To be fair, Bruzstevic kind of looked down on Team USA at first.
Hunter Bruzstevic has had a phenomenal season in the OHL, but he will not represent his country at the 2024 World Junior Championship.
Ten defensemen were named to Team USA’s reserve roster on Monday morning. Despite racking up points in the OHL this season, Buzstevic wasn’t one of them.
It’s a fair amount of disrespect that Buzstevic isn’t even on the team’s backup roster, but to be fair to Team USA, Buzstevic was the first to disrespect them.
Buzstevic participated in the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) for two years, but one of those years was nearly wiped out due to injury. Frustrated by what he felt was a lack of playing time and feeling he needed to make a change for the long-term prospects of playing in the NHL, Bruzstevic left the USNTDP in his draft year and Headed to play in the OHL. Kitchener Rangers.
Although it meant losing his eligibility to play college hockey in the NCAA, he felt it was a necessary step.
“Growing up as a kid in Michigan, I was the biggest [University of] I’m a Michigan State fan and always want to go there,” Bruzstewicz said. “But I didn’t get to play the first year in the program and I didn’t get the biggest catch up in the second year of the program, so I had to play. That’s what I had to do to get to the next level. It was what I had to do, even if it meant crushing my dreams of going to Michigan.
“I’m glad I did it.”
Buzstevic scored 57 points in 68 games with the Rangers in his draft year and caught the attention of the Canucks, who selected him in the third round, 75th overall, of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Since then, Buzstevic’s offensive play has exploded to the point where he is the OHL’s leading scorer as a defenseman, even though he is only 18 years old. Buzstevic has 46 points in 28 games this season, tied for second in the OHL in points with his teammate Matthew Sopp.
Buzstevic is on track to score 112 points, which would rank him seventh all-time for an OHL defenseman and the first OHL defenseman to reach 100 points since Ryan Ellis in 2010-11. It will be the first time to do so.
However, these historically impressive numbers were not enough for Team USA to forgive Bruzstevic, who left the USNTDP. To be fair, Team USA does have some great offensive defensemen like Lane Hutson, Seamus Casey, and Jeev Bouium who are likely to land ahead of Bruzstewicz on the depth chart. There is. All three went through the USNTDP and are currently playing NCAA hockey.
Still, it’s an insult to not even receive an invite after a great start to the season, but perhaps that’s what will fuel Bruzstevic for the rest of the OHL season. It feels like the worst of US hockey politics to look down on Bruzstevic, who felt the USNTDP and NCAA were not the right path to the NHL.
For Bruzstevic, who turned 19 at the end of November, this will be his last chance to play and represent his country at the World Junior Championships.