For the fourth consecutive year, at least one Toronto Maple Leafs prospect will be representing Canada at World Juniors. Following in the footsteps of Morgan Rielly (2013), and Fredrik Gauthier (2014, 2015), the 4th overall pick in 2015, Mitch Marner, and defenseman Travis Dermott will be donning the (red and white) Maple leaf on Boxing Day, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Freddy the Goat and bring home Gold.
Marner was considered to be a lock to make the team going into this past weekends’ pre-competition games against Belarus and the Czech Republic but, Dermott had much more competition. Canada’s defense is considered to be among the best in the tournament, which made it an incredibly difficult decision for Hockey Canada to determine who would be making the trip back to Canada before the tournament began. Following the game against the Czechs, Team Canada had a 3 hour bus ride back to Helsinki from Imatra, Finland, which I’m sure felt a lot longer. Once the team arrived in Helsinki, the cuts were made and the sighs of relief were breathed.
Hockey Canada cut defensemen Noah Juulsen and Jérémy Lauzon from the team. In my opinion, Lauzon being cut wasn’t a surprise. I wasn’t overly impressed with his game, and compared to the other players invited, he didn’t perform as strong. I had expected him to have been cut before Jakob Chychrun based off of what I saw from the exhibition games against the CIS team but, he had shown potential. As a mobile defenseman with an ability to score, Hockey Canada was probably expecting him to show his offensive abilities more than he did while playing with another offensive defenseman, Roland McKeown. Lauzon does play a rougher game than is necessary in international hockey which could have potentially led to his dismissal. For a team who got themselves into some penalty trouble in both pre-competition games they’ve played thus far, they need to try to eliminate as much of that risk taking as they possibly can. Being a scratch in the second pre-competition game probably didn’t help to settle his nerves either.
The other defensive cut, Noah Juulsen, was much more surprising for me. Juulsen’s a great skater and plays that shutdown defenseman role that is needed in a tournament like World Juniors. He isn’t a player that grabs your attention every shift but he does get the little, important, things done. He makes such good decisions with the puck that he can become harder to read when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick. It’s all in how he interprets the play unfolding. The only problem is that there are a few other players on the roster than are just strong of playmakers. One thing that I thought would be a definite advantage to Juulsen was the fact that he was only 1 of 2 right-shot defensemen. The other being McKeown. Based on the smooth transition that the other invited defensemen made, it became evident that it wouldn’t matter if a player was a natural right defenseman.
It was difficult for me to try to figure out who would be the two defensive cuts. Although I had imagined that Lauzon would have been one, I couldn’t justify cutting any of the other players. I had assumed that Chabot was becoming a lock with his great chemistry with Hicketts, and Hickey lodged meaningful minutes on the numerous penalties Canada had to kill. Dermott had become a strong part of the Canadian power play that looks promising, the players just need more familiarity with each other. I didn’t expect that the second cut was going to be Dermott but, I also couldn’t figure out who it would be. Unfortunately for Lauzon and Juulsen, it seems as though Hockey Canada believes they will be strong enough without them. The argument of international familiarity could be presented, as Lauzon has only ever represented Quebec at the u16s. Juulsen played for Canada at the u17s where he won silver. I don’t support this argument as Travis Dermott has never represented Hockey Canada, in any capacity, but still won himself a roster spot. Although Hockey Canada is notorious for only inviting players they know very well to these types of events, I’d like to think that they’re changing the culture of the way they formerly operated. Signs of this occurring is with the first player to have chosen the university route over the CHL, has made the team over the two cuts previously mentioned since Jaden Schwartz (2011, 2012).
Canada’s cuts at forward were Nick Merkley and Jayce Hawryluk. From what I saw, and read about, neither impressed in the pre-competition game against the Czechs, and both were scratches in the game against Belarus. I didn’t expect Merkley to be cut based solely off of how I’ve seen him play in Kelowna. He’s such a gifted player with a knack for scoring, I didn’t think Hockey Canada could pass up having a player like that on the team. He got minimal ice time in his only pre-competition and wasn’t able to contribute the way I’ve known Nick Merkley to contribute. I’m disappointed that the world won’t be able to see what the Arizona first rounder will be able to do, but there’s always next year!
There was an overall consensus on twitter that Hawryluk would be one of the cuts made but, I haven’t seen nearly enough of him to give my opinion on how his style would have fit in on this team. From what I have seen, he plays a game very similar to Brendan Gallagher. That pest role that annoys the opposing team to no end, and causes them to take unnecessary penalties. That could have been an advantage to Team Canada in this tournament but, that doesn’t seem to be route they’ve chosen to take. There’s also the possibility that he wasn’t feeling 100% following the injury he sustained that caused him to miss 3 games with the Brandon Wheatkings and not even skate the entire week leading up to the beginning of Canada’s training camp in Toronto. But that’s just speculation.
“I wanted to give myself the best shot at making the team and obviously to have an injury doesn’t help that” – Jayce Hawryluk (via Tim Wharnsby, NHL.com correspondent http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=792249)
A few of my thoughts based on this past weekend’s pre-competition games:
- I’m not sure who’s going to end up on a line with Strome and Marner… Chartier played pretty well with them, and Beauvillier could be a good fit but, I don’t think Crouse will be on that line permanently.
- Crouse – Stephens – Konecny is pure power with high level offensive abilities and it gets me almost as excited as the thought of Strome and Marner playing together for 10 days. Konecny and Stephens aren’t huge guys but they play like they are. Fast, skilled, and play physically without crossing a line, the total package! (My phone also needs to realize that Konecny is a real name and that I don’t mean to type “don’t deny”)
- I don’t think I have many goal-related worries when Joe Hicketts is on the ice. He may have been a goalie in a past life with the way he dives in front of shots with a potential open net.
- That penalty kill though… Seriously, Stephens earned himself a roster spot after the 2nd period parade to the box against Belarus. He’s the guy you want taking face offs when your teams on the penalty kill. And his total sacrifice of the body is going to be a huge asset.
- Once the power play units become more familiar with each other, they have the potential to be lethal.
A full look at Canada’s 2016 National Junior Team can be found here.
Which Canadian player do you think will have the biggest impact on the team this year?