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NHL draftee dilemma could shape identity of World Jr. squad

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TSN.ca Staff
8/7/2009 8:05:35 AM
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As many as 10 players from last year's Canadian gold-medal winning world junior team are eligible to return for this year's tournament. However, all but two of the 46 players at this week's development camp in Saskatoon are NHL draftees so it presents an interesting dilemma that will shape the identity of this year's edition.

"Our expectation is there will be somewhere between 10 and 15 guys who start the year in the NHL because it's a really strong group of players, and we'll just watch it as it unfolds," said head scout Al Murray.

"You've got to look at it as a win-win situation," reasoned 2009 gold medallist Jordan Eberle. "Obviously, like I said, I want to be in Edmonton but there's a great backup plan. I get to go and try and win another Mem Cup, probably one of the hardest trophies to win, and obviously another shot here."

Regardless of who may return, Hockey Canada wants to get bigger and tougher up front, which is good news for power forwards like Windsor Spitfire Greg Nemisz and Zack Kassian of the Peterborough Petes, who saw opportunity after watching last year's tournament.

"They won gold so there's not much you can really complain about," said Kassian. "But in the back of my mind, yeah, I thought they were missing a little more physical play and grit."

"We didn't really have that physical presence," agreed Murray. "A lot of guys that weren't very physical had to step up that way. I think when you look at this year's camp, it's a really nice blend of physical players who have skill along with talented players who bring a little bit of a physical edge."

Depending on who is available for this year's tournament, Canada can still dazzle with skill and the camp experiment of Nazem Kadri centring Brandon Kozun and Taylor Hall is a good example. The diminutive but dangerous Kozun is looking to build on a stellar year with the Calgary Hitmen.

"There are a lot of big names at this camp," said Kozun. "I might fly under the radar a little bit but I'm definitely trying to prove to people what I can do.

Kozun was born in Los Angeles, which gives him dual citizenship and explains why he's on USA Hockey's radar. The American governing body reportedly contacted Kozun and the rumour is he's guaranteed a spot on Team USA, but Kozun says they are wasting their breath.

"I've been living in Canada for the past 10 years or so and it's kind of where my heart is and that's where I want to play."

The NHL on TSN's Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire discussed the extremely fast rate at which Canada has been developing skilled players - sometimes so fast that they skip the World Juniors altogether to head straight to the NHL.

"You think back if you're a fan of the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League," said McGuire. "Their number one guy in the '08 Draft and the first pick of the Vancouver Canucks, Cody Hodgson. I'd be absolutely shocked if he didn't make the Canucks coming out of training camp. That would be a monstrous blow to Team Canada. He's smart, he's got unbelievable puck possession skills and he makes the players around him better.

"And then you have Evander Kane, in the '09 Draft going to the Atlanta Thrashers, a tremendous two-way forward, an awesome forechecker, plays for the Vancouver Giants, and the thing about Kane is, Atlanta has him, they're not a very strong team, so it wouldn't surprise me if Kane actually made their team coming out of training camp."

In addition to Kane and Hodgson, McGuire said he thought there was a very good chance that Tyler Myers would be headed to the Buffalo Sabres.

"The Sabres are crying out, especially with Teppo Numminen retiring and Jaroslav Spacek going to the Montreal Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent," McGuire said. "Myers has a very real chance to make the NHL this season. He addresses every single need Buffalo has - skating ability from the back end, size and domination. I hope that he can stay because if he can't, that would be a giant loss for Canada as well."

It's only a matter of time before Canadian hockey fans find out who is going where.

Jordan Eberle (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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