Zack Shea, San Francisco, Calif.
Zack Shea, San Francisco, Calif.
Hockey Canada has named 32 players to its December camp and there will be many hard choices. We break down the teenagers who still have a shot at glory
And then there were 32. Hockey Canada announced its final selection camp roster for its world junior team yesterday with dual press conferences in Toronto and Montreal, the two cities that will host the event, starting on Dec. 26. Canada is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish from the 2016 event in Finland and redemption is certainly on the menu. “There’s a number of players that feel they have something to prove,” said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s vice president, hockey operations. “There was a level of, if you will, embarrassment, to the result last year. A guy like Dylan Strome is very focused on coming back and trying to redeem what happened.”
Strome will indeed be key for the Canadians, as the big center was recently returned to junior after a stint with the Arizona Coyotes. Other veterans from the 2016 squad are Mitchell Stephens (Tampa Bay), Thomas Chabot (Ottawa), Mathew Barzal (NY Islanders) and Julien Gauthier (Carolina). That’s a great start, but a little less than the nine coach Dominique Ducharme had spoke of in the summer – that’s because Mitch Marner, Travis Konecny, Lawson Crouse and Anthony Beauvillier are all busy in the NHL. Even Jakob Chychrun, who didn’t make the team last year, will likely be in Arizona with the Coyotes instead of at the tourney. “Certainly we’ve had the conversation with their GMs,” Salmond said. “We haven’t given up hope, but it’s doubtful.”
Another player the team won’t get a crack at is Kelowna Rockets defenseman Cal Foote. The 2017 draft prospect and son of former NHLer Adam Foote was declared ineligible for the team by the governing IIHF. Foote is a dual US/Canadian citizen, but lived and played in Colorado up until last season. According to IIHF rules, he needed to live in Canada for two years and play hockey there for 16 consecutive months (that is to say, multiple seasons – he doesn’t have to play in the summer). So Foote will be eligible for next year’s tournament.
One final note before I break down the roster: Nolan Patrick is the only 2017 prospect to make the cut. He’s been injured for a month and half, but Salmond said he spoke to the big, elite pivot last week and Patrick believes he’ll be ready for camp. The youngster had sports hernia surgery in the off-season and is now beset with an upper-body injury.
OK, onto the names…
Strome, Barzal, Gauthier and Stephens will be big, not to mention third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus), who nearly made the team last year. Tyson Jost (Colorado) is one of only two NCAA players named to camp, but he played a lot of top-line minutes at the National Junior Evaluation Camp summer tourney hosted by Team USA in Michigan. Sam Steel (Anaheim) has really found his stride again in Regina, while Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay) has been excellent in Saint John.
So here’s my big question: Does Canada value speed over other skills when the final decisions are made? If the answer is yes, that will benefit players such as Mikey McLeod (New Jersey) and Austin Wagner (Los Angeles). If it’s not an absolute, I would find it hard not to see Taylor Raddysh (Tampa Bay) in the lineup, given how amazing he’s been as a goal-scorer with Erie this year. Nicolas Roy (Carolina) strikes me as a perfect shutdown guy, so speed may not factor in as much when it comes to his chances.
Honestly, there are many nice options on the blueline and I’m not sure which direction they’ll go – it may really come down to the final camp performances. Chabot is a lock, while Jake Bean (Carolina) is probably set, too. Same goes for Noah Juulsen (Montreal). I’d also put Boston University’s Dante Fabbro (Nashville) in that category, but now we’re starting to run out of slots. Jeremy Lauzon (Boston) was a late cut last year, while Philippe Myers (Philadelphia) has impressed. Guillaume Brisebois (Vancouver) seems like a perfect penalty-killer/No. 7, while Samuel Girard (Nashville) and Victor Mete (Montreal) both offer excellent offense and rushing skills.
Ah, the goaltending – Canada’s demon. The team will have competition this year, with three netminders vying for two slots. Salmond said it wouldn’t be fair to deprive a CHL team of its starter for a month if that kid was just going to sit in the stands, so they won’t carry three. But, if someone gets injured, the tournament is in Canada, so a recall is easy.
Carter Hart (Philadelphia) certainly has the inside track, as he has been the WHL’s goalie of the week twice in a row and is rocking a 1.67 goals-against average with Everett as a result. He didn’t look good at the summer NJEC, but Hart did show well in his WHL-Russia start, turning aside 33 of 34 shots for the win.
Connor Ingram (Tampa Bay) and Michael McNiven (Montreal) will therefore battle for the backup slot. Ingram has been the other great goalie in the WHL this season, though his international outings have been rocky. McNiven played great against Russia when the OHL beat them and his numbers with Owen Sound are solid.
