Team Canada names World Junior Championship selection camp roster

Team Canada names World Junior Championship selection camp roster

With a gold medal to defend and only three players back from last winter, Team Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski, et al., believe they will find the right group for the world junior hockey championship in Helsinki.

The 17-forward, 11-defenceman selection camp roster, with New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames draftees Mackenzie Blackwood and Mason McDonald locked in as the goalies, was named on Monday. The camp takes place Dec. 10-13 at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto. The 20-skater, two-goalie roster that will likely include Toronto Maple Leafs top draft pick Mitch Marner is expected to be set around Dec. 20, before Canada jets off to play its final exhibition games before its first Group A game against Team USA on Boxing Day.

Canada finished fourth in the last two WJC held overseas (Malmo, Sweden in 2014 and Ufa, Russia in 2013).

Coach Dave Lowry's holdovers from the Connor McDavid-infused '15 team include puck-moving defenceman Joe Hicketts, who plays for Lowry with the Western Hockey League's Victoria Royals. Power winger Lawson Crouse and playmaker Brayden Point are also back.

At a glance, Team Canada could be a bit skewed toward speed and skill with a small package, with the likes of Marner and Point vying to be frontline forwards. The defence pool includes two NCAA players, the Boston University Terriers's Brandon Hickey and Providence Friars' Jake Walman, who are vying to be the first collegians to wear the Maple Leaf since present-day St. Louis Blues centre Jaden Schwartz in 2012.

Following the announcement, Hockey Canada's brass addressed concerns with the squad.

While the roster includes some large-framed forwards such as Crouse and Erie Otters captain Dylan Strome, was there an aim to assemble a smaller team due to playing overseas on international ice?

Jankowski: "We certainly want speed and skill; it just so happens that some of those guys are in the 5-foot-11 range. I'm sure that the competitveness is there from this group. That's what we like.

"I think the CHL Canada-Russia series really helped cement our final positions. We got a good feeling throughout the country who the top players are."

How does having two college defencemen, including Walman who initially wished to play for the U.S., help sort out the blueline picture?

Jankowski: "We found out last Monday that Jake Walman's application to play for the U.S. had been denied by the IIHF [International Ice Hockey Federation]. He gives us another element on the blue line with his ability to score goals [10 and 18 total points in 12 games for the Friars] and his big shot.

" ... The thing that they can all do is that they are extremely good skaters and puck movers. They're going to be able to get pucks ahead to our forwards and be able to go back at get pucks. With regards to [Brandon] Hickey and Walman, it's certainly intriguing for us that they play against bigger, stronger guys — which certainly reflects what we see throughout the world junior tournament. That should only help them throughout the process and we'll see that during the two CIS games in Toronto [on Dec. 12-13].

"They have both had two really good seasons. They both played in the NCAA final last year and are certainly deserving of being at this camp."

Is going into camp with two goaltenders a 'new norm,' even though neither Blackwood nor McDonald has been to an under-20 December camp?

Jankowski: "We take their whole body of work into account. It's not only what he's done this year but the last 2-3 years. Historically, it's very difficult to make goaltending selections through the CIS [exhibition] games. You have situations where the No. 1 coming in doesn't play well and the No. 3 plays great. This streamlines the process. They can play on for who the No. 1 will be."

(McDonald was named the top goaltender of the 2014 world under-18 championship, after helping Canada win the gold medal at a tournament where it quickly assembles a team.)

What may the three underage players — Cape Breton Screaming Eagles left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, Val-d'Or Foreurs right wing Julien Gauthier and Sarnia Sting offensive D-man Jakob Chychrun — bring to the table?

Jankowski: Dubois is off to a really a good start in Cape Breton. He played well in the Canada-Russia games and really took his game to the next level after the Canada-Russia games with 14 points in four games. We're excited to have him. His overall body of work with Hockey Canada is high. He has size [6-3, 202 pounds] and the underlying abilities to create offence.

" ... Gauthier is an 18-year-old with a late birthdate [Oct. 15, 1997, one month too late for the previous NHL draft]. He has NHL size at 6-4 and 215 pounds, is a tremendous skater and has a great shot... it's not just the scoring goals [23 in 27 games for Val-d'Or]. He'll also power down his wing and get to the slot and you need that.

" ... Jakob Chychrun has always been an elite player in his age group. He thinks the game very well. He defends extremely well. He's got a very pro-sized body. He's very strong for his age [17]. He has a well-roundedness and during the Canada-Russia series, he adapted to the higher level of play very well."

On the selection of Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder Travis Konecny, who is vying to be the first player chosen from the Ottawa 67's in more than a decade:

Jankowski: "He's been a great player in our program for the under-17 and the under-18 Ivan Hlinka [international tournaments]. He was our captain for Ivan Hlinka. We liked his speed, skill, overall work ethic and overall commitment to the game. He's a natural centre who plays a lot of right wing so that makes him very versatile for us."

What is the impetus for the change to the camp exhibitions, with Canada facing a select team from across Canadian Interuniversity Sport rather than one drawn from teams in the area?

Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada vice-president of operations: "The emphasis is being as competitive as possible. There's a natural partnership with Hockey Canada, the Canadian Hockey League and CIS. Twenty of the 23 players on the CIS team are going to be people who played in the CHL. We believe that's going to give us the best opportunity to evaluate our players. The CIS team is going to have a chance to practise together when they get to Toronto, and we are expecting some really good games."

Canada's Group A schedule (all times ET):

— vs. Team USA, 1 p.m., Dec. 26;

— vs. Denmark, 1 p.m., Dec. 28;

— vs. Switzerland, 1 p.m., Dec. 29;

— vs. Sweden, 1 p.m., Dec. 31 (New Year's Eve).

Group B consists of host Finland, newcomer Belarus, Czech Republic and Russia and Slovakia, which shared the medial podium with Canada in 2015.

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