This upcoming week, four of the top hockey countries will be gathering for an exhibition tournament in preparation for the 2017 World Juniors in Plymouth, Michigan. Every summer, USA Hockey hosts their World Junior summer evaluation camp, formerly in Lake Placid, New York, in an attempt to get a sense of which of their available teenaged players will best represent the Stars and Stripes over Christmas. Typically they will include teams from Sweden and Finland in the exhibition tournament though, this year, Canada will be making its first appearance at the camp since 2013.
Hockey Canada usually prefers to run their summer camp on its own. In 2013, after a disappointing performance in Ufa, Russia, they accepted USA Hockey’s invitation to participate in their tournament in hopes of having a better showing in Malmo, Sweden. When Hockey Canada finished fourth for a second consecutive year, they changed their format by inviting Russia and the Czechs to participate in a similar exhibition series to USA Hockey. The following Christmas, Canada won gold at home, in Toronto. They stuck with what worked last summer, following the same format of series, only to finish 6th in the tournament; the country’s worst finish since 1998 (8th).
After a disappointing showing that exposed a team with very little coherence, chemistry, and identity, it’s presumed that Hockey Canada agreed to join USA, Sweden, and Finland this summer as a step to build itself a team that will be expected to win gold at home, once again. On their invited roster (which can be found here), they only have one Leafs pick, Mitchell Marner, who will be expected to be a leader on the team, should he be available come December. While it’s speculated that he’ll find himself a permanent position with Toronto this season, he would likely be loaned to Hockey Canada for the duration of the tournament. Marner’s dominance in the OHL and Memorial Cup gives a strong indication that, should he return to play for Canada’s national junior team, he will be seeking to redeem is “so-so” performance on the international stage.
Canada has invited 9 returning players from last years team (Chabot, Barzal, Beauvillier, Crouse, Gauthier, Konecny, Marner, Stephens, and Strome), though it’s unsure if they will all be available come Christmas. The potential unavailable players would be Chychrun, Crouse, Konecny, Marner and Strome. Although there were rumours in Ottawa that Chabot was being considered for the 7th defenceman position – his less than stellar development camp has put doubts back into management’s minds.
Hockey Canada is rather familiar with ¾ goaltenders invited to their camp. Carter Hart won gold at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka tournament, Evan Cormier was the backup goalie to Zach Sawchenko at the 2015 u18s in Switzerland where Canada won bronze. Sawchenko also backstopped Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2014. It was a surprise to see Connor Ingram get invited over Evan Fitzpatrick. Ingram’s age could have been to his advantage, as he’s an early 1997 birthdate while the others are late ‘97s or ‘98 borns. Fitzpatrick’s performance in the later games (medal round, to be particular) at the IIHF u18s could have been a deterrent to inviting, though he’ll have plenty of opportunities to earn himself an invite to the December selection camp.
Looking at the defensive invites, it’s easy to say who should be making the team based solely on their reputation. With guys like Bean, Chabot, Chychrun, Fabbro, Girard, Juulsen, Lauzon, and Roy available, it looks like it’ll be another year of tough defenseman cuts. What was interesting to me was that they’re giving an underage defenseman, Cal Foote, a look at this camp. He’s a big, strong defenseman that holds dual citizenship between Canada and the United States. He played with the Kelowna Rockets last season, along with fellow camp invites Nick Merkley (who had an injury ridden second half of the season) and Dillon Dubé. Foote, the son of former NHLer Adam Foote, played 71 games, scoring 8 goals and finishing with 36 points. Not bad for a first year defenseman. While he has an offensive aspect to his game, he plays more of a defense-first but also mobile style, uses his stick well, passes well, and uses his larger body to his advantage. He’s considered to be a potential steal from the 2017 NHL Draft and could find himself a spot on the Canadian National Junior team, in my opinion.
Since there are a so many potentially unavailable returning forwards, this camp will be an important opportunity for “less popular” players to make an impression. Though, anyone who follows junior hockey wouldn’t consider guys like Tyler Soy, Zach Senyshyn, Brett Howden or Michael McLeod to be unpopular selections. Tyson Jost will most definitely be given a hard look, or even be considered amongst the virtual locks to make the Canadian roster. This could be the first year in I don’t even know how long that two NCAA players make the World Junior team if both Jost and Fabbro are selected (I’d be putting them on my projected roster but that’s just me). Nolan Patrick, projected 1st overall selection in the 2017 NHL Draft was also invited, unsurprisingly. He will not be participating in the camp, as he recovers from surgery on a sports hernia but, he will be joining the team in their activities and attending all games. This gives a strong indication that Hockey Canada wants him on their team in December and expects him to get a good feel for the culture that will be established in their locker room. Keegan Kolesar is potentially the biggest surprise invite to the camp, for me, because I didn’t know much about him other than he’s a grittier, frustrating player. After watching some of his highlights, I like his work ethic, awareness on the ice and ability to create high quality offensive chances. I like his ability to play a strong two way game, and frustrate opponents however, I’m unsure if his style will be too “over the line” for the IIHF rules standard. I think if he were to make the team, he’d be used in a similar role to that Nick Ritchie played in 2015.
Typically, following the summer camp, Canadians will have a general idea as to what kind of team they should expect to watch over the holidays. Head coach Dominique Ducharme, an assistant on last years team, will know what worked (not very much) and what didn’t. He’s had a lot of success in the QMJHL, winning a Memorial Cup in 2013, so he understands how teams need to play in order to be successful. The types of teams that Ducharme’s typically molded in Halifax can all skate, play a faster paced game, shoot the puck, and remain strong in the defensive zone (with minimal breakdowns). All the key attributes to winning that last years team severely lacked. Playing on the smaller NHL ice surface, compared to the hybrid ice size in Finland, should work to the team’s advantage both this summer in Plymouth, and in Toronto/Montreal.
TSN will be broadcasting all of Canada’s games, and full tournament schedule can be found here. This is only the first step in Canada’s quest to redeem themselves after a disappointing showing in Finland but, it will prove to be vital for a group of players that want to win on home soil.