Canada WJC selection camp roster takeaways: Where’s Owen Tippett?

Owen Tippett of the Mississauga Steelheads. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

There’s an annual discussion every December about the NHLers who aren’t loaned to Canada’s World Junior Championship team.

Let the record show Hockey Canada turned down one player with big-league experience on their own accord. Mississauga Steelheads winger Owen Tippett was the biggest omission when Canada’s selection camp roster was named on Wednesday. Tippett was selected 10th overall by the Florida Panthers in the 2017 NHL Draft and scored once in seven NHL appearances this season before being returned to Mississauga on Nov 6.

That, apparently, wasn’t good enough for Hockey Canada.

“There’s only so many they can take,” said Steelheads coach-GM James Richmond. “There’s going to be another 10 or 12 that could have been there. That just goes to show you the strength of the Canadian players.”

Tippett stayed in the NHL so long that his first junior game was played in the CIBC Canada/Russia Series.

Although he was a frequent healthy scratch for the Panthers, Tippett skated 11:07 per game when he was in the lineup. He’s had five goals and 13 points in 11 games with Mississauga since coming back.

“He started in the NHL. That’s a pretty good way to start the season,” Richmond said.

“There were some games he got pretty good minutes there. He enjoyed his time, learned a lot and now he’s come back here and tried to make himself a better player.”

When asked about Tippett’s exclusion during a conference call Wednesday, members of Team Canada’s world junior management and coaching staff refused to comment on omitted players.

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Tippett is known for his heavy shot and elite offensive skill, but the knock on him is consistency and defensive play.

The situation with Tippett is reminiscent of Hockey Canada’s decision not to invite Max Domi to camp four years ago. Although Domi didn’t start the 2013-14 season in the NHL, he was drafted eighth overall and was regarded for his touch and creativity with the London Knights.

Only 25 players were asked to camp that year (32 were invited this season) and Domi didn’t make the grade as a top-six forward. Canada finished fourth — the next year Domi was named tournament MVP as Canada won its only gold medal since 2009.

It’s worth noting, this is the second straight year Hockey Canada has passed on someone with NHL experience. Defenceman Brendan Guhle wasn’t invited to selection camp last year after spending three games with the Buffalo Sabres, albeit as an emergency call-up.

With that, here are a few other things of note from the unveiling for the selection camp roster.

LITTLE-BIG SNUB

While Tippett has the NHL credentials, all Matthew Phillips has is grandiose totals.

The Victoria Royals forward and Calgary Flames prospect is eighth in WHL scoring with 47 points in 31 games. He had 90 points in 70 games a season ago.

There’s no doubt his listed five-foot-seven, 155-pound frame didn’t work in his favour. Still, one would think production should have been too much overlook.

If Domi and Tippett are comparable, Phillips’ equivalent is Connor Brown. The current Toronto Maple Leaf was at the top of the OHL scoring list four years ago, despite being an undersized, late-round NHL pick. He wasn’t invited to camp either.

Brown is now a standout NHL sophomore for his hometown team – something Phillips, a Calgary native and draft pick, should keep in mind.

PLAYING THE NHL WAITING GAME

Speaking of the NHL, Hockey Canada senior manager Shawn Bullock said he’s still waiting to see if NHL teams will loan players.

He said he hasn’t been told no by anyone and his cut off is the NHL’s holiday roster freeze, which begins Dec. 19.

Pierre-Luc Dubois (CBJ), Nolan Patrick (PHI), Victor Mete (MTL), Samuel Girard (COL), Tyson Jost (COL) and Jakob Chychrun (ARI) are those with world-junior eligibility. Chychrun made his season debut Sunday after off-season knee surgery and is now in his second NHL season. The others are rookies.

MISSING A ‘Q’

As expected, this year’s Canadian team will be short on players from the QMJHL as only three – Cape Breton’s Drake Batherson, Victoriaville’s Maxime Comtois, and Rouyn-Noranda’s Samuel Harvey – were invited to camp. Batherson was born in the United States and lived in Germany until he was eight before his family moved to Nova Scotia.

As management group member Joel Bouchard noted, these things tend to work in cycles and the Quebec group would look more impressive were it not for Dubois and Girard being in the NHL.

Last year’s squad was much higher on ‘Q’ content with seven players.

“This year it’s three, but it’s three very good players that really deserve to be here,” Bouchard said. “We’re really excited because those guys really showed up from the first day of the season.”

Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has four Canadian QMJHLers in his December prospect rankings for the 2018 NHL Draft. Throw in 2017 picks like Charlottetown Islanders blueliner Pierre-Olivier Joseph and the pendulum could swing back in the Q’s favour next year.

CROWDED CREASE

Taking four goaltenders to camp used to be the norm before 2014. Since then, netminding invitations have come in twos and threes.

We’re back to four this year: returnee Carter Hart, Harvey, Windsor’s Michael DiPietro and Colton Point from the NCAA’s Colgate University.

“Why limit ourselves to options when we have four players that are at the top of their game? Let’s bring them in and let them compete for positions. I think it’s an area of strength,” Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said.
“I know it’s a little bit outside of what’s been done in the past. But I think we’re in a good position because all four are playing real well.”

Given Hart’s WJC experience and numbers this season with WHL Everett – a 1.43 goals-against average and .956 save percentage – he’s expected to play the lion’s share of minutes.

NCAA FLAVOUR

Logically, Hockey Canada tends to look to the CHL for the world juniors. Of the 32 players invited to camp, 13 are from the WHL, 12 of them play in the OHL, and three call the QMJHL home.

That leaves four vying for jobs from the collegiate ranks, a rarity to be sure.

Defenceman Dante Fabbro’s invitation comes as no surprise because the Nashville Predators first-rounder was on last year’s team.

Point was a former standout in Junior A for the Carleton Place Canadians, leading them to a Central Canada league championship in 2016.

Defenceman Cale Makar was selected fourth overall by Colorado in June and his now at UMass.

Fellow blueliner and UMass teammate Mario Ferraro is the fourth player. Surely, the trips made by Hockey Canada brass to watch Makar didn’t hurt and full marks to Ferraro for catching their eyes.

The last time Team Canada had more than two NCAA players on the WJC team was in 2007: Jonathan Toews, Andrew Cogliano and Daniel Bertram.

It’s worth noting that Ferraro is one of seven players on the selection camp roster who was not at the summer showcase. The others are Harvey, Point, Comtois, Batherson, Alex Formenton (OHL London) and Tyler Steenbergen (WHL Swift Current).