Prospect Ramblings: Picking Team Canada from their Virtual Hlinka-Gretzky Camp

Tony Ferrari

2020-06-16

 

In these strange times, we have been forced to find unique ways to get things done. From scouting meetings to player interviews and everything in between, almost everything has been done on video calls via Zoom or Skype. While the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup has been canceled this year because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Hockey Canada decided to name a 46-player ‘Virtual Camp’ roster. The goal of this camp will be to discuss and educate the players via video conferences. While it won’t be a traditional camp and the players won’t get any time on the ice together, Hockey Canada felt that the need to aid the players in their development through mental training and education. 

 

Team Canada U18 Camp Invitees from the Canadian Hockey League via CHL Twitter

 

Along with the 43 players above, Hockey Canada also invited RHD Corson Ceulemans (Brooks Bandits, AJHL), LHD Guillaume Richard (Mount St. Charles Academy, Midget/Tri-City Storm, USHL) and F Dovar Tinling (Hawkesbury Hawks, CCHL). Ceulemans would have been the only sure-fire pick and Richard could be a challenger for a spot from this small group but the experience at this virtual camp could be a jumping-off point for this talented group. 

 

A couple of notable exceptions to this roster were Shane Wright and Matthew Savoie, two 16-year-old players who are at or near the top of their age group across the world. Wright, the reigning CHL Rookie of the Year and Exceptional Status stud, had a stellar season. He was a 15-year-old for much of the season and looked like one of the best players in the OHL at times. Savoie played 22 games with the Winnipeg Ice of the WHL and while he only put up seven assists, he progressed as the season wore on and put up strong numbers in the CSSHL when he was out of the Winnipeg lineup. While it was unlikely that both of these 16-year-olds would have made the team, they almost certainly would have been invited to camp had there been a regular on-ice camp. 

 

Forward Projections

Cole Sillinger – Dylan Guenther – James Malatesta
Zachary Bolduc – Logan Stankoven – Mason McTavish
Zachary L’Heureux – Shane Wright – Brennan Othmann
Francesco Pinelli – Brett Harrison –  Zach Dean
Justin Robidas – Josh Roy

 

The addition of Wright felt warranted based on his play this season and the likelihood that he would have been at this camp if the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament not been canceled. He wouldn’t be asked to lead the team thanks to a couple of strong centers at the camp. Guenther and Stankoven proved that they are capable of playing center at the WHL level. Guenther, the WHL Rookie of the Year, will likely get the top-line role and pairing him with the uber-creative Malatesta and goal-scoring Cole Sillinger could be one of the most entertaining lines at the hypothetical tournament. Malatesta is a silky smooth player in transition and does a good job of being a dual-threat that defenses have to worry about as a playmaker and shooter. Sillinger scores from just about anywhere. He has a wicked snapshot that is NHL-level already. Refining the rest of his game will be key to becoming a top-tier prospect. Guenther (#11 below in white) plays with a ton of skill and has looked borderline dominant at times in the WHL as a 16-year-old. 

 

 

Stankoven centering Bolduc and McTavish would be a terrifying sight for any netminder. Each of the three forwards is known as a goalscorer but they have all shown the ability to find their teammates as well. Stankoven is the most experienced center of the three so he gets the pivot. McTavish may be the most lethal of the three when it comes to shooting from distance with a heavy shot and quick release. Bolduc is a wizard in close with quick hands and the ability to elevate from in tight. This line could produce shots in bunches. 

 

Shane Wright’s appearance on the final roster would be a no-brainer. Pairing him with his former Don Mills Flyers teammate from their youth hockey days also seems like a no-brainer. The pair has shown creativity and chemistry together in the past. Adding the team’s best power-forward in Zachary L’Heureux (#26 in white, below) is a natural fit as the new Halifax Moosehead’s forward will bring a bit of a physical presence. Playing on the third line, against weaker competition, the Shane Wright and company would be team Canada’s secret weapon. 

 

 

Brett Harrison centering the fourth line may come as a surprise to some but the Oshawa Generals forward was one of the best rookies in the OHL last season and really hit his stride when the calendar turned to 2020. He showed consistent attention to detail and responsible play in his own end. He is a good playmaker and should be a player who can play up-and-down the lineup should he have to. Pinelli has great puck skills and has some very nice playmaking ability. Dean is a playmaker with great vision. He would likely be the primary playmaker on this line allowing Pinelli to utilize his shot and Harrison to be the do-it-all center who can be the line’s conscious in their own end. 

 

Josh Roy and Justin Robidas are the two extra forwards on the squad and both could easily rotate into the lineup as the coaching staff would see fit. The QMJHL young guns both have the potential to unseat any of the players in the bottom six excluding Wright. The forward corps is deep on the Hlinka-Gretzky squad that won’t get the chance to find out how good they are together. 

