Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has already played in the senior world championship (The Associated Press)A good chunk of Canada loves to live vicariously through 22 teenagers as the IIHF World U20 Championship draws near. That holiday ritual of having national pride staked on a six-game tournament only stands to increase in a NHL lockout year.
Five of the first nine players chosen two NHL drafts ago — an unheard-of bounty now that many of the top teenagers turn pro before age 20 — could be available for Canada if the the NHL's Nuclear Winter III continues through December. That should stoke interest and up the pressure on the Steve Spott-coached Canucks to end a three-year victory drought, even though this tournament will be held in far-off, forbidding Ufa, Russia.
With Hockey Canada's selection camp roster set to drop Monday, Buzzing The Net took a stab projecting the lineup that Spott might to Russia, in three weeks. It appears Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will play (no reason to think otherwise) and this exercise no end to the lockout. Careful consideration was given to roles, potential line combinations and defence pairings, but all players are listed alphabetically.
Phillip Danault, Victoriaville Tigres — The Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder seems like a good bet to make it as a penalty killer and defensive-minded centre with a modicum of skill. Danault leads the Tigres in scoring and is a 54.5 per cent faceoff man.
Boone Jenner, Oshawa Generals — The big-bodied centre might have cracked the Columbus Blue Jackets lineup if the NHL was operational. Jenner worked his way on to Team Canada a year by playing physically and has added more offence to his repertory, leading the OHL with 26 goals in 30 games.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oklahoma City Barons — The locked-out Edmonton Oilers centre would obviously be the go-to guy. The Oilers are not going to Zibanejad the 19-year-old Ottawa Senators management-style.
It is pertinent to mull what would happen if events keep Nugent-Hopkins out of the tournament, since he is having a shoulder examined on Sunday in Edmonton. Mark Scheifele and Ryan Strome would be the top two centres — or maybe each could from the top line Jonathan Huberdeau. That would also certainly open up top-six playing time for Nathan MacKinnon. It seems moot.
Ryan Strome, Niagara IceDogs — The slick playmaker and New York Islanders hopeful buried an overtime goal in August that helped capture the Canada-Russia challenge. Strome did not have a great WJC as an 18-year-old, but has been beastly after the lockout made him go to the 'Dogs. He is leading the entire Canadian Hockey League with 59 points in 30 games. League stats are not much to go on, but he has shown progress since last January.
Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi Saguéneens — A Spott favourite, the Montreal Canadiens draft choice was very impressive in the Canada-Russia Challenge series in August. The 18-year-old could be the worker bee on the second line. He has had 20 points in the past 10 games while spurring the Sags to an 8-2 roll.
Saint John's Jonathan Huberdeau (Getty Images)Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John Sea Dogs — The Florida Panthers No. 3 overall pick in 2011 is arguably the best player in Canada and can be penned (not pencilled) in as Nugent-Hopkins' left arm. A few fans might wish to see 17-year-old Halifax Mooseheads prodigy Nathan MacKinnon get a chance to play with Hoppy and Hoobadoo, if only to see if the two QMJHL stars can replicate their Subway Super Series success.
Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads — Not letting him get a chance to rise to the level of competition is a bigger folly building than a Popsicle-stick skyscraper and a giant magnifying class in the same town. MacKinnon was a fish out of water playing wing in the Subway Super Series opener. He centred Team QMJHL's top line two nights later and was man of the match. Start him as the 13th forward, at least, and see if he works up to being one of Canada's best by Jan. 5. Insisting he has to be a top-sixer seems like overthink.
Mark McNeill, Prince Albert Raiders — The Chicago Blackhawks' two 2011 first-rounders, Danault and McNeill, could end up on the fourth line together. McNeill was the highest Canadian draft pick not included in Canada's camp a year ago after being taken No. 14 overall, but he was pressing. He will be handy because he can play centre and either wing.
Sean Monahan, Ottawa 67's — Of the two 18-year-old NHL draft prospects who skated up front this summer, Monahan presents a stronger argument than Medicine Hat's Hunter Shinkaruk. The OHL's top-ranked draftee-to-be has grown into playing a two-way game and seems to read both the ice and opponents very well, so a shift to left wing should hold no terror for him. Monahan is under OHL suspension until camp opens. The proof of how that affects him will be seen on the ice.
Ty Rattie, Portland Winterhawks — It could be an either/or between Rattie, 19, and MacKinnon on the second line. The St. Louis Blues prospect has the best body of work among WHL forwards across the past 2½ seasons and is grooving, with 23 points in 13 games since Halloween. Keep in mind the scary-deep Winterhawks do not need count on him to produce mammoth offence. Rattie was also solid for Team WHL in the Super Series.
Granted, big point totals do not a name on a Team Canada jersey make. Just ask Tyler Toffoli.
Brett Ritchie, Niagara IceDogs — Strome's Niagara linemate offers fast hands and physical force. Ritchie, who is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, is fourth in the OHL with 24 goals and 47 points and is tough to dislodge from the dirty areas, much like Ottawa Senators prospect Mark Stone was a year ago. Coming from the IceDogs means adapting from their elbow-room-only home rink to the larger IIHF sheet, so that is something to watch with Ritchie, a Dallas Stars second-rounder. The 2012 Canadian team that found out too late it was outpaced.
Mark Scheifele, Barrie Colts — The Winnipeg Jets prospect has the hands to be a finisher alongside Nugent-Hopkins and Huberdeau on the projected top line. Scheifele is a 6-foot-4 pivot with nearly peerless offensive vision, not unlike Ryan Johansen, who was very effect moving from centre to right to skate with Brayden Schenn in the 2011 WJC.