But seriously, whoever ends up in the crease, Canada needs them to be good. That has not been the case at this tournament for years.
You’d think there would be some controversial omissions, but I can’t find any fault in the choices here. Tyler Benson, Logan Stanley and Cliff Pu could have gotten the call, but all three will be eligible next year as well. Canada’s major challenge now is to go from 32 players to 22. And then the thoughts turn to gold.
Craig Cunningham’s recovery is progressing but “there's a lot more progression and healing to be done,” according to friend and former teammate Milan Lucic, who visited Cunningham recently.
Tucson captain Craig Cunningham has remained in the thoughts of the hockey community since the moment he collapsed on the ice ahead of an AHL contest between the Roadrunners and Manitoba Moose on Nov. 19, but information regarding the health of the 26-year-old has been sparse.
The Arizona Coyotes, the parent club of the Roadrunners, have updated Cunningham’s status from time to time, often saying only that there has been little or no change, which is to say that Cunningham remains in critical but stable condition.
However, a promising update has come along regarding Cunningham from his friend and former teammate, Milan Lucic. The Oilers winger, who played with Cunningham with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and again as a member of the Boston Bruins, said he couldn’t get into too much detail, but offered some positive news.
"The good news is he's progressed a lot from the state he was in last weekend," Lucic said, according to NHL.com’s Jerry Brown. "He's heading in the right direction, but obviously there's a lot more progression and healing to be done.”
Even with the good news, though, Brown reported that Cunningham “has not regained consciousness since collapsing.”
No cause for the collapse has been given by either the Coyotes or Roadrunners, but Tucson GM Doug Soetaert told the Arizona Daily Star on Nov. 21 that Cunningham was “critically ill.”
Cunningham was a fourth-round pick, 97th overall, of the Bruins in 2010, and has played 63 NHL games over the past several seasons. He was acquired by the Coyotes via waivers in 2014-15, finishing the season by playing 19 games with the Coyotes and recording one goal and four points. He skated in 10 games with the Coyotes in 2015-16, picking up an assist.
Cunningham was named the captain of the Springfield Falcons, then the Coyotes affiliate, in 2015-16 and had arguably the best AHL season of his career, posting 22 goals and 46 points in 61 games. He held on to the captaincy with the newly minted Roadrunners this season and had four goals and 13 points in 11 games.
The Roadrunners postponed two additional games following Cunningham’s hospitalization, but returned to action this past Saturday.
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Rumors of the Flames looking to trade defenseman Dougie Hamilton for some scoring help just won't go away.
Nearly two months into the NHL season, Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton is now a hot topic of trade speculation among the hockey punditry.
Hamilton, 23, got off to a slow start with the Flames this season. The puck-moving blueliner went pointless during a 10-game stretch from Oct. 30 to Nov. 18, and netted only six points in his first 19 games.
The Hamilton rumors initially surfaced in late October, when TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported of talk he could be available. LeBrun said one team made inquiries but didn't get far.
As Hamilton and the Flames struggled through November, the trade chatter only grew. On Nov. 12, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos expressed doubt that the Flames were shopping the rearguard, but claimed the Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins were “kicking tires.” Two days later, Kypreos' colleague Elliotte Friedman said he'd heard Hamilton's name come up in trade discussions back in June.
Hamilton subsequently told the Calgary's Sun's Wes Gilbertson he'd heard the trade rumors but wasn't paying attention to them. He insisted he was happy playing in Calgary and wanted to help the Flames improve.
Entering Wednesday's match-up with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flames have posted a 5-3-1 record in their last nine games. With 22 points, they're only three behind Los Angeles for a wild-card berth. Hamilton's production also improved, with six points in as many games. However, the trade talk persists.
But Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke is not happy about those trade talks.
During an appearance on Leafs Lunch Wednesday Burke shot down the rumors, lashed out at the team that leaked the idea, and made it clear the Flames intend to keep Hamilton.
“We expended a tremendous amount of assets to get this player. We’re really happy with him. He’s a quality guy. ... He’s a right shot. He skates like a deer. He’s a good hockey player. Yeah, let’s move him. Let’s get rid of him. It’s not hard to get guys like that."
USA Today's Kevin Allen last week made the case for the New York Rangers to pursue Hamilton. He believes the youngster can fill the Blueshirts need for a mobile defender with a right-handed shot.
On Monday, NHL analyst Bob McKenzie was asked by Toronto's TSN 1050 if the Toronto Maple Leafs could be interested in Hamilton. McKenzie speculates they probably are, though he doesn't know if Hamilton's available. He said the Flames are “definitely listening” on Hamilton, but that doesn't mean they intend to trade him.
