Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Stars. Today Team Canada announced the 25 young men who will be going to the Selection camp and competing for spots on the World Junior Team, a tournament that will be played in Malmo Sweden from December 26, 2013 to January 5, 2014. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
The Selection Camp Roster includes two goalies, eight defencemen, and fifteen forwards. The final squad must be 22 players. Now while it is likely that the squad brought to Sweden will include seven defencemen and thirteen forwards, it is possible that Canada could break with tradition and go with eight defencemen and twelve forwards, especially with Griffin Reinhart suspended for three games based on an incident from last year’s tourney.
Zach Fucale: Fucale was the first goalie taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, a second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens. Some will criticize his save percentage, but remember he plays behind a Halifax team that has been all run and gun for a while now. When he does face chances, they are often extremely high quality, wide open shots in the slot, breakaways, odd-man rushes and the like. He’s also got a ton of international experience and was trusted by Canada to lead them in the Ivan Hlinka in 2012. He also comes up his biggest in key moments (such as the Hlinka, the QMJHL Playoffs, and the Memorial Cup) and has been the epitome of “just win baby.” Fucale is an athletic, butterfly-style goaltender. He is very quick, especially with his legs as he does an excellent job taking away the bottom of the net while his glove takes away the top of the net. He excels in his rebound control and cutting down angles. Overall, Fucale shows very strong technique. He would be eligible to play for Team Canada in 2015 as well.
Jake Paterson: Paterson was the third goalie for Team Canada last year, and that experience will give him a leg up on winning one of the jobs this year. He was a Red Wings third round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. He has good size and plays a butterfly style. Paterson has good skating which allows him to come out of the crease to challenge shooters, but recover backwards if they go for the deke. He has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net, and his athleticism leads to a strong glove and blocker to take away the top shelf. Like many young goalies, he sometimes has issues with his rebound control. He is calm and poised in net and doesn’t let a bad goal rattle him. Paterson is seeing a lot of rubber for the Saginaw Spirit this season, and his play is one of the key reasons that the club is keeping their heads above water this season.
Chris Bigras: A second round pick of the Colorado Avalanche,Bigras is an extremely smart player with outstanding instincts and positioning. While he is not flashy, he consistently makes the smart play in nearly all situations and in all three zones. Bigras is extremely poised with the puck and makes hard, crisp tape-to-tape passes, both on the breakout and powerplay. He can sometimes join the rush as a trailer, but is not likely to lead it, instead using his passing skill to get Owen Sound’s transition game going. He is quick and efficient with the puck meaning less time is spent in his own end and more time spent in transition. On the powerplay he is a heads up playmaker. His shot needs work on its power, but he has great ability to keep it low and on target, leading to tip ins and rebounds. Bigras is solid in the defensive zone. He uses his strong positioning and good instincts to their full advantage. He maintains good gap control and is rarely beaten in one on one situations, keeping his man to the outside and forcing him away from the net. He blocks passing lanes effectively as well.
Mathew Dumba: Matt Dumba, 2012′s 7th overall pick, is currently on the Minnesota Wild roster and is the only NHL released from his club to play in the World Juniors. He hasn’t been used much by the Wild and they are sending him to the World Juniors to avoid having to make a decision on sending him to Red Deer or burning a year on his ELC, for at least a few more weeks anyway. Dumba is a fabulous skater whose puck moving ability will be a huge asset on the big international sized ice. He has greatly improved his defensive game and won’t be seen as a liability as he was last year in camp. His ability to throw thunderous hits will be an asset to Team Canada.
Aaron Ekblad: Followed John Tavares as the second 15-year-old to be given exceptional status and enter the OHL a year early, Ekblad is also in his third season in the CHL. He has really matured on the Barrie defence, and now is the team’s most important defender playing absolutely huge minutes in every situation. Last season, as a 16-year-old he played top pairing minutes as the team went all the way to the OHL final, only to lose on literally a last second goal, in the third period of game 7. This summer, Ekblad captained Team Canada to another Ivan Hlinka tournament victory. He has a bullet slap shot from the point, and a strong first pass. He shows a ton of offensive potential and has 19 points in 22 games this season. With that in mind right now his best assets are a well-developed defensive game, as Ekblad dominates older players physically in his own zone winning board battles and clearing the front of the net. He also has strong positioning and good hockey sense and defensive instincts. A potential 1st overall pick for the 2014 Draft.
