Heading into the 2015 world juniors in Toronto, there were many Canadian players we could basically check off as guarantees long before the roster was decided. Connor McDavid, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart, Zach Fucale, Darnell Nurse, Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey were all locks, for example.
With the tournament shifting to Helsinki for 2016, Canada's braintrust will have some tougher decisions to make, as evidenced by the summer camp roster.
Sure, there are a couple returnees who will be available – Lawson Crouse, Robby Fabbri, Joe Hicketts, Brayden Point and Jake Virtanen all have golds already – but otherwise things are wide open.
In net, none of the three candidates have WJC experience, as Fucale and Eric Comrie both aged out. Mason McDonald (Calgary) has the most major junior starts under his belt, but not far behind is 2015 prospect Mackenzie Blackwood, while fellow draft hopeful Samuel Montembeault was also a starter this season.
The defense corps basically has two tiers in my mind: Four locks, then three spots for anybody else listed. Haydn Fleury (Carolina) and Travis Sanheim (Philadelphia) were both great at camp last year and seemed to be groomed for the Finland assignment in 2016. Hicketts (Detroit) returns after a strong showing in Toronto, while Brandon Hickey (Calgary) was such a revelation at Boston U. as a freshman that even the famously anti-NCAA crew at Hockey Canada cannot overlook him.
Then the team has options. Mitch Vande Sompel, Vince Dunn and Travis Dermott are all 2015 prospects who can move the puck and contribute to the offense, while Noah Juulsen and Jeremy Roy offer more balanced games. Another college kid, Providence's Jake Walman, will be fascinating because the St. Louis pick is also on Team USA's roster – he's a dual citizen.
Up front is a great collection of skill and size, so as I said before, the challenge will be putting the puzzle together right.
I was very impressed with the all-around game that San Jose pick Rourke Chartier displayed at the Memorial Cup and keep in mind he also scored 48 goals in 58 games this season. Michael Dal Colle (NY Islanders), who won the Cup with Oshawa, would seem like a natural to patrol the top line's wing. Could MDC be in the NHL at the time? He has the skill, but the Isles are deep right now and even if he made it, I could see him being lent out to Canada, as Ottawa's Curtis Lazar was this year.
Fabbri (St. Louis) sprained his ankle in the quarterfinal demolition of Denmark, missing the last two games of the 2015 tourney, so he'll be primed for another showing, while Crouse (2015) will take on a larger role than he did in Toronto. Virtanen (Vancouver) is in the same boat as Dal Colle, though the hard-hitting Canucks prospect is also a returnee.
In terms of new options, 2015 prospects such as Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Matt Barzal, Nick Merkley and Travis Konecny all bring top-end skills, so they'll be in the mix. There's also Mitchell Stephens, who played so well alongside Barzal at the world under-18s recently.
But the most divisive name on the roster is Islanders prospect Josh Ho-Sang. Hockey Canada has never been kind to the dynamic Niagara IceDogs wizard and while his honest public persona probably doesn't help, it's hard to overlook what he can do on the ice.
Ho-Sang is a premier playmaker and will be one of the oldest player available; can he prove his worth this time? It's going to be a fun competition to watch. I can't say the Canadians are locks for the final in Finland, since goaltending is an unknown and there are no superstar phenoms this year, but Canada will once again be near the top – and definitely has the potential to repeat.