November 28, 2011
Duncan Siemens was taken 11th overall in the NHL draft by the Colorado Avalanche last summer but that does not cut any ice with Hockey Canada.
The build-up to the world junior hockey championship is not officially on until TSN starts running promos (earlier and earlier every year, so it seems) or the disbelief spreads over who's not headed to camp.
The recent first-round choices such as Siemens, who captains a strong Saskatoon Blades team, or fellow first-rounder Stuart Percy, a high choice of the Toronto Maple Leafs did not make the cut. Neither did younger phenoms below NHL draft age such as Halifax Mooseheads' 16-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who already has 43 points in the QMJHL.
Some thought Siemens, a native Albertan who could have played in the world junior in his home province, could have made the team - but to not even get a camp invitation?
"It comes down to the fact of how many good hockey players we have in the country," Hockey Canada head scout Kevin Prendergast said on Monday. "At this point, we felt Duncan, as good a player as he is, there were players we had ahead of him on our radar. We just felt that the players we did take gave us a better chance to win."
That could be read as meaning Hockey Canada's priority is on puck-moving defencemen, less so on shutdown defenders such as the 18-year-old Siemens. Beyond an obvious choice such as the Kitchener Rangers' Ryan Murphy, the brain trust for the world junior team is also looking at other offensive defencemen such as the Rimouski Océanic's Jérôme Gauthier-Leduc (37 points in 26 games, tops among QMJHL D-men) and the Spokane Chiefs' Brendan Kichton (20 points in 21 WHL games). Both Prendergast and coach Don Hay said Monday they want a more skilled team than the self-anointed blue-collar crew that sputtered short of the finish line in Buffalo and finished with a silver medal.
"There's never any agreement," Hay said with regard to omissions. "Trying to get down 41 is difficult enough ... At one point, there was probably 60 on the list. Over the next couple days, there's a lot of names that are going to be surface as to why they're aren't here."
Going with experience
It is an article of faith that the world junior is a 19-year-old's tournament. In a few years, you might be able to put together a NHL all-star squad out of the players who turned pro young and missed out on the tourney. The Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was cut last season as a 17-year-old. So was Tyler Seguin in 2009-10, his draft year. That same season, Jeff Skinner did not get invited, but he made the NHL the following season and won the Calder Trophy as top rookie.
Still, Prendergast was steadfast about going with older players. That meant passing on MacKinnon, whom some thought rated a chance to try to crack Canada's lineup at age 16 like fellow Cole Harbour, N.S., native Sidney Crosby' did in 2004. Another player in the 2013 NHL draft class who is already one his league's most prolific scorers, Ottawa 67's centre Sean Monahan, was passed over. In this case, their draft status means they'll at least be available next December.
"The physical difference between 17-year-olds and 19-year-olds is significant," Prendergast said. "They're two outstanding young hockey players, Monahan and MacKinnon, I love both of them. But the forwards we brought in for this tournament are the ones who give us the best chance to win the tournament."
MacKinnon only turned 16 on Sept. 1, so had he made the team, he would have been even younger than Crosby was eight years ago. Prendergast seemed to indicate next year might be more MacKinnon's time.
"To come into this tournament, he was probably just a little bit behind where we wanted him to be," Prendergast said. "Just overall hockey maturity. It's a very, very strong physical game [at the world junior]. He's going to get his opportunity to play for Canada and he's going to be great to watch. But with the age factor that goes into this tournament, we felt it was going to be too difficult for him to come in right now."
Another younger star who isn't headed to the Dec. 10-14 camp in Calgary is Belleville Bulls goalie Malcolm Subban. The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens defenceman and two-time world junior gold medalist P.K. Subban leads the OHL with a 1.89 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. However, he won't even turn 18 until five days before the tournament. All four goalies, Tyler Bunz, Louis Domingue, incumbent Mark Visentin and Scott Wedgewood, are seasoned at age 19.
One person's belief there is a birthday bias is another person's belief in experience.
"We just felt at this point the four goaltenders we're bringing to camp, they've been around a bit longer, they've played a little bit more games," Prendergast said. "Malcolm is great young goaltender, but we felt at this point, the four goaltenders that we took are just a little bit ahead of where he is right now.
"It's a short tournament and we'll take the two best goaltenders."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).