Josh Morrissey: A first round pick of the Winnipeg Jets, the key to Morrissey’s game is his outstanding skating ability. His stride is fluid, and he has excellent top speed both backwards and forward. His first step is quick, and he accelerates well. His agility, edgework, and pivots are strong and fluid, giving him excellent mobility in all aspects of the game. Morrissey is very slick offensively. He combines very good stickhandling with his great skating to carry the puck through the neutral zone and lead the rush. If not leading the rush, he can join as a trailer, and has good instincts. He also has great vision, and pinpoint passing skill either on the rush or or in quarterbacking the play. Morrissey has a decent slap shot, but is not overpowering. Instead he knows to keep his shot low and on net. He does have a really good wrist shot, and excellent release. In his own zone, Morrissey just keeps improving. He plays an effective positional game, always keeping opponents in front of him, and taking away time and space. He doesn’t run around looking for hits, but has shown that when the opportunity arises he can be extremely physical. However most of the time, Morrissey is content not to gamble. Instead he plays smart positional defence; he cuts off passing and shooting lanes, and eventually forces his opponent into a turnover, and quick transition. He was a huge part of Canada’s U18 team that won gold last spring.
Adam Pelech: Adam Pelech is a shut down defender who has just gotten better and better since being drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft by the New York Islanders. He plays a ton of minutes for the Erie Otters, and is primarily used against the other teams top line. Pelech has ideal size as he is already 6’3″ 210 lbs. He is a big, strong defenceman, who overpowers players along the boards and infront of his own net. Pelech plays the game rough, and truculent as he loves to battle with opposing forwards. He also has good defensive hockey IQ, and smart positioning, which allow him to defend against passes, and to effectively block shots. His skating has greatly improved over the last two years.
Derrick Pouliot: Derrick Pouliot was the 8th overall pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012. Pouliot is a skilled offensive defenceman. He has excellent skating and is very fast in both directions and has great acceleration. He also has excellent balance and agility. Pouliot uses his edges extremely well and has good pivots and is able to change directions quickly. The outstanding mobility helps him in all aspects, whether it be creating offense off the rush, walking the line in the offensive zone and opening up shooting and passing lanes or containing opponents defensively. Pouliot is very skilled with the puck on his stick capable of making deceptive moves around opponents. He makes tape-to-tape passes both in starting the breakout and in setting up his teammates with excellent chances in the offensive zone. Pouliot’s shot doesn’t have the power of some other top offensive defence prospects but he makes up for that with a lightning quick release on his wrist shot and deadly accuracy. He’s able to keep his slap shot low and get it on net, which is essential for any power play quarterback as it creates good opportunities for teammates to tip in shots or pounce on rebounds. Pouliot however is very much a work in progress in the defensive end of the ice, and so it looks like he is being taken as potential offensive specialist. He can be overpowered by bigger, stronger opponents. Pouliot’s defensive positioning also needs some serious work. He often makes errors in coverage and misses his assignments leading to quality scoring chances against.
Griffin Reinhart: The 4th overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2012, Griffin Reinhart played on Team Canada last year and still has three games to serve in a suspension he received in that tournament. Being preliminary round games, I don’t think that will stop Canada from taking him as he should be the leader of this team’s defensive corps. Reinhart is already 6’4 and over 200 lbs, he is a huge presence in the defensive zone. However while he sometimes throws big hits, he really doesn’t play that physical game as consistently as he could. Despite this, Reinhart is still a true shut-down defender, with excellent positioning, and his big frame and long stick allow him to block shots and effectively cut down passing lanes. He uses his size and strength to keep the Oil Kings’ crease clear and win board battles. Reinhart has a booming slapshot and excellent wrist shot. He makes quality passes both as part of his team’s breakout, and in the offensive zone. He is very mobile for his size, and will be tasked with playing huge minutes.
