Anthony Duclair (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Anthony Duclair of the New York Rangers would help fill a hole at right wing for the Canadian national junior team andalso raise the Quebec contingent to four. Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning is also a possibility, albeit a longshot.
Unless Canada’s team for the World Junior Championship gets a couple of big assists from the NHL it is going to be very short on two things – Quebec-born players and right wingers. Both of those could get a boost if Anthony Duclair is released to play by the New York Rangers, but it likely means players will be moving around.
One player who is invited and is expected to play is Ho-Sang’s midget hockey linemate, Connor McDavid, who has been out with a broken hand. McDavid has his next evaluation on Dec. 9 and the Canadian team will know better then about his availability. He’s expected to be ready to play when Canada opens the tournament Dec. 26, but even if he’s not, the team can carry one extra player and put him on the roster anytime before the semifinal, which it intends to do.
It also means that those who evaluate players for Team Canada, for whatever reason, don’t want anything to do with Josh Ho-Sang of the Niagara IceDogs, a first-round pick of the New York Islanders last June. Despite the fact that Ho-Sang has 26 points in 18 games in the Ontario League this season and that only two natural right wingers – Jake Virtanen and Nick Baptiste – were invited to the final camp, Ho-Sang was not invited.
This team must be very confident it will be getting Curtis Lazar from the Ottawa Senators and Duclair from the Rangers because if it doesn't, it opens itself up to a lot of second-guessing. There's little doubt that many of the Canadian forwards are talented enough to play other positions, but is that really the best thing in a short-term tournament where familiarity with teammates is already an issue. At last year's tournament, coach Brent Sutter put McDavid on the wing and the results were not good.
Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks are probably longshots to be released, while Lazar of the Ottawa Senators (who would help with the dearth of right wingers) and Duclair are more realistic possibilities. Hockey Canada will learn their WJC fates by Dec. 19 when the NHL freezes its rosters. “We feel the door is still open (for the NHL players),” said Kelowna Rockets GM Bruce Hamilton, who is a member of Hockey Canada’s management committee. “They haven’t said no and that’s far better than this time last year.”
In goal, Canada has once again decided to eschew having a competition for goaltending spots in the selection camp for the second straight year, naming Zach Fucale of the Halifax Mooseheads and Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans as the goaltending tandem. Hockey Canada has felt in the past that having too intense a competition in the selection camp had led to some meltdowns during the tournament, but it’s clearly still feeling its way around in an attempt to get this right. Last year it named Fucale and Jake Patterson as its goaltenders and finished fourth behind Fucale’s .902 save percentage. It wasn’t that he was bad, but Fucale did not provide the kind of lights-out goaltending a team needs to win a short-term tournament. And with a save percentage of just .886 in the Quebec League this season, Fucale will not be handed the No. 1 job without earning it.
Regardless, Canada’s goaltending will face severe scrutiny until it delivers a gold-medal performance. The same goes for the rest of the roster, which will need a mother lode of mental toughness and an ability to block out all the white noise that comes with the tournament begin held in the two biggest hockey markets in Canada. After winning four straight gold medals, Canada has suffered a number of meltdowns in recent years and hasn’t even been on the podium in the past two.
“We understand there's a huge mandate,” said Tom Renney, who goes into his first WJC as Hockey Canada president, “not just with performing at home, but performing well.”
The Quebec contingent should not be much of an issue, even though Canada's preliminary round games will be in Montreal. Fucale, Frederik Gauthier and Samuel Morin are the only Quebecers on the final camp roster, but having only a handful of Quebec-born players on the team is nothing new. In 2012, for example, Michael Bournival and Jonathan Huberdeau were the only Quebec-born players on the team.