Every December, the same phrase is said amongst Canadian hockey fans.
“Our Junior Team is deep top to bottom.”
As Hockey Canada released its invitees to World Junior Selection Camp, the depth of talent once again shines through. Next week, 34 Canadian Juniors from coast to coast will make their trip to Victoria to prove that they belong on the final 22-man roster, representing Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. As Team Canada Head Coach Tim Hunter says, it is exciting to get started working with these young kids.
Team Canada’s World Junior Selection Camp Filled with Young Talent
OHL Forwards are Well Represented
It is clear that Hunter and Hockey Canada want their skill to be up front. The Ontario Hockey League is once again leading the charge, producing 10 forwards who are going to camp.
Hockey Canada clearly values size, particularly with forwards up the middle. Look no further than the Guelph Storm’s Isaac Ratcliffe and Oshawa Generals Captain Jack Studnicka to provide that physicality in front of the net, using their size to create scoring opportunities.
But it is clear that Tim Hunter is also going to want speed amongst his forwards, as highlighted with selecting goal scorers Owen Tippett (Mississauga Steelheads), Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack) and Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds). All three players have provided consistent offense for their OHL clubs, impressing Hockey Canada scouts with their ability to move into the attacking zone to create scoring chances.
“Right now the cycle is there’s a lot more skilled forwards in the OHL and we’re excited about that skill,” Hunter said about the camp’s makeup. “But like all players, they have to check the boxes on the style we want to play. They’re no different than anyone else, they need to be flexible in the environment.”
Defense and Goaltending Remain a Question Mark
In the last decade of World Junior Hockey Championships, the blue line and goaltending have been two question marks for Team Canada teams. This year will be no exception. Expect a goaltending battle at camp between Michael DiPietro (Windsor Spitfires) and Ian Scott (Prince Albert Raiders). DiPietro and Scott both appeared in the CHL-Russia series for the OHL and WHL respectively, where they both won the games they started. DiPietro leads the OHL in Goals Against Average (2.32) while Scott leads all WHL goaltenders in the same category (1.61), which will set up a great battle for the starting goalie spot.
At defense, London Knights Evan Bouchard will be the anchor for this blue line. The Edmonton Oilers prospect, who has played in some NHL games already, has five goals and 15 points with a plus-20 rating in his time with the London Knights this season. He looks forward to provide his experience from playing on an international stage in trying to help Canada win gold.
“Being able to play in it would be really special,” the London captain said. “Everyone dreams of playing in it. You think of it as a kid and watch the event for years growing up.”
Formenton and Comtois Provide Leadership Experience to Young Team
While there will be many tough decisions to be made about who advances to the final roster, two spots seem all but locked at this point. Those two spots belong to Alex Formenton and Max Comtois, two players who were on Canada’s gold medal winning team last year in Buffalo.
Comtois is a prospect who was lent by the Anaheim Ducks to play in the World Juniors. Currently with the Ducks, Comtois has two goals and seven points in 10 games. Formenton, the Ottawa Senators prospect, has six goals in six games since rejoining the London Knights.
With the amount of young players on this team, many of whom do not know the pressure yet of World Junior Hockey, Coach Hunter will look at Formenton and Comtois to be the focal leaders on the team.
“Any time you can have returning players it benefits not only them but the group they’re with, sharing their past experiences and guiding them along,” said Hunter. “Right now we just have two and we’re not focusing on anyone else. We’re excited about Alex and Max leading the group and setting the tone at our camp.”
What’s Next for Hockey Canada
Next week, from Dec. 11-14, these Canadian selectees will look to impress Hunter and the coaching staff in Victoria at their selection camp. From doing drills to participating in exhibition games, the coaching personnel will have to make some hard decisions on who to send to the Championship and who to cut.
But with 34 young, talented players, Canada does not have to worry about depth of talent. The confidence Hunter and Hockey Canada have in their selections is evident and it will be exciting to see which players break out in the coming days with all of Canada watching them.
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