Damon Severson: Damon Severson was once thought of as a pure shut down defender with little offensive upside, however he has changed those perceptions since being a second round pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2012. He is a fluid skater with a great first step and very good acceleration. He reaches his top speed quickly, and this helps him to shake off forecheckers in the defensive zone. However, he is more quick than fast, as his top end skating speed is only slightly above average. He does have good mobility, as he is agile and makes good pivots and changes of direction. This allows him to cover a lot of ice and will be useful on wide ice. Severson has a great point shot, including a very hard one-timer. He’s put up 17 points in 14 games this seaosn showing this offensive element. However he is aslso a great deferender. He is a great shot blocker. While not usually a big hitter, Severson is physical in battling hard along the boards and working to keep the front of the net clear. His agility and mobility allows him to keep plays to the outside and in front of him. His strong hockey sense allows him to diagnose plays and anticipate plays and shut them down before they get started.
Josh Anderson: A 4th round pick of the Columbus Blue Jacket, Anderson has shown chemistry with Bo Horvat on the London Knights. He is a big bodied winger who goes to the net and works hard in the corners and in front of the net. He has shown skill with good stickhandling and the soft hands to bury chances in tight. He’s the type of player who is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the team wins, putting his body on the line to block shots in the defensive zone, and generally outworking opponents.
Jonathan Drouin: Jonathan Drouin is the big surprise here. The third overall pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, most analysts (me included) assumed he would be in the NHL this season. However, he was sent back to junior and he will be the most talented offensive dynamo in this tournament, not just the most talented Canadian player, the most offensively talented player period. He has tremendous skating, outstanding stickhandling ability, a good shot and release, and great playmaking ability. If Canada is going to succeed in this tournament it will be with Drouin carrying the offensive load. His experience in last year’s tournament, and at the Memorial Cup can only help him be ready for the pressure he will face.
Frederik Gauthier: The Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder is listed at 6’04″ and 219 lbs, Gauthier towers over most of his opponents and can often times look like a man amongst boys out on the ice. Gauthier has shown to be very strong along the boards and in front of the net. Especially good on the cycle, Gauthier is a powerforward in the making. He wins a ton of battles, and protects the puck extremely well, which extends plays and buys him time to set up teammates. He has good vision and can thread the needle on his passes out of the cycle game, setting up teammates with great scoring opportunities. Gauthier can also score goals on his own by taking the puck hard to net, or by utilizing his hard, accurate wrister and good release. For a big guy, Gauthier also shows really impressive skating with good top end speed and acceleration. Gauthier is also well-balanced and powerful, which allows him to protect the puck while fighting off checkers, and power through his man. Gauthier shows a good two-way game, in fact he was a finalist for the Guy Carbonneau award, given annually to the best defensive forward in the QMJHL. He wins faceoffs, and is a strong backchecker. He understands the game, and is able to diagnose plays and use his long stick and big frame to break them up. He scored the Gold Medal Winning Goal for Team Canada at the Under 18s.
Felix Girard: A fourth round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2013 Draft, after going undrafted in his first go around in 2012. You can see the perseverance to get by that 2012 setback in everything he does on the ice. Girard is an extremely hard worker who gets involved all over the ice, winning battles, throwing hits, going to the net, backchecking, and generally showing a non-stop motor all over the ice. His skating is merely slightly above average, but it seems like its better as he quite simply never stops moving his feet. He could be a fourth line/energy player for Team Canada with his leadership and his ability to play a specific type of role on the club.
