CHL Power Rankings: 10 notes ahead of Canada’s WJC Selection Camp

Sam Cosentino sets his sights on the new-look World Juniors team that Canada has put together, with just two returning players from last year’s gold medal-winning tournament.

The process has begun for picking Canada’s roster for the 2019 World Junior Championship. The selection camp roster was announced Monday, with 34 players getting a shot to represent their country over the Christmas Holidays.

Selection camp will begin Dec. 10 in Victoria, B.C., with Canada opening the tournament on Boxing Day against Denmark.

Here are a few notes to be mindful of with selection camp around the corner.

10. College Contingent: For the second straight year, four NCAA players were named to the selection camp roster. The lone forward is Shane Bowers of Boston University, a reliable two-way centre. Cameron Crotty, an Arizona prospect, is a big, stay-at-home defenceman also from the BU program. Ian Mitchell, a Chicago Blackhawks second-rounder, has 41 points in 53 career NCAA games from the back end with the University of Denver. And the last is Jacob Bernard-Docker, a freshman at North Dakota, who was taken 26th overall by Ottawa in June and has nine points in 15 games.

9. Tim Nose Hockey: Stolen from an old Moose Jaw Warriors promotion. After serving as an assistant coach to Dominique Ducharme the past two years, Moose Jaw’s Tim Hunter gets to put his personal stamp on Team Canada. Hunter is extremely detail-oriented, embraces analytics and possesses an old-school mentality when it comes to what he demands from his players. Hunter, whose Warriors finished with a franchise record 52 wins and 109 points last season, got the unfortunate draw of having to play Swift Current in the second round of the playoffs and lost out to the eventual Ed Chynoweth Cup champions.

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

8. Mikey’s New Home: It’s one thing to know you’re going to play for Canada at the world juniors, but it’s another to worry about where you’re going after the WJC ends. That fear no longer exists for Vancouver Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro who was dealt from Windsor to Ottawa Tuesday. The CHL forbids world junior players from being dealt during the tournament, thanks to the Steve Mason fiasco back in 2008. The 67’s struck well before the start of camp to remove any distractions DiPietro may have had.

7. NHL One, Two?: There’s only one player from the 2018 gold medal team eligible to be sent back from the NHL and that’s St. Louis’s Robert Thomas. Thomas has seen his ice-time increase to more than 16:00 minutes per game under Craig Berube and four of his eight points have been tallied in the past five games. Having said that, Blues GM Doug Armstrong is a Hockey Canada guy and that may be a factor. The other eligible Canadian, but not a returnee from last year, is Detroit’s Michael Rasmussen who has nine points through 26 games, averaging 13:09 per game.

6. Gabe Time: It’s been a long time coming for Kingston’s Gabe Vilardi. A 2017 Memorial Cup champion and all-star, Vilardi has been on the long road to recovery. L.A.’s first-round pick from 2017 is currently on a conditioning assignment with the Ontario Reign of the AHL. He’s been limited to just 81 regular season OHL games over the past two seasons due to a recurring back injury. If healthy, he’ll be a major force. He has the reputation of being the best “below the dots” player in the CHL.

5. NHL x5: There are five players on the selection camp roster that have NHL experience. Alex Formenton has NHL games played in both of the past two years with Ottawa. Owen Tippett got into seven games to start the 2017-18 campaign, while Evan Bouchard (Edmonton), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (L.A. Kings) and Max Comtois (Anaheim) all made their NHL debuts this season. All five players have recorded their first NHL points, while four of them have tallied at least one NHL goal.

4. Three’s A Crowd: 2016 marked the last time Canada brought three goalies to camp and all three of them made the team. The tournament was held in Finland that year, and because it was overseas Blainville’s Samuel Montembault was taken as the third goalie. He dressed in two games that year, but did not play.

With this year’s event taking place on home soil, distance wouldn’t dictate taking a third ‘tender, but after DiPietro it’s too close to call who would be the No. 2. Sault Ste. Marie’s Matthew Villalta is a Kings prospect who’s recently back from injury. Toronto prospect Ian Scott of Prince Albert leads the CHL in wins (22), GAA (1.62), save percentage (.942) and shutouts (4).

3. Young D: Of the 12 defencemen invited, there are just five who are true 1999 birthdates. By that, we refer to their NHL draft year. Anyone born after Sept. 15, 1999 is considered a “late birthday,” and was NHL draft eligible for the first time in June of 2018. Last year’s gold medal-winning team had three late birthdays on D, but none born in 1999 or later. This year’s team will be young on the back end.

2. Alexis the Great: The lone 2001-born player invited to camp, Rimouski’s Alexis Lafreniere is the projected first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. He has followed up his 2018 CHL Rookie of the Year performance (42 goals, 80 points in 60 games) with a phenomenal first half to the 2018-19 season.

Through Rimouski’s first 28 games, Lafreniere has put up 16 goals and 46 points and has been held pointless in just six games all season. With strength that belies his age, Lafreniere should be able to hang with the older players. He plays a complete, honest game and at his best he makes those around him better. Making this team as a 17-year-old is no easy task, as the last to do it was Connor McDavid in 2015. Lafreniere would become the ninth-youngest Canadian to represent his country.

1. Brett Leason: It’s a story that won’t and shouldn’t go away. Leason continues to terrorize the WHL at a goal-per-game pace through Prince Albert’s first 28 games. His 61 points lead the CHL and he has at least a point in every game this season. The 6-foot-4, 207-pound right winger hasn’t been drafted and he hasn’t previously been a part of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence. The Raiders have a three-in-three weekend ahead, and here’s hoping he takes his streaking ways into camp Dec. 11.

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