As it turns out, in addition to owning the best skill package of any defenseman available for the 2013 NHL draft, American Seth Jones is also a quality judge of hockey talent.
He raised eyebrows, particularly in Canada, when he said before the World Junior Championships that the Americans had the best team. But Jones was proven right Saturday when Florida Panthers draft pick Rocco Grimaldi scored a pair of goals and John Gibson turned in another stingy goaltending performance to pace the USA to a 3-1 win against Sweden in the gold medal game in Ufa, Russia.
"My teammates luckily didn't make me look like an idiot," Jones told USA TODAY Sports by phone. "They all helped me out, starting with Gibson."
Gibson made 26 saves, raising his tournament save percentage to .955, a record for an American goalie at the WJC. He breaks Al Montoya's mark of .944, set in 2004 when he led the USA to a gold medal.
With a goals-against average of 1.36, Gibson, an Anaheim Ducks draft pick, was named the best goalie and MVP of the tournament.
"He is the best goalie in the world," Grimaldi offered.
Since the WJC is viewed a showcase of the world's best NHL prospects, Gibson has clearly established himself as premium prospect.
"He's the definition of the backbone of this team," said Jones, who had seven points and was plus-eight in the tournament. "He led us all the way. ...Even in the 2-1 losses to Canada and Russia, he played his heart out."
The Americans had a one-goal lead going into the third period, and Gibson made a memorable save against Viktor Arvidsson on a wraparound attempt to preserve the lead. Later in the period, he made a big save against Montreal Canadiens prospect Sebastien Collberg.
This was the USA's third medal and the second gold in the past four years at the WJC.
"Our success is a result of the effort of so many people over the course of the last 25 years," said USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean. "We now expect it and it's been that way for a while. We're extremely proud of this team, and all of our teams, and we'll continue to work hard to be the best in the world on a consistent basis."
Said Gibson: "We knew what we had. We knew we had four good lines, but we didn't know our scoring would be this spread out. But when your scoring is spread out, it means everyone is contributing."
Fifteen different players scored for the Americans. Grimaldi, who was supposed to be among the team's leading scorers, didn't score until the gold medal game. He scored twice in a span of 2:46 to give the USA a lead it wouldn't surrender. Florida prospect Vince Trocheck added an insurance goal into an empty net.
Grimaldi was demoted to the 13th forward spot against Slovakia, but he had four shots on goal in the gold-medal game.
"Rocco had to face a lot of adversity in this tournament," Jones said. "He had to do a lot of searching inside of himself and the way he came out of it was unbelievable. We could not have won without him."
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It wasn't as if Jones guaranteed a gold medal, but this tournament will be remembered for Jones believing in his team when others did not. Canada and Russia were considered the favorites.
"I was chirping at (Jones) a little bit," Grimaldi conceded. "I said, 'What are doing? You don't need to put us in the spotlight right away.' He told me he got led into the question, and he didn't mean like it came out. He was just saying we had a good team."
The Americans had a good team, and coach Phil Housley, a former NHL star defenseman, found a way to make improvements every game. The Americans were the top team defensively, including penalty-killing. Winnipeg Jets draft pick Jacob Trouba, an American alternate captain, was chosen as the tournament's top defenseman.
"He knew who to put out in every situation and who to put together," Gibson said. "He just knew us."