Team Canada camp surprises and omissions: Joe Hicketts is in, Josh Ho-Sang is out

Team Canada camp surprises and omissions: Joe Hicketts is in, Josh Ho-Sang is out

The joy of analytics having come to the junior hockey world is the surprises are actually pleasant.

Hockey Canada is promising not to get too cute any more with picking the national junior team after five consecutive years without a gold and two without any medal. In the big picture, then, that explains why there really weren't many brow-furrowing inclusions among the 17-forward, 10-defenceman, two-goalie camp roster named Monday. Head scout Ryan Jankowski and the Program of Excellence management group are trying to get away from what's somewhat derisively called the Canadian model, especially now that the fancystats can back up their decisions.

"I think every player has to have an underlying ability of skill and talent and yet, you still need players to put over the boards that the coach feels comfortable playing a penalty kill, to play defence," Jankowski said on Monday. "These are all world-class players and the fact of being world class is they can adapt to different roles. We have to make sure we have enough skill on our bottom six [forwards] to compensate for our top six being neutralized. We still need a well-rounded enough player."

It really shouldn't be a surprise that a relatively late draft pick who's leading the WHL in goals and a free-agent signing who's first in defenceman scoring were actually invited. It's all part of the process; here's a survey of the bigger surprises and omissions for Canada's camp, which is Dec. 11-15 in Toronto.

Rourke Chartier, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) —
 There's a temptation to attribute it to habitat when someone is scoring better than a goal per game like Chartier, who has 29 in 27 contests. The San Jose Sharks late fifth-rounder has the benefit of being on a dominant Rockets team where 17-year-old WHL points and assist leader Nick Merkley is feeding him the puck. However, there's more here than a player having a hot start, which is why Chartier was added although he didn't play in the Subway Super Series.

"I tell everybody he's the smartest player that I've had," said Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton, who is part of the Program of Excellent management group. "He's just matured. When he came at 16 years old he wasn't a very big player. Now he's 5-foot-11, 185-190 pounds and is able to play more minutes and in parts of the game and the rink that he couldn't when he was younger. [Linemates] Merkley and [Philadelphia Flyers prospect Tyrell] Goulbourne help him a lot, he'd be the first to tell you that, but it's a tremendous accomplishment for him."

"He doesn't score his goals off his rush," Hamilton adds. "He scores them from being in and around the net and knowing where the puck is going to be. He's got better and better along the wall. He seems to find a way to come off the wall with the puck. He's turning into a real complete package as a player."

Lawson Crouse, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) — The 6-foot-4, 211-pound left wing is the only invitee who played for Canada's summer under-18 team. (McDavid, the other 17-year-old, was with the U20 team that week.) The Mt. Brydges, Ont., native has only 16 points in 24 games with the defensive-minded Fronts (after getting a natural hat trick last Friday), but is being eyed for an energy role. He also offers a similar skillset to Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Jake Virtanen, an 18-year-old who's had shoulder issues..

"He's 6-foot-4, he plays the game the right way, he approaches it with confidence, with physicality, with the ability to forecheck, but he's also got great hands around the blue paint," Jankowski said of Crouse. "And on top of all that, he's a great penalty killer for Kingston. He was a great player for us this summer with our Ivan Hlinka under-18 team.

"And that energy, that size, that physicality is always something that we need at the international level but you can't underestimate his abilities with the puck in the slot area and in tight toward the goal," Jankowski added. "All those things make him well-suited for an opportunity to play at this camp."

Joe Hicketts, Victoria Royals (WHL) — The Royals' little big man on the blueline, at 5-8 and 175 pounds, is nearly a full foot shorter than the Rimouski Oceanic's Samuel Morin. Hicketts deep-sixed concerns about his skating while earning a contract with the Detroit Red Wings and also showed a spark for Team WHL in the Subway Super Series. The 18-year-old has built on the star turns that he had in previous age-group tournaments and is fifth in Western League scoring.

"Joe has always been a great competitor for Canada," Jankowski said. "At the under-17s and the under-18s, He's always been one of our best performers. The strides that he took this summer to get stronger and become a big skater, which showed by him getting the opportunity to sign with the Detroit Red Wings and play in the Subway Super Series, was phenomenal.

"That's normal for Joe. He's always been on our radar but he took the steps this summer to put himself in position to come to this camp."

Notable omissions

Dylan Strome, Erie Otters (OHL) — The prototype big centre in the Joe Thornton mould is the only one of the four OHLers averaging two points per game left out. Ultimately, he is a 17-year-old; Hockey Canada, if indeed it ever did, doesn't take players to the camp just for the experience.

"If you look at Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Nick Merkley, Josh Ho-Sang, Jared McCann, they're all very talented players," Jankowski said, referrring to three 17-year-olds who are among the OHL and WHL's top point getters and two 18-year-old NHL first-rounders. "However there's a certain level of world class that you need to play at this tournament and they weren't quite there yet. Every player that's coming to this camp, we feel has the ability to make this team. And those players were just a little bit behind.

"That has a little bit to do with their age. That has a little bit to do with their size and strength. There is no discrediting their skill level but they're not quite there yet and they'll have their opportunity moving forward."

Josh Ho-Sang, Niagara IceDogs (OHL) — Some will draw a line from Ho-Sang's candid off-season comments about Hockey Canada to today's announcement, but that's a fallacy. Ho-Sang in 2015 is an analog to Max Domi 12 months ago — a marquee OHLer with sweet skills, but nevertheless one who is still 18 years old. The New York Islanders first-rounder had a great night at the Subway Super Series in Kingston on Nov. 17. With Connor McDavid, Nic Petan and Sam Reinhart back, plus the possible NHL loan-outs, Ho-Sang was caught in the numbers game.

Tristan Jarry, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) — There will be some howling about leaving off a Memorial Cup-winning goalie who got the W in a triple-overtime semifinal on May 23, the longest game in the tournament's history. Jarry has a 2.42 average and .920 save percentage for Edmonton, but Zach Fucale is a returnee from '14 while Eric Comrie (2.40/.924 for Tri-City) is the main reason his WHL can.

"We concluded that they were the most consistent goalies, the most competitive and the most successful," head coach Benoit Groulx said. "That's why there was no hesitation for us. We thought that we had top two goalies in the country with us. It's wide-open and we'll determine later on who's going to play the first game.

"Zach has been through many, many situations in his career."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.