Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. Previously I reviewed the prospects of all thirty NHL teams, and previewed the CHL season. If you missed any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
With the CHL seasons now well over a month old, I thought now would be a good time to look at the potential lineups for the World Junior Championships. Today I will start with Team Canada.
(Be patient Team USA fans, we’ll get to you too. I apologize to the European fans as I don’t see enough of your Junior Leagues to do a full team, but I have enough to give you the main players to watch for on each big club)
Based on the latest in the NHL lockout, I am going to assume that the NHL and NHLPA will not resolve their issues and that premium talent will be available. I’m also going to assume that AHL clubs who have some of these junior aged players will release them for the tournament.
So lets get started.
Jonathan Huberdeau (C) – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Ty Rattie
My first line includes two players who played together in this summer’s Canada/Russia Super Series in Huberdeau and Rattie. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had an outstanding rookie season for the Oilers, will be the main man in the middle. With a year of NHL experience under his belt, he could be dominant in this tournament if released by the Oilers. Rattie is a pure goal scorer who had 57 goals last season, and has 8 in 12 games to start this season. He should be the recipient of great passes from his two linemates and will be expected to do what he does best – finish! Huberdeau will be a key returning player and the Captain of my roster. He has a ton of big game experience with 2 QMJHL championships and a Memorial Cup to his name, along with playing in last year’s World Junior Championships. He’ll be a guy counted on to lead the way for first year players on this team.
Boone Jenner – Mark Scheifele (A) – Ryan Strome
Here is a line comprised of three guys who all play centre on their respective OHL clubs. Scheifele is the main man here as he’ll be expected to use his long reach, excellent puck protection skills, and good vision and passing to create opportunities for his linemates. A returning player, Scheifele, will also be given the role of Alternate Captain and be expected to be a leader on the club. He’s had plenty of experience at the international level to draw upon. Jenner has 11 goals and 23 points in 16 OHL games this year and is showing his scoring touch. He’ll be expected to do a lot of dirty work on this line, both in the corners and in front of the net. Strome scored the overtime winner in the Canada/Russia Challenge Series and he’ll be expected to bring his highly skilled game and offensive punch on this line.
Charles Hudon – Nathan MacKinnon – Mark McNeill
Hudon is the lowest drafted player on my roster, but was one of Canada’s best players in the Canada/Russia Summer Series, and a key offensive force for that team. He’s carried that momentum and gotten off to a quick start with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL. The credit he earned with Team Canada coaches over the summer means he’s likely to be in a top-9 spot for the tournament. Mark McNeill has also been impressive in international play at the 2011 Under 18, and will provide a gritty, physical presence down low on this line. As for MacKinnon, he’s the new ‘wonder kid’ in Canadian hockey and the likely first overall pick in the 2013 Draft. He makes this team and will be given a scoring role after winning MVP in leading Canada to Gold at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Even though he’s on the third line, I’ve tried to surround him with some talented wingers. I see this year’s team Canada rolling three offensive lines, as the lines are all defensively responsible and can put the puck in the net.
Phillip Danault – Lukas Sutter – Tom Wilson
Danault, Sutter and Wilson form my checking line. All three players are defensively responsible and this line might just match up with some of the best offensive players in the tournament. They will also be extremely physical, and strong off the forecheck, playing with the physicality and edge that is always a staple of Canadian teams. Expect big hits and momentum changing plays. And if this line does get an offensive chance, these guys have been known to score a goal or two at the junior level.
Extra Forward: Sean Monahan
Monahan gets the role for his versatility. It’s important that the 13th forward can fill in on any line without causing disruption should there be injuries in the tournament, or if another player is underperforming. Capable of playing centre or either wing position, Monahan fits this role. His defensive game is the only issue that might keep him out of this role, but he has shown improvement this year.
Honourable Mentions: Hunter Shinkaruk, Lucas Lessio, Kevin Roy, Scott Laughton, Brendan Gaunce, Phil DiGiuseppe and even 15-year-old Connor McDavid.
I like all these players, I just didn’t have a spot for them. In a lockout year, Canada has good depth and making this team will be tough in training camp.
