Wednesday, December 3rd
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – World Junior countdown is on! 23 days remaining until puck drop!
Hockey Canada released it’s 29-player list for the National Junior Team Roster on Monday and as always, there was a lot of upset people at their decisions. Canada’s decision to only invite two goaltenders to the final camp seemed to be one of the biggest stories and it appears Zach Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) and Eric Comrie (Winnipeg Jets) will be the only two goaltenders vying for the starters position. While it is Fucale’s spot to lose, there has been lots of criticism about his underwhelming save percentage with the Halifax Mooseheads this season. I’m not overly concerned with stats but save percentage is one of the more telling stats for goaltenders. In the end, I trust Fucale and he’s proven (most recently at the Subway Super Series) that he can win games on individual talent alone. The Habs pick is going to be there and should be there.
In saying that, I don’t agree with only bringing two netminders into final camp. In a short tournament, it’s all about riding the hot players and why not add a couple more goaltenders to challenge for spots. This is especially true in a year where Canada’s goaltending is particularly strong with veteran puck stoppers such as Philippe Desrosiers (Dallas Stars) and Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins), both equally as deserving to be considered for spots. Ironically, Tristan Jarry was named Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week one day after getting snubbed from the roster.
Of the ten defensemen selected, there were no real surprises and as expected, it was dominated by WHL talent with Josh Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets), Shea Theodore (Anaheim Ducks), Madison Bowey (Washington Capitals), Joe Hicketts (Detroit Red Wings), Dillon Heatherington (Columbus Blue Jackets), Haydn Fleury (Carolina Hurricanes) and Travis Sanheim (Philadelphia Flyers) all vying for spots. Ontario skaters Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers) and returnee Chris Bigras (Colorado Avalanche) are expected to play big roles and should crack the final roster. Samuel Morin (Philadelphia Flyers) is the lone representative from the Quebec league.
It will be an extremely competitive camp for these 10 defenders. I am glad to see Joe Hicketts make the camp as he leads the ‘Dub in scoring from the blueliner with 36 points. What a great story! He is an undersized yet extremely hard-hitting, hard shooting defenseman who was passed over at the 2015 NHL Draft. After receiving a tryout to the Red Wings camp, Hicketts was quickly signed and is now one of the most intriguing offensive defensemen in the CHL. Absolutely love his competitiveness and although he’s likely a long-shot to crack this veteran blueline, the competitiveness he’d bring would be worth-while.
Look for Madison Bowey, a rare right-shooting defensemen on this roster, to have a monstrous tournament. He’s been one of my favourites dating back to his draft year when I had him ranked in the first round.
Up front, there was definitely a fair share of controversy about Hockey Canada’s inclusions and exclusions on the selection camp roster. Most notably, the nation seemed to be torn on whether snubbing Josh Ho-Sang (New York Islanders) was the right or wrong thing to do. He’s arguably Canada’s most skilled player (outside of McDavid) but his rift with Hockey Canada has been well-documented. Ho-Sang’s confidence can often be mistaken for arrogance – there is another lengthy debate, and rather than rustling any feathers, Hockey Canada chose to leave him out this time. For a program looking to increase it’s skill level up front, Ho-Sang certainly would have done that but he will stand a chance at representing Canada in 2016 as well. Lawson Crouse (2015 NHL Draft) was one of only two draft eligible skaters included on the selection camp roster, joining shoe-in Connor McDavid, and his inclusion seemed to spark a wildly debate among “skill enthusiasts”. Like Josh Ho-Sang, Dylan Strome, the OHL’s leading scorer, and Mitch Marner, Ontario’s hottest producer in November, would’ve increased the skill level tremendously.
The thought from many seems to be, “Why is Strome and Marner excluded yet Hockey Canada invites Lawson Crouse? Didn’t they want to increase skill?”
My response and reasoning is pretty simple. While I would’ve loved to see Strome and Marner at least get a look in the final camp (especially for the experience), I understand where Hockey Canada is coming from. Lawson Crouse seems to get mislabeled as some brute defense-first forward. Whether that misconception comes from people who haven’t watched him play or from the fact that his defensive game overshadows his offensive potential, it’s certainly not an accurate projection of him as a player. Yes, Crouse is one of the more polished defensive forwards of the 2015 draft class and his size lends him an advantage in many facets of the game but I’ve been touting his game for over a year based on his potential as an offensive contributor. His pro potential is extremely high as he combines strength, skating, smart puck handling ability and intuitive hockey sense. All of those attributes make him an attractive pro prospect but they are also elements that make him a valuable commodity for Hockey Canada NOW.
Yes, if he were to make the team, he’d likely be used in a depth role and in shutdown lines but his underrated offensive skills shouldn’t be overlooked. In the end, if Lawson Crouse makes this squad, it’ll be earned but he will most likely have to outplay fellow OHLers Nick Ritchie (Anaheim Ducks), Nick Paul (Ottawa Senators) and/or Nick Baptiste (Buffalo Sabres) to slide into a roster spot. Look for Crouse to be a key member of the 2016 squad.
Cover your ears Leafs fans. If Hockey Canada truly wants to increase the skill level of the 2015 WJC team, the toughest decision might have to be leaving Frederik Gauthier (Toronto Maple Leafs), a member of the 2014 squad, at home. He is an exceptional defensive-minded forward but the days for these one-dimensional shutdown role players are long gone, in my opinion. In a short tournament where finding chemistry quickly is important, especially on offense, it might be better to replace Gauthier with someone who can play both sides of the puck. Most of the prospects named to the selection camp are more than capable of playing defensive minutes so replacing Gauthier’s role shouldn’t be an issue. I would much rather have a player who is good on both sides of the puck and can potentially contribute to the powerplay (an important part of WJC success) than a strictly defensive forward. Feel free to disagree, but that’s just one way I would increase Canada’s skill level. Each of Ritchie, Paul, Remi Elie (Dallas Stars), Baptiste and even Crouse offer solid defensive skills but can also find a contributing role offensively.
