Top Prospects Take an Unconventional Path to the World Juniors

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But even with tips and support from N.H.L. superstars, Brisson was a late bloomer. Thanks to a long-awaited growth spurt and a boost in confidence, his game came together in the 2018-19 season, when he led Shattuck-St. Mary’s under-18 team with 101 points in 55 games. That set the stage for his being selected in the first round by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020 N.H.L. draft, two weeks before his 19th birthday.

“When we would first play out in Cali, he was just an average player,” said York, who played against Brisson at the youth level. “He’s come so far in such a short amount of time.”

Two other Californians are also on this year’s U.S. roster — defenseman Ryan Johnson, a first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2019, and goaltender Dustin Wolf, a Calgary Flames 2019 selection.

The current generation has benefited enormously from top-level N.H.L. players who stayed in California in retirement. With the Junior Ducks, York and Johnson were coached by Johnson’s father, Craig, who played 10 years in the N.H.L., as well as the Hall of Fame defenseman and three-time Cup-winner Scott Niedermayer.

On the Junior Kings, Brisson and Wolf were coached by the Los Angeles Kings’ current general manager, Rob Blake, also a Hall of Famer and Cup champion, and their current director of player personnel, Nelson Emerson, a veteran of 771 N.H.L. games.

After a disappointing world juniors debut in 2020, when Team U.S.A. was shut out by Finland in the quarterfinals, York has shone this time around. He was second in scoring among defensemen with six points in five games heading into a semifinal against Finland. Playing down the lineup, Brisson has two goals in five games.

“We all grow up watching this tournament,” Brisson said. “As a young kid, you follow all those individual players. Now I’m one of those individual players that a kid is looking up to. It could be in Iowa, could be in Chicago — could be around the United States or even North America. It’s way bigger than a tournament.”

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