And then there were 32. Hockey Canada announced its final selection camp roster for its world junior team yesterday with dual press conferences in Toronto and Montreal, the two cities that will host the event, starting on Dec. 26. Canada is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish from the 2016 event in Finland and redemption is certainly on the menu. “There’s a number of players that feel they have something to prove,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s vice president, hockey operations. “There was a level of, if you will, embarrassment, to the result last year. A guy like Dylan Strome is very focused on coming back and trying to redeem what happened.”
Strome will indeed be key for the Canadians, as the big center was recently returned to junior after a stint with the Arizona Coyotes. Other veterans from the 2016 squad are Mitchell Stephens (Tampa Bay), Thomas Chabot (Ottawa), Mathew Barzal (NY Islanders) and Julien Gauthier (Carolina). That’s a great start, but a little less than the nine coach Dominique Ducharme had spoke of in the summer – that’s because Mitch Marner, Travis Konecny, Lawson Crouse and Anthony Beauvillier are all busy in the NHL. Even Jakob Chychrun, who didn’t make the team last year, will likely be in Arizona with the Coyotes instead of at the tourney. “Certainly we’ve had the conversation with their GMs,” Salmond said. “We haven’t given up hope, but it’s doubtful.”
Another player the team won’t get a crack at is Kelowna Rockets defenseman Cal Foote. The 2017 draft prospect and son of former NHLer Adam Foote was declared ineligible for the team by the governing IIHF. Foote is a dual US/Canadian citizen, but lived and played in Colorado up until last season. According to IIHF rules, he needed to live in Canada for two years and play hockey there for 16 consecutive months (that is to say, multiple seasons – he doesn’t have to play in the summer). So Foote will be eligible for next year’s tournament.
One final note before I break down the roster: Nolan Patrick is the only 2017 prospect to make the cut. He’s been injured for a month and half, but Salmond said he spoke to the big, elite pivot last week and Patrick believes he’ll be ready for camp. The youngster had sports hernia surgery in the off-season and is now beset with an upper-body injury.
OK, onto the names…
Strome, Barzal, Gauthier and Stephens will be big, not to mention third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus), who nearly made the team last year. Tyson Jost (Colorado) is one of only two NCAA players named to camp, but he played a lot of top-line minutes at the National Junior Evaluation Camp summer tourney hosted by Team USA in Michigan. Sam Steel (Anaheim) has really found his stride again in Regina, while Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay) has been excellent in Saint John.
So here’s my big question: Does Canada value speed over other skills when the final decisions are made? If the answer is yes, that will benefit players such as Mikey McLeod (New Jersey) and Austin Wagner (Los Angeles). If it’s not an absolute, I would find it hard not to see Taylor Raddysh (Tampa Bay) in the lineup, given how amazing he’s been as a goal-scorer with Erie this year. Nicolas Roy (Carolina) strikes me as a perfect shutdown guy, so speed may not factor in as much when it comes to his chances.
Honestly, there are many nice options on the blueline and I’m not sure which direction they’ll go – it may really come down to the final camp performances. Chabot is a lock, while Jake Bean (Carolina) is probably set, too. Same goes for Noah Juulsen (Montreal). I’d also put Boston University’s Dante Fabbro (Nashville) in that category, but now we’re starting to run out of slots. Jeremy Lauzon (Boston) was a late cut last year, while Philippe Myers (Philadelphia) has impressed. Guillaume Brisebois (Vancouver) seems like a perfect penalty-killer/No. 7, while Samuel Girard (Nashville) and Victor Mete (Montreal) both offer excellent offense and rushing skills.
Ah, the goaltending – Canada’s demon. The team will have competition this year, with three netminders vying for two slots. Salmond said it wouldn’t be fair to deprive a CHL team of its starter for a month if that kid was just going to sit in the stands, so they won’t carry three. But, if someone gets injured, the tournament is in Canada, so a recall is easy.
Carter Hart (Philadelphia) certainly has the inside track, as he has been the WHL’s goalie of the week twice in a row and is rocking a 1.67 goals-against average with Everett as a result. He didn’t look good at the summer NJEC, but Hart did show well in his WHL-Russia start, turning aside 33 of 34 shots for the win.
Connor Ingram (Tampa Bay) and Michael McNiven (Montreal) will therefore battle for the backup slot. Ingram has been the other great goalie in the WHL this season, though his international outings have been rocky. McNiven played great against Russia when the OHL beat them and his numbers with Owen Sound are solid.
But seriously, whoever ends up in the crease, Canada needs them to be good. That has not been the case at this tournament for years.
You’d think there would be some controversial omissions, but I can’t find any fault in the choices here. Tyler Benson, Logan Stanley and Cliff Pu could have gotten the call, but all three will be eligible next year as well. Canada’s major challenge now is to go from 32 players to 22. And then the thoughts turn to gold.