Bo Horvat: Bo Horvat is an outstanding two way player who was the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft, selected by the Vancouver Canucks following the Corey Schneider deal. Horvat has very good vision, passing skills, and excellent hockey sense. This makes him an effective playmaker in the offensive zone. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice winning board battles and taking the puck to the front of the net. He also likes to establish his front of the net presence where he can unleash a heavy shot with a good release from the slot. Horvat has good hands and is able to control the puck effectively on the rush or off the cycle game. He makes smart plays in the offensive zone. Not the fanciest player, Horvat creates offence through simple, smart, straight ahead plays, and getting to prime scoring areas. He is also a quick skater, and he has greatly improved his speed and acceleration. Horvat’s good balance and strength on the puck allows him to fight through checks. Horvat is also an effective defensive presence. He is extremely effective on faceoffs and on the penalty kill.
Charles Hudon: A fifth round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2012, Hudon fell based on concerns about his skating and size. He silenced the critics last year though with a very impressive year in the QMJHL and by making Team Canada for the World Juniors. Unfortunately a back injury suffered in a pre-tournament practice took him out of tourney before it could begin. Hudon has shown that concerns about his skating were greatly over-stated and that he’s able to produce with his great stickhandling, passing, shooting, and most of all hockey sense. He’s also shown an ability to play a gritty two way game and has been very impressive every time he puts on the Hockey Canada jersey whether thats in the U18s, the Hlinka, the Russia-Canada series last year, or in tryout camps. He’s also done well internationally in the Subway Super Series, including ripping it up with Drouin and Mantha in this year’s edition. His Chicoutimi team seems to be struggling this year as they are rebuilding, but that shouldn’t be held against Hudon.
Scott Laughton: The Flyers first rounder in 2012, Laughton made the team out of camp last year, but got sent down before he could play 5 games. He’s back in Oshawa again this year and has been dominant in both ends of the rink. Laughton has outstanding hockey sense. He sees the ice very well and has an uncanny ability to sneak behind defenders and find a free piece of ice and get himself open. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a good release. As a playmaker, Laughton possesses good vision and passing skills. He uses his grit and desire to win board battles and to control the puck down low on the cycle game. He does need to work on his stickhandling, as he’s more of a straight ahead, north/south type player than one who will dangle his way through opposing defences. Laughton has developped into an excellent checking centre. He is willing to do whatever it takes to excel in the role, whether it be blocking shots, intercepting passes, making hits, or being an irritating pest to the opposition’s best players. He is an extremely hard working player in all three zones, and always willing to battle along the boards or in front of the net. Laughton has developped top notch faceoff skills and this has made him a key member of the Generals penalty kill. Laughton shows a ton of will to win, and is willing to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. He’s the perfect two way centre for this team.
Curtis Lazar: A first round pick of the Ottawa Senators, Lazar has great quickness and outstanding acceleration. He is able to use his quick and powerful stride to go wide on defence, and if he manages to get a step on them he puts it into another gear and drives the net. Lazar also uses his ability to change gears quickly to confuse defenders and coupled with very good agility, he is extremely dangerous off the rush. Lazar has good balance on his skates and fights through checks and protects the puck, making him dangerous off the cycle. Lazar is a pure goal scorer. He has an outstanding wrist shot and pro-level release which he uses to beat goalies. He also has an excellent slap shot. Add to this arsenal, soft hands to finish plays in close and the quick hand-eye co-ordination to make deflections and pounce on rebounds and you can see why he scores so many goals. Lazar also plays a rugged game and is willing to hit on the forecheck, battle on the boards, or in the cycle. He’s not afraid to play in dirty areas. Lazar can be a bit more of a playmaker, as he does show good vision and passing skill, but doesn’t do it often enough but this area could come to the forefront on a line with two other elite offensive players. Defensively, Lazar is amongst the best checking forwards in the WHL. His two-way game is excellent, as are his faceoff skills. He plays his rugged game in all three zones, and uses his quick feet to keep himself in position and be hard on the backcheck. He helps out defenders down low and contains his man to the outside well, cutting down the shooting and passing lanes. He has a quick stick and intercepts a lot of passes, and is willing to block shots.
