Team Canada announced its list of 32 players to bring to camp for the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship next month in Toronto and Montreal. Here are the five things you need to know about the selection camp that will take place Dec. 11-14 in Blainville, Que.
FIVE RETURNING PLAYERS
There are five players back from Team Canada’s dismal sixth-place finish in Finland last year. The returnees include forwards Julien Gauthier (Carolina Hurricanes) and Mitchell Stephens (Tampa Bay Lightning) along with Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders) and Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes), who were both recently sent back to junior from the NHL. Thomas Chabot (Ottawa Senators) of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs is the lone defenceman returning.
2. INJURY UPDATES
Despite their invites to camp, injured forwards Nolan Patrick and Blake Speers are not yet 100 percent, according to Hockey Canada’s head scout Ryan Jankowski.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen with them and that was part of the reason for going with 19 forwards,” said Jankowski. “We don’t know the certainty (of playing) for Blake and Nolan at this time.
“Instead of not naming them and then saying, ‘Hey, they’re healthy and ready to go,’ what we wanted to do was name them and get them on the roster and hopefully they’ll be ready to go.”
Patrick, 18, a forward with the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, is widely considered the front-runner as the top pick for the 2017 NHL draft. He suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury early in the season which only saw him play six games with the Wheaties (four goals, nine points). Speers started the season in the NHL with the New Jersey Devils before he was sent back to the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds. The winger was injured in his first game back with the Hounds on Oct. 27 and required surgery to fix a bone in his hand days later. Speers has an appointment with doctors next week.
Jankowski said if neither player participates in camp, they will not be eligible to make the final team.
3. THREE GOALIES AT CAMP
If there is one position that causes consternation for Canadian fans, it’s in net. For the past few years Hockey Canada has decided to cut out the competition for its goaltenders and decide on a tandem ahead of time. This is the first time in four years that there will be some competition to see who makes the team. Of the three goalies going to camp, two are from the WHL: Connor Ingram (2.19 goals-against average .932 save percentage) of the Kamloops Blazers and Carter Hart (1.67 GAA, .937 SP) of the Everett Silvertips. Hart is the youngster of the group as a ’98 birthdate. Michael McNiven (2.29 GAA, .920 SP) of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack will also be vying for a roster spot.
“There’s going to be competition right from the start,” said Jankowski. “We felt this year there were three goalies that could be part of our goaltending tandem. … We feel there is competition and we don’t feel comfortable in naming two just now so it’s a worth it to bring three and see how it all plays out.”
4. OLDER & WISER
Hockey Canada is opting to go with an older squad this year. Of the 32 players invited to camp, 19 of them are 1997-birth players. In a tournament that is built for 19-year-olds, it will be interesting to see how this group fares.
“It was a little bit conscious to go with an older group,” said Jankowski. “We think that’s where our strength is with the depth of our ’97s. And yet we like the top end of the ’98s (birth year) to fill out the roster.”
5. GREEN BLUE LINE
With Chabot as the only returning defenceman from the 2016 squad, the competition is wide open on the blue line. Hockey Canada will bring 10 defencemen to camp, of which half are 1998-births. Playing on the North American ice surface should help this defence corps greatly, though there might be some tough nights ahead for Canada’s goaltenders.
“We want to have elite skaters and elite puck-movers,” said Jankowski. “And be able to play together defensively as a group. I feel confident we have the right 10 at camp that meet those things, it’s just going to be picking the best seven.”