It’s getting to be that time of year. The time of year where just about all of you go from not ever having seen one of these kids play, to experts on their game and knowing them inside and out. Yeah, the World Juniors really do bring out the absolute worst in all of us as hockey fans! Even myself. I know these kids a lot better than most, but I’m up front about not watching these kids play most nights. Maybe a few times a year, and I follow them closely, but I’m still a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to how to use these kids.
Having said this, I do know these kids, I do follow their development paths, and I probably know what I’m talking about a lot more than most on this subject. So with camp invites just days away, let’s get it going and we’ll start with my projected forwards:
Sam Steel – Michael McLeod – Jordan Kyrou
Dillon Dube – Nick Suzuki – Taylor Raddysh
Matthew Phillips – Robert Thomas – Owen Tippett
Brett Howden – Cliff Pu – Cody Glass
Looks damn good. The big ? is going to be Tyson Jost. The Avs have him in the AHL right now on a conditioning stint, but that conclusion will coincide with Team Canada’s camp starting up. So I’d probably say he’s 50/50 to be in Buffalo at the moment, but for this piece I’m going to keep him off. Should he be there, I’d look at Katchouk being the odd man out, which is why I have him as the 13th forward right now. For me, the guys I’m a little unsure of with this roster are Katchouk and Cody Glass. Cliff Pu was on that list probably as recent as ten days ago, but he is on fire of late. As for guys who could take those spots away? Obviously I brought up Jost, Michael Rasmussen, Kole Lind, Tyler Steenbergen, Morgan Frost, Jonah Gadjovich, and then the big wildcard for me is Tyler Benson.
I went over it in my “Hot Takes” blog from yesterday, but I’ll say it again that I strongly believe that Hockey Canada needs to give Benson an invite to camp and take a serious look at where he’s at. 15 points in 10 games, 14 of those points in his last 7 games. And it’s not out of nowhere, it’s a case of a very high profile prospect having fallen on tough times thanks to injuries, but has somehow picked up where he left off after missing a large majority of the last two seasons. In seeing clips of him playing, a lot of his production is coming on the PP, and his skating (which has always been his ?) doesn’t appear to be great, so I doubt he’d make it. But what he’s done since returning and his track record warrants a look in my mind.
Overall I really like the forward group. I don’t think they can go wrong with it, although I have been fooled in the past. Jost would help a ton though because I really believe that they need someone to emerge as the offensive catalyst. Mike McLeod has that ability, but I personally believe Jost as both the ability and the determination to do it. As for the blueline, I’m really excited about the look of it as well:
Kale Clague – Dante Fabbro
Jake Bean – Cal Foote
Dennis Cholowski – Cale Makar
Much like the forwards, the only concern is that I worry there isn’t a standout guy. Last year of course, Thomas Chabot was a superstar and carried the entire team. I don’t believe any of these kids can duplicate that, but I’ll tell you this…and maybe I’m just being a homer for the Lloydminster kid, but Kale Clague has been outstanding so far this season. He stepped up and played great after Phillip Myers went down last year, and he might surprise a few people in this tournament with the level he’s currently playing at.
Victor Mete is in the same boat as Tyson Jost, except that I don’t see Montreal sending him back for this tournament. Sure the Habs are struggling, but Mete has been rock solid for them and it’s a team that needs everything it can get on the blueline right now. I guess Sam Girard is also a possibility, but with the Avs keeping him up past the 10 game mark it sure seems as though all signs point to him staying with the Avs during the holiday season.
As for the 7th defenceman…Josh Mahura would be my pick. The kid would have been a first round pick in 2016 had it not been for an injury that cost him most of his regular season, but he bounced back from that and had a great playoffs and Memorial Cup for Red Deer, then had another deep run with Regina last year where I felt he was outstanding.
But this is me trying to project the roster, so I have P.O. Joseph as the number seven guy. Not because I believe he is the right guy, but because I’m a very honest guy. And I look at the roster and notice that we don’t have a kid from the Q on there and I can’t see Hockey Canada picking an entire team of kids from the WHL and OHL, even though that should be the case as this is a rare circumstance which it’s warranted. In today’s PC society, nobody wants to cause a stir. But I don’t know what to say to those who will, the Canadian talent which is WJC eligible just isn’t in the Q this season. Kids like Maxime Comtois, Pascal Laberge and Antoine Morand simply aren’t good enough, and Pierre-Luc Dubois would be on the team but there is no chance the Jackets are going to release him. Thankfully this comes the year after the tournament is held in Montreal. I can only imagine what an uproar that would have caused…
As for a few others who could possibly steal a spot on D, I can only see two guys other than Mahura and Joseph and those are Nicolas Hague, and possibly at this point the top Canadian prospect for the upcoming draft Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs.
Last year I was one of the few heading into the tournament who was really high on Canada’s goaltending, and for the most part I feel as though I was right. Hart definitely didn’t lose the gold medal game for Canada in regulation or OT, and he appears to now be peaking as the WHL player of the week last week. So it’s just a matter of who’ll join him:
Oilers fans might be asking right now “where is Dylan Wells”. Dylan Wells….MUCH to my dismay, has been awful so far this season. G.A.A. over 3.50, Sv% below .900, his adj. G.S.A.A. last season led the CHL at 31.87, this year it’s at 2.69 as of writing this. I’d be shocked if Wells gets a camp invite at this point, which is quite a shame because in the summer it looked as though both he and DiPietro had a chance to knock off Hart for roles on the squad.
Hart is good, and being the returning guy he’ll get the best chance to be the starter. But I’m a massive Mike DiPietro fan and fully believe he’ll steal the starting job and run with it in this tournament. We saw him shine in the Memorial Cup last spring, the kid seems to love the pressure. To me, the goaltending this is year is probably as good as it’s been in 10 years (Mason/Bernier).
As always, there are five or six teams who are fully capable of winning it all. The Swedes will be very strong, especially on D being led by Rasmus Dahlin. The Fins will have a ton of motivation after last year’s embarrassment and the talent to be a threat. Obviously the Americans have been the most successful team in the tournament over the last eight years with three golds and even in years that they don’t win have given Canada specifically a lot of fits. Not as skilled of American team this time around, but don’t sleep on them. The Czech’s after so many down years are starting to get back to where they were. Martin Necas, potential top five pick Filip Zadina, Oilers 4th rounder Ostap Safin who currently sits 10th in the Q in scoring, they’re starting to develop some high end kids again. And finally the Russians, whom for whatever reason show up in this tournament. The big star will be potential top three pick Andrei Svechnikov assuming he’s healthy (he’s supposed to be back shortly so no reason to assume otherwise), but they’re starting to develop the right kind of players in Russia over the last few years. Seeing a lot more D-men and two way centres come out of their system in the last two drafts.
But having said all that, this Team Canada squad looks like a gold medal team to me. Top to bottom, at least at the moment, I’m not seeing much of a flaw with them. Four lines deep, three pairs deep, and as good of goaltending as any team in the tournament. I counted 15 of the 22 players being 19 year olds, 13 of the 22 being 1st round picks, and perhaps most importantly seven returning players, and the possibility of those numbers all moving up one if the Avs release Jost. It’s going to be a very complete squad barring some strange selections or injuries occurring. 2 PM MST on Boxing Day, Canada vs Finland. A great test to kick things off. As always, it’s going to be a blast to watch.
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