McKenzie subsequently noted recent speculation linking the Maple Leafs to Hamilton, reporting no substantive talks between the two clubs. Some observers believe the Leafs should offer up promising winger William Nylander for Hamilton, but McKenzie claims they're not keen to do that. If the Leafs decide at some point to shop a winger for a defenseman, he believes James van Riemsdyk could be the likely trade candidate.
With scoring star Johnny Gaudreau sidelined indefinitely by finger surgery, the Flames are mired in the league's bottom third in goals-for per game (2.20). Even when Gaudreau returns later this season, the Flames could probably use more scoring punch.
Hamilton is the perfect trade chip to add another scoring forward. He's big (6-foot-6, 210 pounds), moves the puck well, has consecutive 40-plus point performances on his resume and his best seasons are ahead of him. It's assumed he could improve his overall game with better coaching.
All of those factors, however, are also good reasons why the Flames shouldn't part with Hamilton. He's still young with considerable upside. By trading him, there's a real risk he could reach his full potential elsewhere.
It'll take a substantial offer to pry him away from the Flames, probably a very good young forward. That could mean someone like Nylander or Coyotes left winger Max Domi, or perhaps an experienced physical scorer such as Chris Kreider of the Rangers.
Hamilton's contract is also a sticking point. At $5.75 million per season through 2020-21, there simply aren't many teams able to take on that salary right now. If the Flames do move Hamilton, it'll likely happen in the off-season, when teams have more cap space and a willingness to trade.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Connor McDavid (left) and Sidney Crosby
The two phenoms from different generations are staking their claims early and this is the first of what will likely be several showdowns for MVP honors
So there was some nice hockey played Thursday night. You may have seen it. You may have also noticed that two of the biggest names in the sport were right in the thick of the matter. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby notched his league-leading 16th goal of the campaign, while Oilers captain Connor McDavid kept his perch atop the NHL scoring pile by tallying three assists, giving him 34 points through 25 games.
This is fun, people. Because this is the first year in which Crosby and McDavid will go head-to-head for the Hart Trophy. We probably have a couple seasons of this happening, as eventually age will catch up with Crosby, while Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and others attempt to catch up with McDavid.
So with all due respect to Nikita Kucherov, Carey Price and Vladimir Tarasenko, let's take a look at the debate. First, let's take a look at Sid's artistry:
Ohhh, that's the good stuff. Not to be outdone, McDavid had an excellent scoring chance against the Jets last night by stripping the puck off defenseman Paul Postma in what can only be described as a spiritual de-pantsing. To put it another way, both Crosby and McDavid are hot right now. And barring injury – which has basically been the only thing to slow these players down in the past – we're looking at McDavid collecting his first-ever Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring champ this season.
The Edmonton phenom is on pace for 111 points and as impressive as that is, his team is in a playoff position right now. As an explainer for Millennial Oilers fans, the playoffs happen after the NHL's 82 regular season game schedule. It's almost as exciting as the draft lottery.
Sarcasm aside, McDavid isn't the only one on his team having a good season and that means the world. I'm not calling them contenders just yet, but a post-season berth looks very real.
Meanwhile, Crosby has the best points-per-game mark in the NHL at 1.39. Missing the first six games of the year due to a concussion is the only thing keeping him from the scoring crown right now and even if he can't quite continue his torrid pace, he still has a great shot at 50 goals and the Rocket Richard Trophy. Right now, he's on pace for 106 points in 76 games.
Crosby has a slight edge in possession numbers (58 percent Corsi For vs. 55 percent for McDavid) and is better on faceoffs. But his supporting cast is also better in Pittsburgh – Evgeni Malkin is, himself, a Hart Trophy winner – so how do you compare the Penguin to the Oiler?
It may come down to the "feel" a bunch of writers get. The Hart, like most awards, is determined by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (or "FWAH!" as I pronounce it. And yes, I am a member). Crosby is widely acknowledged as the best player in the game right now, so does that give him a bit of an edge, should both players finish with similar stats? Or does the newness of McDavid propel him over the top? I mean, Sid's already got Harts, right?
We also have higher standards for the Penguins. Pittsburgh should make the playoffs, as the defending Stanley Cup champs. If they don't win the division, is that a knock on Sid? Meanwhile, McDavid getting Edmonton to the post-season would be seen as a big accomplishment.
It's a great debate and one we'll likely be hearing for quite some time. And the best part is, it involves two incredibly gifted players putting up a bunch of points and highlights.