Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next week or so, we will be previewing the 2014 World Junior Championships, a tournament that will be played in Toronto and Montreal from December 26, 2014 to January 5, 2015. As always, you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Today we move on to the Goalies and Defence for Team Canada. I will be making this roster with the assumption that Aaron Ekblad, who is playing for the Florida Panthers, will not be made available to the team. The reason for this assumption comes from Bob McKenzie’s latest report on the world junior roster, where he states that Canada shouldn’t count on NHL help. This is a major blow to the Canadian team as there are not a lot of right handed defencemen available in this age group, and so the Canadian coaching staff will face the tough decision of whether they should take the seven best defencemen (which will likely include six left handed defencemen) or if they should take more natural right handed players.
The other big question will be the backup goalie as there are two outstanding candidates for the job, but only one can be chosen.
With 22 players eligble for the roster, I am going to pick seven defenders and two goaltenders. Note: players must be born on January 1st, 1995 or later to be eligible for the tournament. 1994 birthdates are not eligible.
Early Look Canadian World Junior Team Defence and Goalies
Darnell Nurse – Madison Bowey
Nurse was one of the last cuts for Team Canada last year. He took that as motivation and set new career highs in goals, assists and points despite playing four less games. Nurse continues to show off his big-time point shot scoring 13 goals last year, and already has six goals in just 15 games this year (after starting the year with the Oilers). Nurse is extremely effective at keeping his shot low, getting it through and on net, and generating opportunities for rebounds and tip-ins. Nurse has strong puckhandling skills, and shows poise and patience at the blueline. He walks the line well opening up shooting and passing lanes. Nurse has a strong first pass, and the ability to quarterback the powerplay, making smart passes and setting up teammates. A fantastic natural athlete, coming from a family of athletes, Nurse’s skating is elite given his size. This allows him to transition quickly and cover all areas of the ice. He can change direction very quickly, allowing him to close space in an instant, and throw big hits. Nurse uses his size effectively. In addition to striking fear into opposing players with his big hits, he wins board battles and effectively leans on opposing players and clears the front of the net. His mobility makes him very difficult to beat one on one. He uses his size and an active stick to cut down passing lanes, and willingly sacrifices his body blocking shots.
The biggest lock on this team is Madison Bowey, the best right-handed defenceman Canada will have available, by far. A Washington Capitals second round pick in 2013, Bowey is the number one defenceman in Kelowna this year, carrying the torch for that defence factory. He put up 60 points last season and already has 30 points in 23 games this year. Bowey’s game is defined by his great skating ability. His mobility is top notch, as he has very good top end speed, and acceleration. This skating ability allows Bowey to keep the play in front of him, as well to recover when he makes a mistake. Bowey is an excellent puck mover with the ability to rush the puck or to make a strong first pass. He has a cannon of a slap shot. His passing and vision are decent and he can be a threat on the powerplay. One thing that really took his game to the next level was increased patience and poise with the puck last year. He moves the puck efficiently with his passing. Add to his offensive game a strong defensive one as well, and you have a top pairing guy, and one who will get big minutes in all situations for Canada.
Josh Morrissey (a) – Haydn Fleury
Drafted 13th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2013 NHL Draft, Morrissey is amongst the best skaters in all of junior hockey. His skating is outstanding by nearly any measure. Morrissey is very slick offensively and put up 73 points in 59 games last year. He combines very good stickhandling with that skating to carry the puck through the neutral zone and lead the rush at times for Prince Albert. If not leading the rush, he can effectively join the play as a trailer, and has good instincts for jumping up. He also has great vision, and pin point passing skills. Morrissey has developed his slap shot, and while not great is good. He knows how to keep his shot low shot low at key times and to get it on net despite traffic, allowing teammates to get screens, rebounds, and tips. Morrissey also has a really good wrist shot, and an excellent release. His hockey sense is top notch, and he almost always makes the right decision. In his own zone, Morrissey plays an effective positional game, always keeping the opponent in front of him, and doing a good job to take away time and space. He doesn’t run around looking for hits, but has shown that when the opportunity presents itself he can be extremely physical. He was a member of last year’s team, and that experience and his leader ship earn him an Alternate Captain position on my roster.
The 7th overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, Fleury is a solid defender, with long reach, and the ability to cut down passing lanes. He was named the top defenceman in last years Under 18s. Over the last two years he has continually gotten stronger and better in board battles. Fleury was given key minutes in all situations for the Rebels last season as a 17-year-old and its more of the same this year. His ability to read the play, his positioning, and overall defensive fundamentals make him an elite shut-down defender in the WHL. Offensively he also has decent puck handling skill, good vision and passing ability. He makes strong first passes to start the transition, and also has the poise to quarterback the power play. While not having a huge point shot, it isn’t bad either, and he understands how to get it through the shooting lanes. His wrist shot is remarkably effective, showing big power and a great release. I have Fleury playing on his off-side on this pairing as there is quite simply not another right-handed defenceman at his level to play on the top four of this team.
Travis Sanheim – Roland McKeown
A first round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Sanheim really came on in the second half last season and has carried it over into 2014-15 with eight goals and 19 points in the first 24 games of the season. He really improved his shot this summer and has a knack for getting it on net despite traffic in front of him. He is an excellent skater with strong mobility in all directions. Defensively, Sanheim is very difficult to beat one-on-one. He has good size and uses his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes and take away options when opponents are set up in the zone. He isn’t afraid to use his big frame to block shots and does so effectively.
