With Los Angeles Kings center Brayden Schenn returning to junior, Canada’s world junior team selection camp roster appears to be at an even 40 players. But what will this year’s team look like?
Certainly Schenn provides an elite offensive stick and his NHL experience will serve the team well, much in the same way Alex Pietrangelo helped last year, but Hockey Canada officials have been referring to this year’s edition as a blue-collar team, so don’t be surprised if some of the players eventually selected aren’t necessarily the flashiest or highest-scoring available.
That much was made evident when Ottawa 67’s star Tyler Toffoli, currently third in Ontario League scoring with 41 points in 27 games, was left off the list. Toffoli’s linemate, Ryan Martindale, who is only one point behind him in the scoring race, was also left off the roster. Team Canada coach Dave Cameron clearly has a plan and is not putting together a junior fantasy all-star team.
Looking at Cameron’s Mississauga-St-Michael’s Majors, the coach has assembled a team with no top-20 scorers and no first round NHL draft picks. His star goalie, J.P. Anderson, wasn’t drafted at all, instead signing as a free agent with San Jose over the summer. The Majors have also been nearly unstoppable this season and are the No. 1 junior team in the nation. Mississauga wins with structure and tenacity.
That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to see a player such as Moose Jaw’s Quinton Howden rewarded with a roster spot. With 30 points in 24 games, Howden is a top-30 scorer in the Western League, but he has always made his hay with his responsible two-way game. At 6-foot-3, 183 pounds, he’s a lot of player to handle and Cameron’s troops from Mississauga have made it known the coach likes to be tough to play against.
Staying on that tip, Team Canada has generally been bereft of NCAA players recently, but I can see that changing this time around. The inclusion of Notre Dame’s Riley Sheahan on the camp roster is particularly interesting. With no goals and five assists in 14 games for the Fighting Irish, the move may seem perplexing, but Notre Dame is a defensively strict team and Sheahan has learned quite a bit in his year-and-a-bit service in South Bend. Like Howden, Sheahan’s big at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds. With teams such as Russia and the U.S. bringing ample firepower to Buffalo, it would certainly serve Canada well to have some shutdown potential in the lineup.
Two other NCAA players worth noting are Reilly Smith and Jaden Schwartz. Smith, who plays for Miami and is one of the top scorers in the CCHA, is known for his tenacity around the puck. Schwartz has been one of the top scorers in the WCHA for Colorado College all season long and would provide a flashy game that, while maybe not a top priority, is still very coveted in a tournament such as the world juniors. Plus, all three players are used to playing against older, stronger competition in college.
Schwartz was actually named by Cameron at the camp roster press conference as a player who really impressed him over the summer. The other forwards lauded were Louis Leblanc, Cody Eakin and Brandon Pirri. Both Leblanc and Pirri played NCAA last season.
So while all 40 players will have to prove themselves at Canada’s final camp, it will be interesting to see how much Cameron brings to the national team. They may not be a sexy bunch, but gold can make any team look attractive.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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