision and playmaking ability that would elevate him from useful 13th forward to regular at the NHL level.

Upside: Darren McCarty
Production Potential: 15-30-45, +10, 120 PIM

Jim Fraser (Harvard University ECAC): Never let anyone tell you sticking it out in the collegiate ranks, even at a lower-ranked school, doesn't open doors in one's future. Undrafted grinder Jim Fraser will be doing that this holiday season, opening plenty of doors... for his teammates. Okay, while the 19 year-old deserves more credit than that- he's a very capable checker possessing exceptional leadership- Fraser will ultimately see very little ice-time for a team loaded with energy/grinding forwards. An NHL career is equally as tenuous, as Fraser is not great at any one on-ice skill, only good at everything. A stellar WJC never hurt anyone's stock, however, and the 5'11, 185 lbs forward has the heart and soul to shine.

Upside: Bottom-six fill-in
Production Potential: 10-15-25, 100 PIM

Blake Geoffrion (U Wisconsin, WCHA): No matter how tough the legacy you must live up to is, YOU try inventing something as profound as the slapshot was to hockey. And unless Blake Geoffrion pioneers rocket-powered skates or laser-guided sticks, the youngster hasn't a hope of touching the accomplishments of his grandfather. But Blake will still blaze tracks, becoming the first Nashville native to play in the NHL... and most likely doing it for Nashville's NHL franchise. In terms of on-ice impact, however, a spot on a line with Scottie Upshall and Jordin Tootoo will mean little in terms of offensive production. A good shot and a solid physical player, Geoffrion is the type of player who could help his hometown reach another first: a Stanley Cup.

Upside: Alternate captain, highly potent checking winger
Production Potential: 20-20-40, 100 PIM

Nate Gerbe (Boston College, HE): Who's 5'5, hangs around a college campus, and shows up to every Boston College game? If you're thinking a puck bunny, well... that's probably about right. But the description also applies to Team USA returnee Nathan Gerbe. The tiniest player in the collegiate ranks, Gerbe's secret to success is his family. It would be yours too if you were the youngest of six kids. All those nights fighting over scraps at the dinner table and waiting for the bathroom to empty have steeled Gerbe into a lean, mean fighting machine. Property of the Buffalo Sabres, it will be these attributes- heart and toughness- that get the Oxford, Michigan native to the show. It doesn't hurt that the team that drafted him takes pride in having as many players shorter than Oompa Loompas as possible. With a good nose for the net, a willingness to get to it at all costs and good hands, Gerbe is a solid candidate to line up with Darcy and the Goal Factory, and a surefire leader on Team USA.

Upside: Fourth line energy winger
Production Potential: 15-15-30, 150+ PIM

Patrick Kane (London Knights, OHL): Able Kane. I'm rooting for this kid just to see that headline in a newspaper somewhere. A small, superbly skilled hockey player, the Buffalo native has recently taken over the league scoring lead as teammate Sam Gagner attends Team Canada's WJC camp. Knocked for his skating, defensive commitment and ability to translate his skill to the next level, Kane is a mirror image of former Knight Rob Schremp. The two were born and grew up two hours apart, for goodness sakes. Kane, however, has something Schremp has not demonstrated much of: hockey sense. While both can perform a good number of stick tricks, Kane's better skating and vision allow him to perform the moves at top flight, a slight problem for his fellow countryman. It doesn't hurt that Kane's smaller center of gravity- he stands 5'10, 170- allows him to pivot and dance at will. A probable future NHL star, Kane will first dazzle at the WJC in a top-six role.

Upside: First-line RW
Production Potential: 25-60-85+

Trevor Lewis (Owen Sound, OHL); One-half of the feared duo that terrorized the USHL in 2005-06, Salt Lake City native Trevor Lewis will have the opportunity to line up once again with former teammate and fellow 2006 draftee Kyle Okposo. Ranked 30 spots apart in the Dobber Hockey Top 200- Okposo sits 50th, Lewis 82nd- the latter has quietly put up an impressive rookie OHL campaign for Owen Sound. Playing on a line with Bobby Ryan and undrafted Scott Tragunna, the three '87-born forwards have done yeoman's work up front for the Attack. The trio has been so good that they've even made Theo Peckham look like an offensive defenseman- and he can't even stay upright! Lewis will again feature prominently on another line, this one a scoring unit for Team USA. And it's no coincidence the 6'1, 192 lbs playmaker is in such a position: his ability to make those around him better is uncanny. A slick passer with mobile feet, Lewis has a bright future ahead as he fights to make the Los Angeles Kings in the coming years.

