Friday's first full day of practice Team Canada might include a reveal — whether the top two Canadian forwards for the next two NHL drafts, Connor McDavid and Sam Reinhart, can make a connection.
This iteration of Canada's under-20 team might soon prove to have included back-to-back first overall picks, although some might point defenceman Aaron Ekblad also fits into that sceneraio. While cards are being held close to the chest, the 16-year-old McDavid and 18-year-old Reinhart were roommates last April with Canada's gold medal-winning team at the world under-18 championship. They were also used on the same line during the juniors' summer development camp, but now need to step it up a notch.
Reinhart, whose draft status will mean being inundated with prods to talk about himself for the next half-year, brightened as soon as he heard the word "McDavid."
"He’s a special player," said the Kootenay Ice captain, who is tied for fifth in Western league scoring with 50 points in 33 games. "If you simplify your game around him, he’s going to create stuff, he’s going to find you with the puck. You don’t have to make it too complex because he’s got the skill level to do what he wants."
McDavid, who's coincidentally also tied for the fifth in the OHL with 50 points (you could look it up), was more circumspect about the possibility. But it has crossed his mind.
"We’ve played together a couple times, at the U18 and the summer camp," he said. "We've developed some pretty good chemistry. Whether we play together, that’s up to Mr. Sutter. It’d be obviously pretty cool to play with him."
If anyone can compare the two, well, Erie coach Kris Knoblauch has the unique distinction of having been behind the bench of both budding stars' teams during their respective 16-year-old seasons. Knoblauch was with the Ice in 2011-12 when Reinhart established himself by posting 28 goals and 62 points over 67 games as one of the Dub's youngest players.
"They can both do some great things," Knoblauch said last week. "Connor, I think is a better skater, but I think Sam does some things down low a little better."
The new leaf Hockey Canada is turning over — playing other U20 national teams in the summer, holding a smaller selection camp — also encompasses paying less attention to birth certificates. That's a potential boon to the chances for its three players who were too young for last summer's draft. For both McDavid and Reinhart, that could mean adjusting to not being the fulcrum of their team's attack like they are used to in the OHL and WHL.
"We want them to let their talents come out," Sutter said, referring to the entire 25-player roster. "Yet when you get into a situation like this, everyone is not going to have the role they had on the teams they came to us from. You have to be able to accept change and accept a different role. That’s part of being a team. When all said is done, we might have eight or nine natural centres on the team.
"With those three young players, let’s just see how it shakes out."
Having older brother Griffin Reinhart, of the Edmonton Oil Kings, back as a returning player is an obvious ace up the centre's sleeve. Sam Reinhart was also quick to note that he's taken just as much if not more confidence from his parents' first-born son, current 21-year-old Calgary Flames farmhand Max Reinhart. While the middle child Griffin is a shutdown defenceman, the first and third are skilled forwards who were teammates for one full season with the Ice.
"Max really showed the way just by breaking into the Western Hockey League," Reinhart said.
Two late-birthday 18-year-old forwards, Sean Monahan and Hunter Shinkaruk, were cut last season. Taylor Hall was a leading scorer during his draft season in 2010, when Canada won a silver medal. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound Reinhart said all the rights thing about being willing to adapt in order to be a counted-on contributor.
"The first step is being invited here," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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