Mon Nov 28 02:57pm EST
Forget talk about four second lines and grinding opponents down to a nub, which were the buzz phrases with Team Canada a year ago.
There is the $64,000 question going in with any hockey team that wears the Maple Leaf: Will the coaches trust their most talented players to become a team in a few short weeks, or will they perhaps sacrifice skill if it means becoming cohesive more quickly?
From the sounds of it, both Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast and second-time Team Canada coach Don Hay are confident they can play a skilled game.
"These guys, I think, are more finesse players," Prendergast said on Monday following the announcement of the 41-player roster for the Dec. 10-14 selection camp in Calgary. "We have a lot of great puck handlers, guys who really distribute the puck well. I think last year's team had more of a blue-collar atmosphere around it. This team is going to have a little bit more of an offensive tangent."
That nucleus could include the leading scorers in the OHL and WHL, Los Angeles Kings prospect Tyler Toffoli and Ottawa Senators hopeful Mark Stone. Neither was invited last year despite each being well on his way to a 100-point junior season.
Kitchener Rangers offensive defenceman Ryan Murphy, who's set to return this week from the concussion he suffered Nov. 4, might have more opportunity than he did a year ago, although Prendergast noted he might have "tone his game back a bit."
Recent top 10 NHL draft picks such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Mark Scheifele and Ryan Strome, could also feature prominently. Keep in mind the team only has two returning forwards, WHL speedster Quinton Howden and Colorado College playmaker Jaden Schwartz.
Going with a more up-tempo style isn't a commentary on what didn't work the last time out under then-Mississauga Majors coach Dave Cameron. There's just more talent out there.
"It's a style that's available to us," Hay said. "It was really exciting in the summer time when we had 47 players there for camp. It's going to be the same thing at the selection camp in Calgary. It's going to be a very short window for them to play at the best of their abilities."
There is that school of thought that Canada, which could honestly have enough talent for two competitive entries in the world junior, should just take the best players available. Given the motivation of a gold medal and a chance to impress his NHL organization on a big stage, a high-end scorer might be willing to check his ego and slip into a grinder role for two weeks. That said, don't be surprised if some marquee names aren't on the final roster.
"We're looking for players who can play a 200-foot game," said Hay, who guided Canada to gold in the 1995 tournament. "We're looking for players who are responsible on both sides of the puck and obviously we have high skill level. We want to use our skill ... we want to be able to put players in roles they can flourish in, but also adapt to."
The aforementioned Huberdeau, Scheifele and Strome are all 18 and none so much as attended Canada's camp last season. Prendergast said the prospect of being "what I consider maybe a younger team up front" means finding the right complementary energy players will be a high priority at the camp. That would explain the presence of power wingers such as Toronto Maple Leafs second-rounder Brad Ross or Calgary Flames prospect Michael Ferland, who plays with Stone in Brandon.
"In a tournament like this, you have to have a structured team," Prendergast said. "Every game is so important. When you play international hockey, the special teams become very, very important. In this case, we could take 20 superstars but a lot of these guys wouldn't be very good at a certain element to the game ... in order to win you have to put a team together and that's the best 22 players who fit the chemistry and the outlook of what Don is looking for."
There have been injury concerns. Huberdeau broke his foot three weeks ago and is hopeful of playing again by mid-December. Murphy is due back Thursday from the concussion he suffered Nov. 4 when he was elbowed in the head by the Niagara IceDogs' Tom Kühnhackl, who received a 20-game suspension. Everett Silvertips captain Ryan Murray, who's considered the best NHL draft prospect in the WHL, also recently resumed skating after letting a high ankle sprain heal.
"They all look like they'll be available for Dec. 10," Hay said. "They all seem to be progressing."
There seems to be enough for Canada to try to play a skating, skilled game supplemented by grit. It's a matter of how much rein Hay and company will be willing to give once the team is selected. The way Prendergast described Murphy suggests they believe the group they'll have will play a fast paced game without abdicating defensive responsibility.
"When you get into this type of competition, he's going to have to tone his game back a bit, but I think he has the sense to do that," Prendergast said of Murphy. "He's going to be a fun player for the fans to watch for the first couple days, then we'll take it from there."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.