So now we know. I started this piece last week, but without knowing who was going to at least be invited to team Canada’s WJC training camp it would be ridiculous to jump the gun with that information coming out soon. But here we are. The list has been released, and now it’s time for the brass to build a winner.
A winner? What am I talking about?! I’m certain the fans and media have already written Canada off, as is the trend these days. Fans and media have a tough time grasping the fact during down periods for Canadian hockey that they aren’t the underdogs, they’re just simply on par with the other four contenders (the United States, Sweden, Finland and Russia).
The truth that not many want to admit is that if one of these countries get a hot goaltender that they’ll likely take the tournament. Last year none of them did, which played in perfectly to the style the Fins were playing and they took it. Everyone thought Canada was so horrendous, yet they lost to the Fins thanks to a fluke penalty by Joe Hicketts on a clearing attempt. That doesn’t happen and Canada gets the one goal, there is a pretty good chance they go on to win gold. But because that didn’t happen, they’re awful and the sky is falling.
This year, in addition to the tournament being back on home soil, the goaltending to me looks better than it has in most of the last seven years (I’d say Fucale/Comrie in 2015 is the one exception).
I would GUESS that Carter Hart is the starter in goal. Yes he plays for Kevin Constantine and there for he doesn’t get much action. But watch the kid play. How does he move, how is his quickness, how technically sound is he, this isn’t tough to track. If you’re scouting a goaltender, why would you care about what the shot clock says at the end of the night? Track the quality shots, the quality saves that get made. Anyone who watches Hart will tell you he’s a stud, and the only thing that is a concern moving forward is his size and the trend which is going on in the NHL of wanting bigger goaltenders. Make no mistake though, this kid is an elite junior goaltender.
Connor Ingram should be the backup, but keep in mind that Michael NcNiven is a Montreal Canadiens prospect. It wouldn’t be just that, he has real solid numbers this season too for Owen Sound this season, but that little added bonus could push a kid like Ingram or even Hart to the side. I hope not, but Hockey Canada doesn’t exactly have a track record of pushing politics aside (*cough* Steve Spott/Ryan Murphy *cough*).
I don’t really like to get into omissions. I used to. I used to get extremely rattled at guys who I thought needed to be on the team when really I was just loving everyone who was a first round pick like a complete d-bag. Having said this, I’m really not getting why Connor Hobbs or maybe even David Quenneville weren’t at least invited to this camp over a guy like Victor Mete. There are only three right handed shot D-men on this list, and none of them are great PP guys. Hobbs and Quenneville, in the WHL….not the Q….the dub…are well over a point per game this season (Hobbs has 29 points in 21 games, Quenneville has 31 points in 24 games). I’m really not getting that one. I know Hobbs isn’t the best skater, and Quenneville is a really small kid (5’8), but having these kind of weapons to put out on the PP to me is too valuable to pass up in my opinion.
Having said that, this team still has enough to make a pretty good defence core.
Getting Jakob Chychrun back from the Coyotes would be nice, but I don’t see it as a necessity. More often than not, guys coming back from the NHL to play in the World Juniors is a bit of a let down. They’re living their dream, and then it gets taken away from them. Not to say that the World Juniors isn’t a dream too, absolutely it is, but it’s not as big of a dream as the NHL. So what tends to happen is a lot of these kids don’t perform the way many believe they will. Plus, this team is pretty deep on the left side of the D.
Chabot and Juulsen seems like a lock to be the top pairing. For me, Dante Fabbro as long as he’s back to 100% by the start of the tournament should be on the 2nd pair with either Chychrun or Jake Bean. Fabbro isn’t an elite skater, but his hockey sense is off the charts and he’s a kid who just does everything very well. I was extremely high on him going into last year’s draft, and felt he should have gone much higher than 17th to Nashville.
Reading between the lines on what Bob McKenzie was saying yesterday, it sure sounds like they’re set on having Jeremy Lauzon and Philippe Myers as their 3rd pair. I’m….OK with that. I worry though, because Hockey Canada for the last seven years or so seems to get hung up on getting guys with chemistry on the team, passing over bigger talents in the process. And I’m the guy who always harps on building a team rather than amassing talent. But blindly taking guys just because they play together isn’t the answer either. It’s new coaching, new systems, new teammates, it’s completely different from what those two or in some cases a full line of guys have been playing with. But Lauzon and Myers have pretty good credentials, so I’m good with that as the third pair, just as long as both guys actually deserve to make it.
As for the 7th guy (should Chychrun not return), I’d probably get homerish here and say it should be Kale Clague, but I’d like to think I’m saying that more so because he can play either side, where a kid he’ll undoubtedly be competing with in Samuel Girard, doesn’t normally play the right side.
Up front this year, especially now with Strome and Barzal back in junior, they’re loaded. Easily the strength of the team. I had trouble getting the forwards down to 16 let alone 13. Again, much like Chychrun, Lawson Crouse would be nice to have back, as would Anthony Beauvillier, but I don’t think either guy is needed. I would personally prefer to have Tyson Jost centring the 3rd line, but they’re so deep down the middle that they can afford to put Jost on the wing, and Pierre-Luc Dubois would be the top LW on most World Junior teams yet should they get those two back he might be pushed down to the 3rd line as well. Nolan Patrick is likely going to be pushed to the wing, Sam Steel will likely get pushed to the wing if he even makes the team (I would sure as hell hope so, but stranger things have happened), Nic Roy could get pushed to the wing too. This team is just insanely deep down the middle.
So in talking about all this, I THINK this is the roster that I would go with today, ignoring the lines as this is more of a depth chart, and I’ll suggest that they don’t get any of the NHL kids back:
Jost – Strome – Gauthier
Dubois – Barzal – Stephens
Steel – Roy – Raddysh
Howden – McLeod – Joseph
4 QMJHL, 4 OHL, 4 WHL, 1 NCAA. Perfect balance that should keep all the leagues happy. Left Blake Speers off seeing he only has played one game this season, yet it sounds like they want him on the team. So then I didn’t know who I take off. They might end up putting a right handed shot on the left side which would leave a kid like Brett Howden at home.
Chabot – Juulsen
Bean – Fabbro
Lauzon – Myers
No OHL D-men. Does Victor Mete make this team because of that? I hope not, because he’s not as good as most of the other LH shot D-men, but don’t be shocked if it happens…
Obviously the only thing to find out here is the order. All three kids are having great seasons. I think without a doubt Hart should be the starter, but a case can be made for Ingram.
But let’s be honest. None of us really care that much who is on the team, we just care that they win. As I said off the top, they have all the ingredients. They always have all the ingredients, but it’s brand new teams in a short tournament which is always unpredictable. It comes down to getting a hot goaltender, good coaching, and good special teams. If those things happen for Canada, it’ll be the 2nd gold in three seasons, and maybe some people can shut up for a few minutes about how the sky is falling for Canadian hockey.
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