Upside: Second-line center
Production Potential: 15-50-65

 
Mueller Peter Mueller (Everett Silvertips, WHL): Team USA's undisputed leader at the center position, incredibly gifted 6'2, 205 lbs pivot Peter Mueller will be the straw that stirs the drink in Sweden. An all but sure-fire NHL regular for next year, the 8th overall selection in 2006 and the 91st ranked Dobber Hockey prospect has nothing left to prove at the WHL level. Despite missing eight games so far this season, the pride of Bloomington, Minnesota is tied for third in Dub scoring. Who's first? In a testament to Phoenix scouting, fellow Coyotes draftee Martin Hanzal has 54 points in 34 games. Wayne Gretzky and company aren't likely to care who's PPG is higher at season's end. Both have impressed the staff of the Desert Dogs (or is it Dessert Dogs, as everyone feasts on them?) with their limitless on-ice vision and playmaking brilliance. But it will be Mueller's relatively advanced two-way game and grit that make him a more dangerous player for 2007-08.

Upside: All-Star #1, All-Around C
Production Potential: 25-70-95

Kyle Okposo (University of Minnesota, WCHA): Remember how everyone and their dog/fish/cat predicted that the Minnesota-born, trained and future Gopher would naturally be drafted by the Wild? Yeah, oops. Instead, it was the New York Islanders who went of the board slightly, grabbing the two-way sniper 7th overall in 2006. And Okposo hasn't disappointed. Perhaps the best natural scorer in the nation, the 6 foot even, 195 lbs winger leads the University of Minnesota in goals and points, and is second in the WCHA in both categories. The hired gun on the Team USA powerplay, Okposo, who compares favorably to former Islander and statesman Mark Parrish, is at least two years away from the NHL. A wicked wrister and fine defensive acumen make him a threat to score from anywhere.

Upside: Second-line sniper from the RW
Production Potential: 30-30-60, 80 PIM

Jack Skille (University of Wisconsin, WCHA): You have to be pretty good when 'Skill' is part of your name. The 7th overall selection in 2005, Jack Skille will once again ply his trade for Team USA at the WJC. One of the squad's best players bar none last year, the property of the Chicago Blackhawks is once again expected to lead his nation in every way possible. Injuries have held the 67th ranked Dobber prospect to just 7 games this year for his hometown University of Wisconsin Badgers, but the influx of youth in Chicago will continue with Skille, Michael Blunden and David Bolland in 2007-08. For now, enjoy the high-octane offensive show the superb scorer and playmaker will put on starting Boxing Day in Sweden.

Upside: Future captain/star RW capable of playing in all situations
Production Potential: 30-45-75, 100 PIM

Ryan Stoa (University of Minnesota, WCHA): Playing the all-important role of penalty kill specialist and checking-line centerman, well-built 6'3, 210 lbs Ryan Stoa will be in his element on Team USA- in more ways than one. The '87-born pivot was a teammate of Peter Mueller's on the USNTDP's U-18 squad in 2004-05, and grew up in the same city. While the two will see ice-time on two very different lines at even strength, Stoa has the offensive acumen required to play a shift amongst Team USA's top six and could see PK time with Mueller. From there on out, it will be war, as the Coyotes and Avalanche look to battle it out in the Western Conference several times each year. Stoa's massive reach, willingness to sacrifice his big body to block shots, and a penchant for winning board battles will make him a solid opponent teammate- and opponent- of Mueller's.

Upside: Criminally underrated shutdown center
Production Potential: 15-20-35, 100 PIM

Bill Sweatt (Colorado College, WCHA): Another player with plenty of appeal just for the way his headline can be abused by sportswriters (No Sweatt, Blood Sweatt and Tears, etc.) '07 eligible Billy Sweatt comes onto the national team with a great number of expectations. Simply outstanding at the 2005-06 U18s in which he was named best forward despite being one of the youngest players there, Sweatt controls the puck with effortless grace and skill. His ability to finish is equally as impressive. If the relatively small forward can establish chemistry with one of Team USA's playmakers, the WJCs just may be his coming-out party.

Upside: PP specialist/Goal scorer
Production Potential: 30-30-60

Pierre McGuireJames Van Riemsdyk (USNTDP): Perhaps the most talked-about member of Team USA and the one with the most potential to absolutely dominate, James Van Riemsdyk has all the makings of a superb finisher and power forward. Already wreaking havoc in the develop program, the 6'3 winger's hard shot and hard body checks will undoubtedly make him the apple of Pierre McGuire's eye during the World Juniors. With the potential to go 1st overall in 2007, Van Riemsdyk's Roenick-like shot and potential to grow even bigger have teams salivating. Could lead Team USA in goals.

Upside: All-Star Power forward
Production Potential: 40-40-80+, 120 PIM+

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