Taylor Leier: A fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, Leier has impressed with the Portland Winterhawks this season, and cemented his spot with at this camp with a couple of excellent games in the Subway Super Series. He is an excellent skater with great top end speed, good acceleration, and top notch edgework and agility. He couples this with an excellent wrist shot and a quick release to be an absolute menace off the rush. Leier also has a good two-way game, and is gritty despite his smaller size (5’11”) digging for pucks at both ends of the ice, and playing a strong defensive game. He is a leader who is the captain of the Portland Winterhawks.
Anthony Mantha: The 20th overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2013 NHL Draft. He’s a big winger, who skates well and has a fantastic shot and even better release. Mantha is having a fantastic start to the season leading the QMJHL with 20 goals and 45 points in just 18 games this season. He will be the finisher on this line playing with two players who can really set him up (though they can also score if given the chance). Expect Mantha to take up space in front of the net and to work the corners as well. He might not be the biggest hitter, but that doesn’t mean he is unwilling to battle for position and get to the dirty areas of the ice to score goals. He showed great chemistry with Drouin and Hudon in the Subway Super Series.
Connor McDavid: The Wonderkid, he’ll still be just 16 when this tourney starts. That didn’t stop him at the Under 18s last year though, where playing in a tournament he will be eligible to play in two more times (though the playoff runs of the Erie Otters will likely mean he won’t get that chance), taking home the tourney leading scorer and MVP honours. Like that tourney, expect Team Canada to ease McDavid into the lineup for this tourney, he will likely start as the 13th forward, with mainly powerplay time and be eased into even strength minutes. However if he proves capable of more, and shows he’s ready to play against not just your average OHL team, but the best junior players in the world who are three full years older than him, his minutes and responsibility may increase. This is similar to Sidney Crosby’s role on the 2004 team, or John Tavares on the 2008 team. (In 2005 and 2009 each of those two wonderkids were playing on Canada’s top line respectively).
Lets start with looking at the offensive weapons here, and the kid has it all. Exceptional hands and stickhandling ability, he can dangle past a defender and does an excellent job of protecting the puck and maintaining possession. His hockey sense and decision making is already at an elite level. His decision making and vision are excellent, he reads the play very well and always seems to keep the puck moving in a smart and efficient manner. His passing is outstanding as the young centre has the ability to thread pucks through tight spaces and put passes tape to tape at high speeds. McDavid also possesses an accurate shot, with a good release. His ability to make all these plays at a high speed, and to never have to slow down his feet to control the puck is a huge asset. He has the ability to change gears quickly and effectively and this aids him in beating defenders. His top speed is good, but its the acceleration and the ability to vary his attacks, to slow the game down when necessary or to make the quick play that really sets him apart. The unpredictability can leave defenders flat footed as he quickly accelerates around them. Or he can look like he his going to beat his man wide and suddenly slow down, opening up space for a shot or quick play in front of the defender. His agility and edgework is also outstanding. He also has very good balance and is a lot stronger on his skates than most expect for his age. That said he can still struggle with exceptionally big and strong defenders in the OHL, and thats why we are easing him in when facing elite competition at the World Junior level. Don’t be surprised if he steals a top 6 spot if one of the older forwards struggle in this short tournament.
Nicolas Petan: A second round pick of the Winnipeg Jets Petan is an offensive dynamo. He may be undersized, but Petan makes up for it with his skating which is well above average will be a tremendous asset in the international game. While his top end speed is merely good, it is the rest of his skating ability that really stands out. He has a very good first step, and great acceleration. Petan’s ability to change pace quickly and good agility allows him to confuse defenders and beat them to the outside before driving the net. His great agility, and tight turns allow him to weave through traffic both with and without the puck. He is not afraid to go into those high traffic areas, and his skating ability helps him to fight through checks despite his size. In the offensive zone, Petan has shown to be a multi-dimensional threat coupling great vision and playmaking skills with a good wrist shot and quick release. He creates scoring chances for linemates, but can also be a finisher. He has a very high hockey IQ and always seems to be in the right place at the right time, and to make smart plays with the puck on his stick. Petan works hard in the corners and the front of the net and shows a lot of fight and grit despite his size. Petan has also shown to be a reliable defensive player and often contributes on the penalty kill for Portland. He anticipates well and causes turnovers. His good hockey IQ allows him to steal pucks and transition quickly form defence to offence.