Tom Wilson, Plymouth Whalers — Delivering the momentum-changing massive check is a Team Canada tenet, even though the days of winning by intimidating are long past. Wilson famously broke NHL first overall pick Nail Yakupov's helmet with an open-ice check during the Super Series on Nov. 12. Wilson would need a blow-'em-away camp to get a jersey, but he could very high-reward in a short tournament. Boston Bruins third-rounder
Anthony Camara, Scheifele's Barrie teammate, has a similar on-ice disposition to Wilson. Camara is also a point-a-game scorer, so he could test for Canada's crash line.
Dougie Hamilton, Niagara IceDogs — The woulda-been Boston Bruins rookie's rare combo of size, skill and sense of when to jump into an attack should complement Morgan Rielly on the top pairing. Get a good laugh now at the Toronto Maple Leafs top pick being a D partner with a player taken with a pick from the Phil Kessel trade.
Scott Harrington, London Knights — The defenceman's defenceman is a soothing stabilizer who can sink in shutdown role like it was a warm bath. Harrington's shoulder injury vs. Team USA in Canada's last prelim game at the 2012 WJC was very much a canary in the coalmine; D partner Ryan Murray went minus-5 in the semifinal loss vs. Russia. Harrington, a signed Pittsburgh Penguins second-rounder, has helped London fashion the OHL's best record and a 14-game win streak.
Ryan Murphy, Kitchener Rangers — Murphy, who plays for Spott in Kitchener, should quarterback one power-play unit while Rielly and Hamilton takes the points on the other. The Rangers captain has been cut at each of the past two camps, but has improved his all-around game. The Carolina Hurricanes pick would be here for offence. The head coach usually also has one of his own players on the squad.
Murphy fits in between fifth and seventh on the depth chart defensively. Murphy furnishes more maturity than Dumba and Pouliot, who can also wheel. He is also more mobile than Ottawa Senators first-rounder Cody Ceci, a late cut in 2012.
Xavier Ouellet, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada — The QMJHL's Harrington doppelganger, but with more offensive game. The Detroit Red Wings second-rounder built his case in the summer series vs. Russia and followed up superbly. The 19-year-old has TCB'd at each end: he plays the most minutes for a B-B team which allows only 24 shots per game, which is outstanding even after accounting for the Q's stringent shot counters. Ouellet's 25 points in 26 games also suggest he can draw some second-unit PP time.
Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton Oil Kings — Simply put, Reinhart is better at being tall and broad than the much flashier Mathew Dumba, his WHL contemporary who made it to the final cut for the 2012 team at age 17. Hamilton, at 6-foot-5, is the only behemoth on the blueline, so the 6-foot-4, 202-pound Reinhart gets on to balance out the attributes of Canada's back end.
Morgan Rielly, Moose Jaw Warriors — Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke furrowed some brows by claiming he thought Rielly, whom he took No. 5 overall, should have been the No. 1 pick. It overbuilt Leaf Nation's expectations for the rushing defenceman. However, Rielly is first in scoring among WHL defencemen eligible for Canada. On Saturday, he helped Moose Jaw take down conference-leading Kamloops, which has the Dub's top two scorers.
Another reason Canada might feel secure with Rielly logging major minutes in a tournament with un-Canadian officiating standards is that he never takes penalties. He has been minor penalty-free in 40 consecutive WHL games, which is unreal for a D-man.
Tyler Wotherspoon, Portland Winterhawks — Call it a reach, but Seth Jones' defence partner in Portland is a WHL-best plus-35 and has taken only two minor penalties all season. The Calgary Flames late second-rounder could provide both steadiness and good size at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds.
Other, most likely brighter and more in-the-know people would clear space for Dumba. Or for Wotherspoon's Portland teammate, Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder Derrick Pouliot. Wotherspoon is plus-33 this season, tops in the WHL by a fair margin, and also uses his stick carefully, with just two minor penalties all season.
Jordan Binnington, Owen Sound Attack — Not that Alberta and Ontario ever have trouble seeing eye to eye, but the backup debate is unsolvable. Each has big-game experience. Binnington is a former MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament all-star, and Laurent Brossoit is the reigning WHL playoff MVP. Binnington has been very consistent for Owen Sound this season, though. Brossoit has flirted with being labelled hot-and-cold.
Laurent Brossoit, Edmonton Oil Kings — The Calgary Flames prospect, to his credit, has worked through a performance plateau and had a shutout in the Super Series against Russia. There should also be little fear that he's overworked in the WHL since the Oil Kings are working in goalie of the future Tristan Jarry; Brossoit only made nine starts in November.
Who dresses and who is an adjunct member of the team will come down to whom the inner sanctum is more comfortable with by Dec. 24 or 25. Spott is more familiar with Binnington since they are in the same division of the OHL, but who knows how much that will count.
The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada's Étienne Marcoux has an apparent dislocated shoulder that will cost him a camp invite, at least. Marcoux was an odds-on pick to be the fourth goalie at the tryouts in Calgary.
Malcolm Subban, Belleville Bulls — Subban compared very favourably this summer to Russia's Andrei Vasilevski, who was drafted ahead of him in June and also has a world junior on his CV. The Bruins first-rounder slides post-to-post very well and is used to the change in angles between North American and the bigger international ice. He is also used to white-knuckle games since Bellevegas often rolls snakes-eyes. The Bulls are dead last in the OHL in goals scored, but are six games above .500. Subban is the frontrunner to be Canada's backbone.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.