Things haven’t gone exactly as planned for the McKeown, and the Kingston Frontenacs so far this year. A second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, more was expected than the seven assists he has in his first 20 games. However McKeown is well known to Team Canada and was part of the U18 team each of the last two years winning gold and bronze. McKeown’s skating ability is at an elite level and features excellent speed and acceleration both forwards and backwards, great pivots, excellent lateral agility, and fantastic edgework. He is so smooth on his skates, its like he’s floating above the ice. The great skating gives him outstanding mobility allows McKeown to always be in position defensively, and to join the play offensively and still be able to recover back to his position. Offensively, McKeown is at his best when he shows confidence and poise with the puck on his stick, but has made too many giveaways this year. His offensive game is keyed by smart decision making and excellent passing skills. His shot could be harder, but is still very good. He does look more like a powerplay quarterback type who runs the play with his smart offense than the big bomber from the point though. His agility and edgework allow him to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. Defensively, McKeown’s mobility keeps him in position to make plays, and a good active stick help him to cut down passing and shooting lanes. He is a smart defenceman who anticipates the play well. McKeown works hard in the corners, and is willing to battle in front of the net, but he could add more muscle to his frame, and play a more physical game.
A first round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2013, Theodore put up 79 points in 70 games for the Thunderbirds last season, leading his team in scoring, and leading the WHL in scoring by a defenceman. Theodore’s skating is at an elite level, with excellent speed and acceleration, and this allows him to lead the rush, or to join as a trailer and then get back to the defensive responsibilities in his own end. He has great agility, and good edgework, and pivots which really allows him to cover a lot of ice. In addition to his skating ability, he has great stickhandling and excellent poise. Couple this with very good vision and passing abilities and Theodore is a key playmaker. He can set up teammates both off the rush, and when quarterbacking the powerplay. On top of it all Theodore has developed an excellent slap shot and one timer and can score from the point on the power play. He continues to improve in his own end as well.
HM – Sam Morin, Chris Bigras, Dillon Heatherington, Jordan Subban, and Jeremy Roy
Analysis: It wass tough to cut Chris Bigras who was on Team Canada’s squad last year, but in my mind he’s been surpassed by Nurse and the kids from out west. That said, its pretty close, and not an easy decision. He will be invited to selection camp and a good camp gets him back on the team. If the Canadian coaches don’t decide to take a second right handed shot in McKeown, its likely his spot to lose.
The big question here is Jeremy Roy. He’s been fantastic in the QMJHL this year, but here is a 17-year-old draft eligible defenceman and those type of players don’t often make team Canada unless they are really exceptional (think potential top 5 pick). Roy isn’t quite at that level. However he is a right-hand shot which might give him more consideration and could challenge McKeown.
Fucale was picked in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, and was Canada’s starting goaltender last season. He started the season slowly, but has really picked it up of late and has won his last 5 starts. Fucale is an athletic, butterfly style goaltender with decent size at 6’01. He is very quick in the net, especially with his legs as he does an excellent job taking away the bottom of the net. Fucale has an excellent glove hand, and flashes the leather regularly to take away the top half of the net. His rebound control is remarkable for a junior goaltender. This is usually an area that many young goalies need to work on, but Fucale is already approaching the status of a master. He directs pucks into the corners or smothers them, taking away second chance opportunities. Fucale’s lateral movement in the crease is superb. He is able to get from post to post very quickly and square himself up to the puck. He covers a lot of ground, but is economical in his movements, rarely going too far or getting himself out of position. Overall, his technique is extremely refined for a 19-year-old. Not only does he stop shots, he also is the rare goaltender who can have a positive effect on his team’s possession game with his rebound control and also his ability to play the puck and act as a third defenceman.
The son of “The Brick” founder Bill Comrie, and half-brother of former NHLer Mike Comrie, Eric Comrie was a second round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2013. He has decent size and good technique as a hybrid goalie. He has very good lateral movement and gets side to side quickly and efficiently. Comrie reads the play well and shows excellent puck tracking as he is rarely caught out of position. His quick legs do a great job of taking away the bottom of the net. He also has a very quick glove hand which helps him to take away the top portions. Comrie plays a very aggressive style and comes out far to cut down angles and take away net from shooters. He has excellent backwards skating which allows him to do this and recover if a forward tries to deke him to the net. Like many young goalies, he does need work on his rebound control and this is the biggest issue in his game. He does show the ability to square up to rebounds and recover quickly, however the rebound control can still improve. He is one of the best goalies in junior hockey and on many nights he is stealing points for a rebuilding Tri-City club this year.
HM: Tristan Jarry
Analysis: Jarry and Comrie are neck and neck for that backup spot, but I could only pick one. I went with Comrie. That said, both will likely go to the selection camp and it could come down to who is better in scrimmages and exhibition games.
A second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013, Jarry plays a very athletic, butterfly style. His technique is good and he gets in and out of the butterfly very quickly and does not leave large gaps between his legs or between his arms and body. Jarry has quick legs throwing out his pads to take away the bottom of the net. His glove hand is excellent and takes away the top corner. He moves around the crease well, with good puck tracking and the ability to go post-to-post with ease. His backwards skating is also solid which allows him to challenge shooters. While having solid technique, Jarry is also very instinctive and more than just a “puck blocker” as he has great reflexes and can make the odd diving save that you wouldn’t expect him to be able to get to. Jarry likes to leave the crease and play the puck. He often acts like a third defenceman and is successful at easing the pressure on his defence, making a long breakout pass when the other team gets caught on a change. Won the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings last season.
Check back tomorrow where I will begin to take a look at the American Team.
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