Ryan Murray (A) – Dougie Hamilton (A)
These two players would likely be in the NHL if not for the lockout. Team Canada gains an outstanding top pairing and these two horses can play 25 plus minutes per game if it becomes necessary. We know all about Murray’s defence, but he also has offensive skills that don`t show up on the stat sheet due to playing for a weak Everett Silvertips squad. He was Canada’s leading scorer at the 2011 Under 18 World Championships. Meanwhile Hamilton is also a great two-way defencemen who controls the game and dominates for the Niagara Ice Dogs. This pairing can be used in all situations, against the other team’s top line, or to provide offence when needed. They will also likely be staples of the Canadian special teams units both on the powerplay and penalty kill. Both Hamilton and Murray are very well-rounded players and provide the coaching staff with a ton of options and versatility. The two returnees and Hockey Canada veterans will be given leadership roles as well.
Morgan Rielly – Scott Harrington
Harrington is one of the best shutdown defencemen in junior hockey. His stay at home presence will allow Rielly to do what he does best in creating offence for Team Canada. These two are the perfect yin and yang combination in my eyes, and Rielly will see big minutes on the powerplay while Harrington will get penalty killing duty when they are split up on special teams. Harrington was very effective in a shutdown role last season, and should be relied upon for the same quality defence this year. Both players are mobile, which will be a necessity on the Olympic sized ice.
Griffin Reinhart – Mathew Dumba
Our third pairing isn’t really a third pairing at all. Look at the talent here – it’s an illustration of how good this defensive core can be. Dumba set a record as the first defenceman to lead Team Canada and the entire tournament in scoring this spring at the Under 18 World Championships. He is also a guy who looks for the big hit at the defensive end. A dynamic player, expect fireworks out of Dumba when he puts on the Team Canada jersey again. Meanwhile Reinhart is just a big solid two-way defenceman who can do it all. He can play against top lines or be a key cog to a penalty kill. He can play the powerplay and provide offence from the backend and joining the rush. He will be expected to be more of a calming presence on this pairing though, as Dumba can be a riverboat gambler at times. Reinhart will rely on his good positioning and hockey sense, which should lead to good results.
Extra: Xavier Ouellet
There were obviously a number of great young defencemen to choose from for the 7th spot. I went with Xavier Ouellet because I think he is the most well-rounded of the remaining defencemen, and again, the player best suited to fill in at any of the other spots in case of injury. His skating will really help on the big ice in Russia.
Honourable Mentions: Ryan Murphy, Derrick Pouliot, Cody Ceci
Between Hamilton, Murray, Rielly, Reinhart, Dumba, and Ouellet, this team had the powerplay well covered. As a result, the three excellent puck-movers, Murphy, Pouliot and Ceci, were cut. Nothing against these defencemen, or any others who didn’t get picked, but this might be the most depth Team Canada has had on the blueline in quite some time; and that is saying something as the blueline is always good. I took Ouellet ahead of these players as I felt he had the best defensive game of the four.
Recent years have seen goaltending be the Achilles heel for Team Canada at the World Juniors. For whatever reason, the position which has been a Canadian strength for years, has instead been a weakness. That should all change this year.
Malcolm Subban is the best Canadian goalie prospect in several years. He is mature and playoff tested in the OHL and in the 2011 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Expect Subban to provide Canada with a similar level of netminding that has led the country to numerous World Junior gold medals over the years. He is an incredible athlete and his puck tracking, agility, and lateral movement will be great assets on the bigger ice. Plus he’s already used to the different angles that Olympic Sized Ice requires a goaltender to adjust to, as Malcolm plays on this surface in his home rink in Belleville as the starter for the Bulls.
Laurent Brossoit is the best goalie in the WHL. He led the Oil Kings on an incredible undefeated run last year and took the team all the way to the Memorial Cup. Unfortunately he did not look great in the tournament, but one bad week doesn’t change the fact that he is a very solid goalie. He’s had a good start to the year in Edmonton and I think he’d be an excellent choice as the number two guy.
Honourable Mention: Jordan Binnington
I like Binnington in Owen Sound, and he can push for a spot in training camp, but again tough cuts have to be made, and I’ve got him as the number 3.
How would you change the roster? Feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @lastwordBKerr.
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