The UND men's hockey team expects depth to be one of its biggest strengths this season.

It won't take long for that to be tested.

The challenge will come right away in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod as UND head coach Brad Berry said he expects USA Hockey to take World Junior Championship players midway through the 20-day Pod.

UND could have anywhere between one and three players picked for the World Juniors, which will be played Dec. 25-Jan. 5 in Edmonton.

UND defenseman Jake Sanderson is a strong bet to be on the roster. Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick in last month's draft by the Ottawa Senators, was the only American picked in the top 28. A smooth-skating, two-way defenseman, Sanderson can be both a shutdown defender and an offensive spark.

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USA Hockey had two other UND players at its fall camp: defenseman Tyler Kleven and forward Judd Caulfield.

Kleven is a 6-foot-4, 198-pound defenseman from Fargo, who was picked in the second round of last month's draft by Ottawa. Kleven brings a physically punishing style that's unique to defenders in the modern game.

Caulfield is a 6-foot-3, 203-pound power forward from Grand Forks, who was picked in the fifth round of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Caulfield, a UND sophomore, had four goals and 12 points as a rookie, while playing much of the season on the right wing of the second line.

Sanderson, Kleven and Caulfield all played two years for the U.S. National Team Development Program and are very familiar to USA Hockey officals.

"We haven't gotten notified yet," Berry said of which players and what day they'd be leaving the Pod. "We're expecting a phone call with hopefully one or two players. But they told us probably a month ago that it would be sometime midway through the bubble or shortly there before where they would need our players.

"The fact is they're going up to Canada, they're going up to Alberta, where there's a two-week quarantine period before you can play games, so if you start doing the math and counting backwards, you're starting to look somewhere around the 10th or 11th of December."

If it is the 10th or 11th, any World Junior picks would for sure play four of UND's 10 games in the Pod: Miami on Dec. 2, Denver on Dec. 4, Western Michigan on Dec. 6 and Denver on Dec. 8.

The Fighting Hawks also play Minnesota Duluth at 7:35 p.m. on Dec. 10. That game would be in question, depending whether USA Hockey took the player or players on the 10th or 11th.

The final five games are against St. Cloud State on Dec. 12, Western Michigan on Dec. 13, St. Cloud State on Dec. 16, Minnesota Duluth on Dec. 19 and Miami on Dec. 20.

Any World Junior players also would miss the first two games after the Pod -- a Dec. 31-Jan. 1 series at Omaha in Baxter Arena.

Missing as many as seven or eight games for the World Juniors is an unprecedented number, which is caused by the pandemic-altered schedule and the bunching of games in December. Last season's World Junior players -- USA's Shane Pinto and Canada's Jacob Bernard-Docker -- only missed two games against Alabama Huntsville.

If players miss eight games, that would equate to nearly a third of the regular season. UND is currently scheduled to play 26 games.

The only other NCHC player expected to be picked is Denver forward Bobby Brink, a second-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers.

No Canadian players this year

Last year, UND sent a player to Canada's team for the World Juniors in Bernard-Docker. He ended up winning a gold medal with the Canadians.

UND doesn't have a candidate for Team Canada this season, which may be a good thing.

Canada opted to start its camp in mid-November -- rather than mid-December like normal -- because Canadian major junior players are not currently playing due to the coronavirus pandemic. The extended camp is a way to get the players scrimmages and practices.

However, Hockey Canada also wanted to bring college players, whose seasons were underway, in mid-November, too.

That meant taking players for 51 days, and it meant they could miss half of the shortened season.

While Wisconsin let forward Dylan Holloway go for the extended period, Michigan balked at the idea with defenseman Owen Power, the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson said he would allow Power to go to Canada for the event, but not until December. Hockey Canada has suggested that it might not take Power because of the delay, but has not said that outright.

Holloway left for Canada's camp just days before his Badgers took on Power and the Wolverines in a two-game series. Michigan swept the series 5-2 and 2-1 in overtime. Power assisted on the overtime winner.

While UND was not in this predicament this season, Berry said if UND had a Canadian World Junior prospect, he would have let that player attend the extended camp.

"That is tough, 51 days, but just to let you know, at the University of North Dakota, whatever it takes, we let those players go," Berry said. "If that was a situation where we had a Canadian player, absolutely, we would let him go. There's only so many times in your lifetime you ever get a chance to play for your country. World Juniors is one of them.

"We would like to think if this was JBD's year this year, we would have let him go. Even though we would miss his services, we have other good players here. That's part of it. That's part of letting him have those experience. We always say when you give a player up -- like hopefully we will one or two to the U.S. team this year -- we're getting a better player back. It's a tough thing, but we would have been up for that, for sure."