Sam Reinhart: The captain of Team Canada, leading the club to a Gold Medal at last year’s under 18. While most draft eligible players normally take on a lesser role in the World Juniors, I think he’s ready to play a big role. The reason is that Reinhart is a late birth date player. He’ll be a full 18-years-old when the tourney starts, and is in his third year in the WHL. He is a favorite with the Hockey Canada brass for not just his hockey skill but also his leadership and maturity. Reinhart has excellent hockey sense and vision. He seems to know where the puck is going before it gets there and finds the openings in the defence. He has excellent stickhandling and puck protection skills, which when coupled with his good vision and passing make him an excellent playmaker. His shot could be a little harder and should get there as he gains muscle, but he is deadly accurate and has a great release. A potential first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Kerby Rychel: A first round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Rychel is a power winger who can create space and bury some goals. He has a very heavy, very accurate wrist shot and an excellent release which can really fool goalies. Rychel also has a very good one-timer and should be called a pure sniper. He’s scored 40 goals in each of the last two years and a ton of those goals come from the top of the circles. However, he can also absolutely lethal in close to the net, using his soft, quick hands to tip in shots and bury rebounds. Rychel also drives opposing goalies nuts by setting up right at the top of the opponents crease and creating traffic and chaos in the goal mouth. He works hard in the corners and throws some big hits by getting in hard on the forecheck. He also has decent vision, and can make plays for his linemates, especially off the cycle. Rychel will need to work on his defensive consistency and on his first step and acceleration going forward. The last few years Canada has had some very good offensive players, but has lacked pure goal scorers in their top 6 due to some strange player selections, and its come back to bite the team in critical moments. In Mantha and Rychel, The team shouldn’t have that problem this year as there are two elite pure snipers from the junior level, along with other talented players.
Hunter Shinkaruk: The 24th overall pick of the Vancouver Canuck, Shinkaruk is a quick and shifty skater. He was a late cut from last years team. He has very good edgework, and strong lateral agility making him very shifty. He is able to use this skill to beat defenders off the rush, or attack the net when he has the puck in the offensive zone. He can also use his ability to shift gears quickly to attack defenders or to pull up opening space for him to be able to get off his wrist shot. This type of game is built for the bigger ice surface in Malmo. Shinkaruk has a tremendous wrist shot and excellent release, particularly when coming in off the left wing. His shot is very accurate, and heavy, and the release fools goalies leading to the puck being behind them before they know what happened. He also has a knack for finding the open areas of the ice and taking an excellent one-timer. Not a one-trick pony, Shinkaruk also has very good playmaking skill and vision which makes him very difficult to defend. He is an excellent stickhandler and can make defenders look silly one-on-one. Shinkaruk isn’t a big hitter, but is not afraid to battle on the boards or in front of the net. He is more than willing to go to dirty areas of the ice to make plays, and is good in the cycle game. Shinkaruk’s two way game is decent, but he could use some more work on intensity in the defensive end of the ice. He does read the play well, and gets back, he just sometimes can have a tendency to puck watch a little bit and lose his man.
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @lastwordBKerr, @RickW10, @TheHockeyMitch, @LastWordBigMick, @crimsonskorpion, @CMS_74_, @TwoTurtleDuffs, @d_rochi, @dasimonetta, @ddmatthews, @evan_lacey, @thetq21, @CanuckPuckHead, @NKonarowski2, @LarryScotti, @PurpleRocktober, @jaynichols11, @meaghannn_, @LastWordOnNHL, and @darrinharmy and follow the site @lastwordonsport and like our Facebook Page.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.