It’s the end of October and that only means one thing for major junior hockey in Canada - the Canada/Russia Series is right around the corner. In existence since 2003, this series consists of Russian junior players facing off against the three CHL member leagues in a six-game showdown. The CHL has the upper hand on the series with an overall record of 58-19-7. The OHL leads the three leagues suffering only five losses in 28 games (23-4-1).
This year we see the series start in the Moose Jaw in one week time. The series passes through the OHL (Owen Sound and Sudbury) on November 9 and 13, respectively, before wrapping up in the QMJHL
The Canada/Russia series has representation from many teams in each league, but has often been looked at as a precursor to the upcoming Junior Hockey Championships. Of the players selected for the Team OHL roster, 16 of those players attended Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Showcase including Taylor Raddysh (Tampa Bay Lightning), Cliff Pu (Buffalo Sabres), Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues), Logan Stanley (Winnipeg Jets) and Robert Thomas (St. Louis Blues).
There are 11 returning players from the 2016 team with four players who also played in 2015 including Dylan Wells, Will Bitten, Jordan Kyrou, and Taylor Raddysh. Of those four players, only Raddysh suited up for Team Canada in 2017. Expect these other 10 players to compete extra hard as they try to impress the Team Canada brass before the final World Junior Development Camp Invites
Let’s take a look at a couple OHLers who could crack this roster.
While you can’t just blame one player or position for a team’s loss in tournament play, It’s no secret that goaltending was one of Team Canada’s weakest spots from the beginning. Could it only go up from here? We’d hope so.
When it comes to the OHL representation, I think Michael DiPietro (Vancouver Canucks) has the best chance to be invited to development camp with Dylan Wells right on his tail. DiPietro has continued to put up solid numbers over his career. While he has been played on a strong team last year it has not defined his game. In fact, he is still putting up good numbers on a team that has lost a lot of talent on the front and back ends. DiPietro’s ability to track the puck well, absorb rebounds, move well between the posts and cut down the shooters angles are some of his biggest assets. People question his size but his skills combined with his calm and confident demeanor helps reduce that scepticism.
Dylan Wells (Edmonton Oilers) has some of the best goaltending skills in the OHL but for some reason seems to be overshadowed by the likes of DiPietro and Jacob Ingham. This could potentially be because of the team he plays in front of, the Peterborough Petes. That being said, after going through a rash of injuries last season, Wells was often the reason the Petes stayed afloat. Like DiPietro, Wells, tracks the puck very well and has quick reflexes. Unlike DiPietro, Wells has the size NHL managers love and the ability to play the puck well like many goaltenders struggle with. On the flipside, he isn’t as calm in the net when being pressured and tends to let out some more juicy rebounds. With a strong Team Canada defense in front of him, I would not be surprised if this did not look like a weak point in the end.
Since Taylor Raddysh played for the team last year, we’ll skip him. I believe that Jordan Kyrou, Nick Suzuki and Boris Katchouk have the best chances to play for Team Canada this year.
Jordan Kyrou (St. Louis Blues)
Kyrou finished 6th overall in OHL scoring last season with 30 goals and 94 points in just 66 games. He’s a dynamic player with the foot speed and skating that allows him to separate him from the opposition. He has a high hockey IQ and has a knack and patience for finding higher scoring opportunities on the fly. His smarts, speed and skill has been a blessing for the Sarnia Sting with already 12 goals and 28 points in 13 games (2nd in the league).
Nick Suzuki (Vegas Golden Knights)
Nick Suzuki is another dynamic player who can almost do anything with the puck. Like Kyrou, his skating and hockey sense is already at a high level and his scoring has been consistent - he finished 5th amongst OHL scorers last year with 45 goals and 96 points in 65 games and currently sits 3rd with 10 goals and 26 points in 14 games. Suzuki has great puck protection and quick decision making adds to his 200ft game. Suzuki will be a valuable asset and weapon for Team Canada.
Boris Katchouk (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Katchouk possess a lethal shot and great offensive instincts that allow him to be one of the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds best players. He works hard and opens up the ice for his teammates making him a very good complementary player. Like Suzuki, Katchouk plays a solid two-way game. Katchouk is very valuable on the penalty kill and used frequently and effectively with the Greyhounds. What might hold him back is his lack of strength on the puck and his skating potentially not being as good as other potential players.
Follow Kathryn Jean on Twitter: @msconduct