 

Defensemen Projections

Carson Lambos – Brandt Clarke
Cameron Whynot – Corson Ceulemans
Graham Sward – Oscar Plandowski
Guillaume Richard 

 

A top pairing of Lambos-Clarke would be a force to be reckoned with. Lambos (#7 below in white) is a physically gifted two-way defender who can play a stout defensive game in his own end and he attacks the slot in the offensive end. He has a powerful stride that helps him excel in all three zones. Clarke would fit perfectly as his high-skill, agile defensive partner. The Barrie Colts defender reads the ice at a high-level, pushing the pace of play from the back end. Clarke and Lambos are in a small group of players who are widely regarded as having the best chance to unseat Aatu Räty for the top spot in the 2021 NHL Draft. This could have been the best pairing at the tournament and with hot starts to the season, both could receive an invite to World Juniors U20 camp for the Canadian side. 

 

 

The quality of this hypothetical second pair sees a drop-off in talent from the all-world top pair but Whynot and Ceulemans bring a good balance to the defensive corp. Whynot plays a mature game, never seeming to panic in his own end. He is a smooth skater without a ton of flash but his steady presence could be a seldom spoken of advantage for the Canadian squad. Ceulemans would bring this pair a dynamic offensive presence with his blend of tempo-pushing puck rush ability and creativity in the offensive zone. He has the often sought after blend of size and agility on the backend that allows him to escape pressure and he has the IQ to make quick decisions on the breakout. Whynot-Ceulemans is a well-balanced pair who could utilize their mobility to be dangerous from the back end. 

 

The Sward-Plandowski pair is an interesting mix. Sward (#7 in white below) is one of the youngest players available for the 2021 NHL Draft. He brings good size and puck-moving ability from the back end. He sees the ice at a high-level and shows the ability to facilitate from the blueline in the offensive end. He is a raw prospect but his skill level warrants challenging for a spot on the bottom pair. Plandowski is a player who seemed to put it together late in the year for the Charlottetown Islanders. He does a good job of preventing sustained play in his own zone with quick decision making and accurate passing. His effectiveness in the offensive zone has been limited to this point but he shows flashes of skill from time to time. 

 

 

Richard is a bit of darkhorse as he comes to this camp having not played in major junior last year after not signing with Victoriaville after they drafted him in 2019. He played a few games in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm and looked good in those games. He is committed to the University of Maine but that didn’t stop the St. Johns Seadogs from drafting him again in the recent QMJHL Draft. He could easily supplant someone in the defensive corp outside of the top-pair. 

 

Goaltending Projections

Ben Gaudreau – Tyler Brennan

 

Young goalies are difficult to read but Gaudreau has shown that he is one of the best netminders in his age group. The young Sting goalie would have been the favorite to seize the reigns in the Canadian crease. He flashed brilliance at times in Sarnia this season, highlighted by a 60 save performance against the Windsor Spitfires. He shows refined movement in his crease and good lateral quickness. Below, he shows his athleticism and control as he moves laterally in his net. He tracks the puck well and makes multiple saves. 

 

 

Tyler Brennan is given the backup job on this hypothetical team and the reason is simple. He has shown some ability at the WHL level despite being the youngest netminder in this group. Not NHL draft-eligible until 2022, Brennan has the size NHL teams covet and while there is still some aspects of his game that need to be cleaned up, this experience could be valuable in his development as Gaudreau will likely handle the bulk of the workload. 

 

The Team Canada We Will Never See

 

Much like any time a national team roster is put together, this roster likely has its flaws. Whether there is a player or two that should be taken out with new names added or the combinations of the lines/pairings assembled above, there will always be mistakes in any projection of a roster and without any on-ice camp, it becomes an even more inexact science. 

 

The sad fact of the matter is that this year’s Hlinka-Gretzky Cup has been canceled. That means that this hypothetically assembled team will never see the light of day as currently constructed. Many of these players could get the chance to compete at the World Under-18s next spring but by that time, we will have much more of a handle of who these players and their peers are. That will lead to a great deal of change in the roster and who will have played their way on or off the team. 

 

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Thank you for reading! All video courtesy of InStat. Make sure you check out the full Dobber Prospects 2020 NHL DRAFT PAGE! There are over 75 player profiles and a ton more draft content including the most recent NHL Draft Report where I took a look at some of my favorite sleepers for this year’s draft including a team of intriguing draft eligibles with summer birthdays! I also profile the most underrated first-round talent in the 2020 draft, Jacob Perreault. Reach out on Twitter, you can find me @TheTonyFerrari

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