Team Canada’s world junior roster is now set and though there are always surprises, there is also obvious logic in the final choices. Let’s break down the final cuts, shall we?
The Carolina Hurricanes first-rounder seemed to be a natural heir to WJC legend Ryan Ellis, who played a similar undersized dynamic offensive role on the blueline. True, Murphy was coming back from a concussion, but the Kitchener Rangers star got in five games before Canada’s camp. Murphy said he may have tried to focus too much on defense at the tryout, but Hockey Canada knows what he brings to the table: unparalleled rushing ability and a cannon shot from the point. Shortcomings in his own end would have been easily masked by a capable defense partner, not to mention the raft of two-way forwards Canada boasts.
This isn’t the first time Murphy has been slighted by his own nation. He wasn’t picked for the 2010 Ivan Hlinka tournament either, despite at least one prominent scout calling him the best player in camp (Murphy had a hat trick in one intrasquad game). The winner in all this is Everett’s Ryan Murray, a younger, bigger, more physical defenseman who can also put up numbers. Murray is a top-five prospect for the 2012 draft and was among the final cuts last year for the world juniors despite his youth.
One thing you constantly hear from coaches, players and anyone else associated with the world juniors is that it’s a short tournament. Guys need to gel fast in order to get results and throwing together a bunch of phenoms isn’t necessarily the answer. With that in mind, it seems as if the world junior brain trust took a page out of their peers with the Canadian Olympic team by bringing pairs of teammates when applicable. Ryan Strome and Freddie Hamilton play on a line together in Niagara and when the IceDogs go on the power play, Dougie Hamilton is on the point. In Barrie, Mark Scheifele and Tanner Pearson – quickly becoming the feel-good player of the year – have played together off and on, but also line up when the Colts have the man advantage. Freddie Hamilton and Pearson were no locks going in, so it’s intriguing to think how the familiarity factor may have helped them, along with their obvious individual talents.
Brett Bulmer was a surprise addition to the Minnesota Wild’s opening-night roster and the Kelowna Rockets left winger did it through crashing and banging. But that didn’t land him a spot on Team Canada. Phillip Danault is a terrific hard-working left winger for Victoriaville, but the Chicago first-rounder didn’t make the cut either. The fact is, Canada has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to two-way players and even worthy candidates sometimes get left at home.
Though Canada could probably have success by simply blowing teams out of the water with goals, the WJC brass has rarely leaned on offense-only players. The final cuts of Ty Rattie, Christian Thomas and Tyler Toffoli bear this out: all three are exceptional prospects, but a combination of size and defensive awareness puts them a step behind players such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Devante Smith-Pelly and Brett Connolly.
As the incumbent, Mark Visentin had to be pretty confident about returning to the world juniors. Plymouth’s Scott Wedgewood, on the other hand, was in a dogfight with Tyler Bunz and Louis Domingue. Wedgewood won out, giving the Ontario League a monopoly in the North American nets (Team USA boasts Jack Campbell of the Soo and Kitchener’s John Gibson). If Visentin should falter, Wedgewood has proven in the past that he can play well under pressure.
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.