Losing Cody Hodgson is obviously a big loss. For my money he was the best player for Team Canada at last year's tournament, and could have easily been the tournament MVP. John Tavares was terrific, but Hodgson was exceptional at every part of the game.
Hodgson is not going to be there this year so it makes things interesting, as far as centre-icemen go. Patrice Cormier is the other guy that is coming back, so there's really only one guy who is inked into the lineup.
I think Brayden Schenn is a guy that will step up and provide some physical presence and has some offensive ability. But, I'm really interested to find out whether any of the prototypical offensive centres are going to be able to step up and snag a job.
Start with Nazem Kadri, the seventh-overall pick in last year's draft and Toronto Maple Leaf first rounder. If this camp were held a month ago, he probably wouldn't have even gotten an invitation to it, because he got off to a slow start. He is going to need to be at his best, both in terms of producing points, and also by playing a strong two-way game.
Also, there is Tyler Seguin, the potential first-overall pick in next year's draft. There are two guys who could step up and create key roles.
High Profile Players
Jared Cowen, the Ottawa Senators' first-round pick from the Spokane Chiefs will be one of them. Colten Teubert, Ryan Ellis, and Alex Pietrangelo are also returnees from last year, while Marco Scandella and Travis Hamonic will be looking for shut-down roles. That doesn't leave a lot of available spots.
Cowen is coming off ACL surgery, and hasn't had the same performance this year prior to being injured, but he's also a blue-chipper so they want to give him a good long look.
And there's also Louis Leblanc, the Montreal Canadiens' first-rounder who plays at Harvard. It's a late season for Harvard in the ECAC, so he had to play well right from the get-go to get consideration to be invited to this camp. He did that, although they are seven-deep at centre, so a natural centre like Leblanc could provide energy, edge, and skill on the wing.
Sizing up the Field
Canada is never an underdog on home ice, but they're not the prohibitive favourite this time around either. When you look at the talent that's in the NHL - Stamkos, Tavares, Duchene, O'Reilly represents an whole centre ice core, plus Tyler Myers - they don't have those guys. The Swedes are loaded with guys from last year's team, the Russians should have a lot of returning players.
Canada is a tough out on home ice, and they will be one of the favourites - but they're not the favourite, and they're certainly not the prohibitive favourite.
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