The pizzazz, it appears, is yet to come. Maybe.
Sure, there are lots of high NHL draft picks on the Canadian junior training camp roster announced today, and there are some very tough choices yet to be made to cut this group down further before the world juniors begin in Toronto and Montreal later this month. Canada hasn’t won a medal at the last two world junior gatherings, which means there will be even more pressure on this year’s group. Right now, there are six players who skated for Canada last year on the roster.
But this won’t go down as a star-studded group likely to rival the 2005 team that ran the table in North Dakota. Not yet and probably not ever.
That said, head coach Benoit Groulx is sure hoping he’ll have one or more of Curtis Lazar, Jonathan Drouin, Anthony Duclair or Bo Horvat at his disposal when the tournament opens. All are with NHL clubs, and none were on the 29-player roster named today or are expected to attend the selection camp even if they are made available. Groulx is definitely also hoping Connor McDavid will be fit and ready to go, which looks like a reasonable bet, but still will put a lot of the onus for Canada’s star power on a 17-year-old in a tournament usually dominated by 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds. Kingston winger Lawson Crouse, who doesn’t have the body of a 17-year-old, joins McDavid as the relative babies of the group.
Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner, the Nos. 1 and No. 4 scorers in the Ontario Hockey League, weren’t invited. None of the top Canadian-born scorers in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were invited, with Leaf prospect Frederik Gauthier, a returnee from last year’s national junior team, the only “Q” forward asked to the selection camp. Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets, second in WHL scoring and draft eligible next June, wasn’t invited, although his line mate, Rourke Chartier, was.
Finally, Niagara forward Josh Ho-Sang, a first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders, found once again he’s not Hockey Canada’s cup of tea. Ho-Sang was very dangerous when asked to play in the recent CHL Subway Super Series for the OHL squad, but his name was conspicuous among those left off the Team Canada list Monday.
As expected, only two goalies, Zach Fucale of the Halifax Mooseheads and Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans, were invited. Canada hasn’t received a standout goaltending effort in recent memory at the world juniors, and this is clearly an effort to let Fucale get his head around being the clear cut No. 1 choice.
Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in last summer’s NHL draft, leads the forwards along with McDavid and London’s Max Domi. The back end may be the strength of this year’s group and features top NHL picks Hadyn Fleury, Darnell Nurse, Josh Morrissey, Madison Bowey, Shea Theodore and Travis Sandheim. Joe Hicketts, the 5-foot-8 defenceman of the Victoria Royals, was a bit of a surprise inclusion, although he’s been lighting up the WHL this season.
Camp opens Dec. 11 at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto, and will also include sessions at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (the former Maple Leaf Gardens).