Carter and Richards one step closer to WJCs

By Al Alven

Centers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the Flyers’ top two picks in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, have been invited to Canada’s national junior team selection camp, which will run from December 11-18 in Kitchener, Ontario.

The two Ontario Hockey League stars will be among 34 hopefuls vying for a spot on Team Canada for the 2003-04 World Junior Championships in Helsinki and Hameenlinna, Finland (December 26 – January 5). Both have been expected to make the cut since starring for Canada’s gold medal-winning entry in last year’s Under-18 WJC.

Carter, the 11th overall pick in June’s draft, has developed into a dominant player at the major junior level. At 6’3″, 180 lbs, the London, Ontario native is a physical force and a constant offensive threat. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds captain currently leads the OHL in goals with 19, and is ranked seventh in overall scoring with 38 points. He also has posted 19 assists and 18 PIMs in just 28 games.

“It’s a great honor,” said Carter, after learning of his selection to the camp. “Making the National Junior team and representing Canada would be a thrill and this is the first step toward achieving that goal.”

Richards, the 24th overall pick in the draft, is viewed as one of the top two-way centers in amateur hockey. As captain of the defending Memorial Cup champion Kitchener Rangers, he has picked up where he left off in last year’s playoffs. At present, the 5’11”, 185 lb. Kenora, Ont. product is tied for third in the OHL in scoring with 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 26 games. The scrappy pivot has also registered 41 PIMs.

There is plenty of speculation at this point that Carter and Richards could wind up centering Canada’s top two lines in Finland. This possibility is emblematic of how far the Flyers’ farm system has come in the past year. Prior to the draft in June, Patrick Sharp was considered the organization’s top forward prospect.

Sharp – currently enjoying his second season with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms – is a solid player in his own right, but projects to be nothing more than a third line center in the NHL. In Carter, Richards and a handful of other forwards scooped up in the draft, the Flyers have not only added depth to their forward prospect corps, but have moved near the top of the pack in the NHL in that regard.