Moving on….of course, Connor McDavid was named to the selection camp and is expected to be ready to go by the start of the World Juniors. I would also expect McDavid to be named captain of this squad.
Nic Petan (Winnipeg Jets) and Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) join McDavid and potentially Gauthier as the only returning players up front. Michael Dal Colle (New York Islanders) has been on fire in the OHL. Ditto for Max Domi (Arizona Coyotes). Both will compete for top six spots along with Robby Fabbri (St. Louis Blues) and this trio are close to locks. Jason Dickinson (Dallas Stars), Nick Ritchie (Anaheim Ducks), Remi Elie (Dallas Stars), Nick Baptiste (Buffalo Sabres) and Nick Paul (Ottawa Senators) round out the large OHL contingent on this camp roster. Morgan Klimchuk (Calgary Flames), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning), Jake Virtanen (Vancouver Canucks) and WHL leading scorer Rourke Chartier (San Jose Sharks) look to fight their way into spots.
Initial thoughts has me thinking that Jason Dickinson, Robby Fabbri, Max Domi and Michael Dal Colle as potential breakout candidates (outside of McDavid obviously). I question whether Dal Colle will have the swagger to step up and lead this team but Max Domi and Robby Fabbri play certainly own the competitiveness to become big players for Canada.
Selection camp begins December 11th in Toronto and features some exhibition games against CIS all-star teams.
Expecting that Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon are loaned to Hockey Canada is a pipe-dream but many are still waiting to see if Jonathan Drouin, Curtis Lazar, Bo Horvat and Anthony Duclair are made available. Bo Horvat picked up an assist in last night’s 4-3 Vancouver win.
USA Hockey released its 30-player preliminary camp roster on Tuesday and it’s got some great talent also. While Canada is expected to go with a veteran group, USA including five potential first round picks for the upcoming 2015 and 2016 drafts. Led by underager and BU standout Jack Eichel, it’s expected that Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski are near-locks for the blueline and high-scoring NTDP forward Jeremy Bracco and projected 2016 top pick Auston Matthews could become huge offensive assets for the Americans. Draft eligible defenseman Brandon Carlo was also named to the camp roster. Needless to say, USA will be a highly scouted team for NHL Draft purposes.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jeremy Bracco’s dating back to his OHL draft year and I am extremely excited to see how special this Auston Matthews player is as well.
On Jeremy Bracco…
The 17-year-old just misses draft eligibility this year and is on an absolute tear at the National Team Development Program with 45 points in just 24 games so far this season. He’ll be joined by U18 teammate Bracco, who recently broke the NTDP’s career assists record previously held by Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and there’s still two-thirds of the season left.
There was much debate around whether USA Hockey would include Tampa Bay first rounder, Anthony DeAngelo, who recently took over the OHL defensive scoring lead, on their roster but he will get a long look for a top four spot. Steven Santini (New Jersey Devils) headlines the group of returning players that also include Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks), defensemen Will Butcher (Colorado Avalanche), Ian McCoshen (Florida Panthers) and forwards Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) and Adam Erne (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Will Butcher just recently won NCHC Defensive Player of the Week.
Chris Peters breaks down the American squad nicely…
The U.S. roster also includes six first-round draft picks including forwards Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings), Sonny Milano (Columbus Blue Jackets), Michael McCarron (Montreal Canadiens), Alex Tuch (Minnesota Wild), Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Talented lineup there. The biggest omission from USA’s camp roster was Justin Bailey (Buffalo Sabres), who has been tearing up the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers. The big-time sniper caught the eye of Peters’ too as one of the glaring omissions….
Of the notable players that didn’t make the roster,Buffalo Sabresprospect Justin Bailey is probably the biggest name, who has been on a tear in the OHL this season with the KitchenerRangers. He may have gone up against a really tough field of right wings, though, all with more international experience. Bailey has size and speed, but so do a lot of the big guys they brought into camp. The way the American player pool has grown over the years, there’s always going to be a few good players on the sidelines.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie breaks down USA’s Roster position-by-position.
Not to be left out, Russia released its WJC evaluation roster as well and damn, they’re going to be another highly skilled team as well. Long gone are the days where there are favourites at the World Junior Championships.
I am eager to see Sergey Tolchinsky (Carolina Hurricanes) and Nikolay Goldobin (San Jose Sharks) light it up for the Russians as both of these two players have the skill set to push for the tournament scoring lead.
Other top names include defensemen Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo Sabres), Rinat Valiev (Toronto Maple Leafs), Rushan Rafikov (Calgary Flames), Ivan Provonov (2015 eligible) and forwards Pavel Buchnevich (New York Rangers), Vladislav Kamenev (Nashville Predators), Ivan Barbashev (St. Louis Blues), Pavel Kraskovsky (New York Rangers), Valentin Zykov (Los Angeles Kings) and Vladimir Tkachev (Edmonton Oilers, 2015 eligible)
After losing Sam Bennett (Calgary Flames) to injury, Kingston Frontenacs’ leading scorer Spencer Watson (Los Angeles Kings) suffered a broken ankle and will miss significant time. Watson had 13 goals and 28 points in 22 games with the Frontenacs.