With the release of its preliminary camp roster for the World Junior Championship, Team Canada’s architects can give themselves a pat on the back - just in time to feel the arrows coming from the pundits. Three 2011 first round draft picks (Stuart Percy, Duncan Siemens and Matt Puempel) were left off the list and no phenoms (Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, both 2013 eligible draftees) made the cut.
Personally, I have no problem with the latter. As coach Don Hay said in the announcement’s press conference, “This is a 19-year-old’s tournament.” Both MacKinnon and Monahan can sneak in next year as underagers and Canada’s so deep they won’t be missed this time around.
As for the first-rounder snubs, I was pretty shocked blueliners Percy and Siemens weren’t there. But the talent assembled on defense is already overflowing and several amazing talents won’t be there in Alberta when action gets underway. Cut ’em now or cut ’em later - it’s no easy choice.
Ryan Murphy will be this year’s Ryan Ellis and therefore one of the team’s most important players. Dougie Hamilton, Nathan Beaulieu and Jamie Oleksiak bring other talents to the corps.
Up front, I was all set to make a plea for Canada to just toss out the best offensive players available and outscore the competition - after all, if any country can “coast” on talent alone, it’s Canada - and to that end it was good to see producers such as Ty Rattie, Tyler Toffoli and Christian Thomas make the list, even if they aren’t necessarily “complete” players.
But then I thought of the two-way talent available and began to wonder where they’d all fit. Quinton Howden will be back for sure, but Max Reinhart’s another strong candidate. Brett Bulmer started the season in the NHL as a banger and crasher and it’s hard to see him missing out. Then there are sure things such as Ryan Strome, Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips and Mark Scheifele. It’s getting awfully crowded on the depth chart.
The only fly in the ointment for Canada is goaltending and there’s little the committee can do but hope for the best. The fact is the days of trotting Carey Price or Steve Mason out for a sure gold medal are distant memories. Team Canada has dropped two straight championship games, one in which both Jake Allen and Martin Jones were used and the other in which Olivier Roy’s play ruled him out, while Mark Visentin couldn’t stop the Russian counterattack.
Visentin is a solid goaltender and will likely be the starter this year. Tyler Bunz, Louis Domingue and Scott Wedgewood are all viable options, but don’t boast the same pedigree as, say, Team USA’s Jack Campbell, who the Yanks know is a rock internationally.
Maybe next year Malcolm Subban will be that elite netminder who inspires awe for the Red and White. Eric Comrie has a similar vibe even further down the road. But right now, it’s a lot of guessing. Canada’s talent among its skaters means an almost certain berth in the gold medal game again. But in those last 60 minutes (maybe 65), the weakest link is often exposed. The Russians knew it last year when they entered the final third period trailing 3-0, only to emerge victors after five unanswered tallies.
Will someone step up this time to clutch that gold again?
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.