Canadiens say Latendresse not available for world junior championships

The Montreal Canadiens informed Hockey Canada of their decision Friday, saying they won’t release the 19-year-old right-winger for the tournament in Sweden at the end of December because they need him to play in the NHL. “With the way he’s played with us and with (right-winger) Chris Higgins injured, it was an easy decision,” said coach Guy Carbonneau.

Latendresse was a member of the gold-medal winning world junior squad last year in Vancouver, but was used sparingly by coach Brent Sutter.

“It’s good news,” the six-foot-two 230-pound Latendresse said. “It’s good to see that the team wants me here.

“Last year, we won the gold medal and I didn’t maybe have the ice time I wanted, but that’s part of the game. This year I’m staying here and I’m happy with that. I have more to prove in the NHL.”

The former Drummondville Voltigeurs star made the Canadiens with a strong training camp. The NHL club announced early on he would not be sent back to junior hockey.

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After a slow start, Latendresse was moved to the top line with Saku Koivu and Michael Ryder when Higgins went down with a high ankle sprain three weeks ago. Higgins is not expected back for another two-to-three weeks.

Since joining the top line, Latendresse has four goals and three assists in 11 games.

Carbonneau has no doubts about keeping the budding power forward in the NHL, even if playing the high-profile junior event could be a positive experience.

“He’d have everything to lose and a gold medal to win,” said Carbonneau. “If everything went well, yes.

“But with guys 18 or 19 years old, you try to take the junior stuff out of their head and be a pro. Personally, I think it would have been a step back.”