It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been to a game or taken a note on a player and I’m starting to get cabin fever. Thankfully, one of my favorite events of the year started Saturday at the Father David Bauer Arena at Hockey Canada’s headquarters in Calgary.
The nation’s top under-18 players, who will make up Canada’s squad for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in August, have come together for their summer evaluation camp. The Ivan Hlinka is one of hockey’s hidden gems and it’s a real shame that it does not get the coverage or exposure that it deserves. No disrespect to the IIHF Under-18 World Championship held every April, but the Ivan Hlinka tournament is the true gauge for the best national teams at the level, as all the best players are generally available to play (many are tied up with playoffs in April).
This week I thought I would point out some of the more intriguing players attempting to crack Canada’s roster. Next time I will go over some of the players from other countries who could make some noise during the Ivan Hlinka and jump on to the early NHL draft radar for next June.
In goal, Canada has a strong crop this year and, for good reason. Daniel Altshuller seems to be the player getting the most attention from scouts, but the player I’m most interested in seeing perform at this level is Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound Matt Murray. Murray’s effort level at last month’s development camp was unmatched and he has proven to be very quick in the crease, making him a difficult netminder to deceive and open up some net against.
The battle in goal will be intense as both Francois Tremblay and Dominic Graham are also capable of stealing the show. I’m a little surprised that my favorite Canadian under-18 goaltender, Chris Driedger, did not get an invite, but I think that actually just proves how competitive this position will be for the tournament and the draft. It’s a nice position to be in for Canada’s coaching staff.
Much has been made of the crop of D-men for this year’s draft and it truly is exceptional. How do you cut down the list if you’re Canada’s coaching staff? Tough call. My personal favorite in the group is Matt Dumba of the Red Deer Rebels. I have been lucky enough to watch him play since he was in bantam and tried to coach against him in the Alberta Cup under-16 program. Dumba is extremely dynamic and can change the momentum of a game with his stick or body. He’s the kind of player who gets fans on their feet and can intimidate opponents with his presence.
The blueliner I’m looking forward to getting a better look at is Niagara IceDog Jesse Graham. Graham had a solid rookie season in the Ontario League, but really stepped up in the playoffs. He might be a bit of a dark horse at this point, which is ridiculous considering his abilities, but I’m very interested to see how he does against the higher level of competition.
At forward, I urge everyone to keep their eyes on Hunter Shinkaruk. This will be the third straight under-18 camp (that I know of) Shinkaruk will be attending, but the first time he’ll actually be on the ice for it. The Calgary-raised Shinkaruk is an absolute rink rat and has that love and passion for the game that is truly genuine and exciting.
On the ice he’s very intelligent and very slippery with the puck. He has grown some during the past year and is looking more and more like the real deal. Shinkaruk isn’t eligible for the NHL draft until 2013 and will be the second youngest player at camp, with only Connor Rankin born later.
Sean Monahan (born one day earlier than Shinkaruk) is another player to keep tabs on. Monahan is a born winner and plays a style of game that coaches and teammates love. He has multiple gears and always seems to be one of the most noticeable players on the ice when crunch time hits.
Perhaps the most underrated player in the mix at forward is Brandon Magee. An easy player to write off because of his size, Magee is a warrior and is potentially the best two-way player in the group. Do not overlook him, it would be a huge mistake as there is nothing the kid won’t do for his team and he is full of surprises. Magee is almost guaranteed to be one of the biggest dark horses/wildcards of the 2012 NHL draft, jump on his bandwagon now because he just doesn’t let you down.
None of these players are locks to make the team, although Dumba is pretty darn close, and I’m not trying to say who I think the best players are. I could go on, excitedly, for hours talking about the potential of every single one of the players on the invite list (give me a shout on Twitter @rossmaclean if you want to challenge that), but these are the players I really want to see strut their stuff.
I wish all the players the best of luck and I am really looking forward to watching them compete for their dream and see who jumps out at this level. Lastly, it would be wrong to write a column about this event and not mention Griffin Reinhart…so, Griffin Reinhart…I imagine I will get to talk about him enough this season.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS’ network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.