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World Juniors: The Flames Monahan Decision and the Leafs Rielly Conundrum

After dominating the World Junior tournament with five straight gold medal victories from 2005-09, Team Canada has seen their plethora of gold turn into a dry spell. They will be hoping to snap the winless streak at this years tournament in Malmo, Sweden, and will be relying on many fresh faces to do so. Though Canada has many talented young guns, including wunderkind Connor McDavid, having veteran experience is always a plus. That’s why they were more than happy to hear that the Minnesota Wild were allowing defenseman Matt Dumba, who was on the 2012 World Junior team, to play. Team Russia must be feeling the same way now that the Sabres have announced that both Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov will be available for the tournament as well. Though Canada is fortunate enough to have Dumba available to them, many were wondering whether or not two key pieces to a potential gold medal team could possibly be allowed to play: Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While playing his junior career in Ottawa, Monahan never had the chance to play in the World Junior tournament, though he does have international experience with Canada on both the 2011 U-17 Hockey challenge team and the U-18 team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Monahan was invited to last years World Junior camp, but failed to make the team. What a difference a year can make, as many would have him as a lock on the roster. The only problem of course is that he is currently with the Calgary Flames. The Flames are quickly falling in love with the 6th overall pick in the 2013 draft, as he was second in rookie scoring behind Tomas Hertl, and third in team scoring with 15 PTS before going down with a foot injury.

Unfortunately for Canada, Monahan will not be available to play for them. The Flames organization stated, We have concluded that in light of the prominent role Sean has played on our team to date, and the role we project he will continue to play once he returns from his injury, that Sean will remain with our hockey club.” Monahan has been arguably the best forward for the Flames all year up until his injury, but even if he was not hurt, do the Flames really need his services that badly? They are nowhere near being a playoff team, so what would it hurt losing Monahan for a few weeks? That is an IF though, as Monahan is indeed hurt, so one cannot blame the organization for not allowing Monahan, a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come, to play in a tournament when he may not be 100% for. The Flames made the right call by keeping Monahan.

Well what about a healthy Morgan Rielly? Rielly played on last year’s World Junior squad but was unable to win a medal.  He also played with the Canada’s U18 winning gold at the 2011 Ivan Hlinka tournament and bronze with the Canada Pacific U-17 team in 2011. Plus, in his 22 games played with the Leafs, he has proven to be a reliable NHL-level defenceman, more reliable on some nights than say Carl Gunnarsson, Mark Fraser and Paul Ranger. Surely Team Canada would love to have him on the roster, but that appears to be wishful thinking. It is unlikely the Leafs will let Rielly play, and in doing so, I believe Toronto is making the wrong move.

Though Rielly has been a stalwart on a lackluster Toronto defense many nights, he has found himself in watching from press box more often than not over the past few weeks. With eight defensemen on the roster now that John-Michael Liles has been called up, Rielly may see his press box time grow. While the Leafs are not using him, they seem to think that is a better idea than letting him play for the World Junior team. Head Coach Randy Carlyle stated that letting him do so would not help his development as a player. Right, keeping out of the lineup most nights is going to help his game progress than playing top unit minutes against the best juniors in the world, and possibly gaining a large confidence boost from winning a gold medal? Carlyle’s logic does not make a lot of sense in my book, seeing as how that is the opposite of what Minnesota and Buffalo appear to be doing with Dumba and Grigorenko/Zadorov respectively, but at least Leafs General Manager Dave Nonis has said that a loan to Team Canada is not impossible.

Even though Canada looks like it will be without Monahan and Rielly, they still have a gold medal capable team. I’ll even make the bold prediction that future 2015 #1 overall pick McDavid notches a hat-trick in every game, leading Canada to their first gold since 2009.

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