If anyone knows how to win a championship in a short tournament while hitting the ground running, it’s Kevin Dineen. Parachuted in to the Canadian women’s Olympic team less than two months before the Sochi Games, the ex-Florida Panthers bench boss helped the squad win gold over a very tough USA side. Now he’ll try to do the same with the boys of the under-18 squad, though under considerable less pressure, of course.
The world under-18s are a funny tournament for Canada, because it occurs during the major junior playoffs. Therefore, most of the nation’s best talents are busy and do not attend. The Americans have been the favorites in recent years because they send their under-18 squad from the National Team Development Program – not only are they among the best draft-eligible kids in the nation, but they’ve also been playing with each other all season.
Last year, Canada had good fortune on its side. Connor McDavid’s Erie Otters missed the playoffs, so the phenom was able to compete for his country and Canada ended up beating the U.S. in the final. This year, he’ll probably be a little predisposed, since his Otters are one of the best teams in the Ontario League, but they’re also playing in a murderous Western Conference bracket. It’s also worth noting that McDavid didn’t play for the summer under-18 team that won the Ivan Hlinka tourney; he trained with the world junior hopefuls instead.
So Canada’s roster is basically made up of kids whose teams missed the playoffs or got eliminated in the first round. With that in mind, this year’s team could actually be pretty gifted again. Here are some prominent candidates from non-playoff teams:
Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer (WHL): Most likely the second defenseman taken in the draft this summer behind Aaron Ekblad. Fleury is big, mobile and smart. Won gold at Ivan Hlinka.
Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer (WHL): Great point producer thanks to his shot. Good size too, will likely go top-15 in the draft.
Brayden Point, C, Moose Jaw (WHL): Undersized pivot won gold with the Ivan Hlinka team and put up a ton of points for the Warriors. Likely second-rounder in the draft.
Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa (OHL): Talented and scrappy, Konecny isn’t draft eligible until 2015 (he just turned 17 earlier this month) but would be a great asset to the team nonetheless. Led all OHL rookies in scoring this season.
Daniel Audette, C, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): Another Ivan Hlinka alum, Audette is a smaller player with great vision and plays with some jam. Likely second-rounder in the draft.
Carl Neill, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): Also an Ivan Hlinka alum, Neill is a two-way blueliner with great size, though he’s not overly physical. Likely mid-round pick.
Jeremy Roy, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL): Slick-skating defenseman with great offensive instincts, Roy is another 2015 prospect who would, at the least, help the team until reinforcements came from eliminated CHL playoff squads.
Olivier LeBlanc, D, Saint John (QMJHL): Another smooth skater on the blueline, LeBlanc has great offensive talents and makes a solid first pass. Likely mid-round pick.
This year’s tournament takes place in Finland and runs from April 17-27.