The most wonderful time of the year is right around the corner as 9 OHLers vie for 22-spots on Canada’s National Junior Team for the upcoming 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. A total of 32-players from across the CHL and NCAA were invited to Selection Camp in Blainville, QC coming up on December 10-14th.
No one is ever a lock, but its rare to see returning eligible players not make the squad. Two OHLers return to camp: Dylan Strome (ARZ) and Mitchell Stephens (TBL). Based on their performance, so far this season, I don’t see any reason why they won’t be selected again.
Fresh off a 7-game stint in the NHL, expect to see Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome to lead the rush offensively on Team Canada. Strome already has 11 points in the OHL after only suiting up 5 games ago. His size, speed, skill, and ability to make players around him better is a huge asset for Canada. His high compete level will make him hungry for a gold medal win after it didn’t go Canada’s way last year.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Mitchell Stephens will benefit from his experience last year and will be relied on more in key situations as a returnee. Stephens is relentless on the puck and will win those battles in the tough areas of the ice. His ability to play in different roles – offensively and defensively is valuable for Team Canada.
All three goaltenders invited would be brand new to the U20 team roster including Montreal Canadiens prospect Michael McNiven. McNiven has been a bright spot on a not-so-great Owen Sound team over the last couple of years. He moves well in the net, is positionally sound, and plays an athletic-style game. He doesn’t have a lot of international experience but either do Carter Hart (PHI) nor Connor Ingram (TBL). However, all three players had a solid outing in the Canada/Russia Series this past November and are doing well in their respective leagues – McNiven with a 2.47 GAA and 0.913 SAV%. Hart is expected to be the start, but the other position is up for grabs and things can always change.
I felt that 2017 NHL Draft top prospect Michael DiPietro had a chance to be invited, but his sample size is much smaller than the other three. DiPietro was good last season, but was in a shadowing role. He has now taken over as the starter for the Memorial Cup hosts, Windsor Spitfires and is one of the better goaltenders available in the draft for a while. While size may seem like a hindrance, he covers the net well, controls his rebounds, has great anticipation and athleticism. If he keeps it up, DiPietro will get a shot next season.
Only one OHL defenceman was invited to camp and that is Montreal Canadiens prospect Victor Mete. Mete was a steal of a pick in the 4th round of the draft and went under rated behind the likes of teammate Olli Juolevi (VAN). Mete is effective in various situations and plays a very composed and smart game. He makes good decisions with and without the puck. Mete can quarterback the power play, but won’t see top pairing minutes unless combined with returnee Thomas Chabot (OTT).
Other than Stephens and Strome, the OHL saw 5 other players invited to the final camp including Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and OHL leading scorer Taylor Raddysh. As mentioned in my previous observation, Raddysh was arguably the best player on the ice during his game in the Canada/Russia series back in November. He possesses a wicked shot and quick release that is among the best in the league. His vision and hockey smarts are keys to his success so far in his hockey career. If combined with Dylan Strome on a line, they could be unstoppable.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Anthony Cirelli has quite the story already. He was passed over two OHL drafts, made the Oshawa Generals as a walk on and then scored the two goals that lead Oshawa to a OHL and Memorial Cup championship. Cirelli is the type of player who elevates his game against elite competition. He has been a bit of a late bloomer but has helped rejuvenated his team in Oshawa. Cirelli is a 2-way player with an offensive flare. I could see Cirelli most likely being slotted as a bottom 6 forward on a talented Canadian team.
New Jersey Devils prospect Michael McLeod has a lot of international hockey experience and was one of the final cuts from Team Canada Selection Camp last year. McLeod’s size and skating makes him tough to play against. There is barely a game where you don’t notice McLeod on the ice. Team Canada is already deep down the middle, so it’ll be interesting to see who’s selected and who is moved to their off-wing.
Boston Bruin prospect Zach Senyshyn is another OHL hopeful and another one with a good offensive flair. He’s creative with the puck and has the size to become a solid power forward. His defensive game may be what keeps him off the final roster. While he isn’t bad defensively, there might not be a role for him to play with the talent on the roster.
And finally, New Jersey Devils prospect Blake Speers rounds out the OHLers invited to Team Canada camp. Speers’ ability to battle a long the boards, crisp passes and accurate shot make him a good complimentary player. It’s all about lining him up with the correct players. He has been warned that he won't be given a position without earning it, so his injury needs to be fully healed if he wants to make the team.
There aren’t too many surprises when it comes to OHLers not invited to the final Selection Camp. Most notably though is Florida Panthers prospect Adam Mascherin who is tearing up the league with the Kitchener Rangers. He is a very underrated player which could be due to his size but can still win the battles down low and come out with the puck. Mascherin still has a chance to make the team next year.
The following players were invite to Summer Camp, but failed to make the next cut:
Graham Knott (CHI)
Evan Cormier (NJD)
Matthew Spencer (TBL)
Mitchell Vande Sompel (NYI)
While most are unexpected to buy into this idea, NHL squads have until Dec 19th to decide if their players can play in the World Junior Championship. Some notables still eligible to play are:
Connor McDavid (EDM)
Matthew Tkachuk (CGY)
Mitch Marner (TOR)
Travis Konecny (PHI)
Jakob Chychrun (ARZ)
Lawson Crouse (FLA)
In the end, this team, especially the returnees will be hungry for a gold medal after the team did not qualify for a medal round last season. Final rosters are due Dec 25th.