On Monday November 29th, Hockey Canada announced the 39 players who will comprise Team’s Canada’s selection camp roster for the upcoming World Junior Championship. Playing the role of alchemist, the club’s coaching staff and administration will be looking for the right mix of players to turn their efforts into gold.
Team Canada was derailed in its attempt to win sixth consecutive gold medal at last year’s World Junior Championship by its modern rivals, Team USA. And just as the Americans spoiled the festivities last year for the home-country fans in Saskatchewan, so too will Team Canada hope to return the favor at this year’s event in Buffalo, NY.
A rarity for Team Canada is the fact that there are no NHL-playing members of the camp. Players like Jeff Skinner (CAR), Tyler Seguin (BOS), and Taylor Hall (EDM) are not likely to be loaned back to the Canadian junior squad. In fact, the L.A. Kings’ Brayden Schenn is the only NHLer that is likely to be a part of the roster.
However, that doesn’t mean that Team Canada will be entering the WJC undermanned. There’s plenty of talent from which to mine a golden connection — and the strength of this club will likely be its deep, veteran blue line corps.
Nashville Predators prospect Ryan Ellis, who once drew so much attention as a young member of Team Canada, now stands as the camp’s oldest invitee, along with Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Dylan Olsen (both were born on Jan. 3, 1991). Ellis will be competing in his third World Junior Championship — although it will be his first on foreign soil (although Buffalo isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for Canucks considering you can see Canada from Buffalo). He’ll likely be joined by two other returning veterans in fellow NHL first-round selections Calvin de Haan (NYI) and Jared Cowen (OTT). Tyson Barrie (COL), Simon Despes (PIT), and Erik Gudbranson (FLA) are solid picks to make the squad. Brandon Gormley (PHO) was an attendee at the development camp, but is currently sidelined with an injury that will keep him out of the selection camp and likely will prevent him from being added to the final roster. That opens a spot for either Brayden McNabb (BUF) or the WCHA’s Olsen as the sixth defenseman.
One additional name to watch is Kitchener’s Ryan Murphy. The young, offensively gifted rearguard has often been compared to Ellis and could find himself following the same path as a seventh defenseman/power play specialist, should the team decide to go that route. Murphy’s offensive gifts are unrivaled and would be a welcome addition to the team, and the success Team Canada enjoyed two years ago with Ellis in that role may open the door for Ellis’ inclusion on the squad.
In net, look to Olivier Roy (EDM) of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to lead the way for Team Canada. He’ll be ably backed up by two of the following trio of netminders: Seattle’s Calvin Pickard (COL), Niagara’s Mark Visentin (PHO), and Mississauga’s JP Anderson. Of this quartet, only Anderson was not an attendee at the summer camp, but his sterling play backstopping the powerhouse Majors can’t be ignored and he could sneak into that third-goalie role at the expense of either Pickard or Vinsentin. The fact that his Mississauga head coach Dave Cameron is Team Canada’s bench boss can’t hurt in the fact that Cameron has some familiarity and comfort with his netminder.
Up front, Team Canada will be choosing from 19 players to fill the 11 to 13 roster spots allocated to forwards. There will be some interesting debate as to who will make the squad and Canada will likely continue its practice of selecting the best team as opposed to focusing on the best individuals. With no returning forwards in play, the field is wide open.
Montreal’s Louis Leblanc should make the cut after missing the squad last season. One of the main reasons behind Leblanc’s exclusion last year was due to his limited in-game experience, playing with Harvard in the NCAA. Leblanc decided to forsake his collegiate eligibility to join the Montreal Juniors of the QMJHL, partly to increase his chances of being named to Team Canada — and the risk should pay off for the young forward.
The highly touted Sean Couturier, a potential number-one overall draft pick in this year’s NHL entry draft will also likely make the squad, but it will be interesting if the Quebecois duo is joined by Shawinigan’s Michael Bournival (MTL). He’s a bubble pick, but could show some good chemistry on an offensively gifted French connection this year.
Buffalo draft pick Zack Kassian is also likely a lock due to his imposing size and offensive touch. And he could find himself joined by players like Joey Hishon (COL) and Garrett Wilson (FLA) as top-six forwards on Team Canada. Casey Cizikas (NYI) has the size and the playmaking ability to add another level of physicality to Team Canada’s roster — a skill that’s a premium in light of Hockey Canada’s head scout Kevin Prendergrast’s expressed notion that Team Canada will be a blue-collar crew.
Marcus Foligno (BUF) was a bit of a surprise pick and looks like a longer shot to crack the roster. However, if the team is looking for defensive stoppers, Foligno’s alacrity in the defensive end could boost his chances. On the other hand, Brandon Pirri (CHI), the lone player from the AHL, has acquitted himself nicely this season and could earn himself a roster spot.
There are a number of prospects from the WHL up for consideration and tops on the list has to be Carter Ashton (TB) of the Regina Pats, Swift Current’s Cody Eakin (WAS), Portland’s Ryan Johansen (CLB), and Chilliwack’s Ryan Howse (CAL), who are all solid bets to crack the roster.
Red Deer’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who along with Murphy and Couturier are the only 2011 draft-eligibles to be named to the camp roster, although it’s questionable whether the coaching staff and selection committee would be willing to allocate three spots to 17-year-old prospects. However Nugent-Hopkins and Johansen are two of the only pure playmakers named to the roster, which could increase their likelihood of cracking the roster. There are plenty of finishers from which to choose, but there’s a marked need for a couple of players who can get those goal scorers the puck.
Everett’s Ryan Murray is the only 2012 draft-eligible player named to the roster, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll crack the final lineup. His inclusion is likely a harbinger of years to come and should serve to provide the young blueliner with valuable experience for Team Canada’s future.
Team Canada selection camp will run from Dec. 12-15 in Toronto. Finding the right mix will be the key, as always, but Cameron, along with assistant coaches George Burnett, André Tourginy, and Ryan Huska will certainly have premium-quality ingredients with which to work. In total, 18 players in the camp are NHL first-round draft picks and four were selected in the second round.