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Rejected last year, trio of top 10 picks look to crack Jr. squad

TSN.ca Staff

8/6/2009 9:50:00 AM

Matt Duchene, Brayden Schenn and Nazem Kadri shared the high point of their hockey lives when they were all selected within the first seven picks in June's NHL Entry Draft in Montreal.

Duchene, a forward with the Brampton Battalion, was picked third overall by the Colorado Avalanche. Schenn went fifth to the Los Angeles Kings from the Brandon Wheat Kings, and Kadri was drafted seventh by the Toronto Maple Leafs from the London Knights.

That wasn't all the trio had in common. They also shared the crushing disappointment of being released from the National Junior Team last December.

"It was heartbreaking. I thought I had a great shot going in," said Duchene. "I kind of expected it a little bit, because I just didn't have a great camp and didn't play even close to what I think I was capable of. That hurt the most."

"I was sitting in my hotel room, I think I got the call at like six in the morning," recalled Kadri. "I didn't get any sleep that night but when I finally got the call I kind of felt a little sick to my stomach. It was the first time I had been cut, but it was an experience for me. Hopefully it doesn't happen again."

"I probably got cut for a reason. You just take into that and you don't want to experience it again," said Schenn.

Now the three junior standouts are back together, determined to earn themselves a shot at gold. And for the second year in a row, the tournament will take place on Canadian soil - this time in Saskatoon and Regina.

"It's always been my goal to play for this national team. I've been watching them for quite some time, every single Christmas. So to finally be on this team would be a great honour," said Kadri.

Kadri is skating with Team Red in camp. In the first practice, he was playing centre on a line with Taylor Hall and Brandon Kozun. That trio combined for 352 points with their respective CHL teams last season, so they should be fun to watch.

Schenn opened camp on Team White, centering a line with Brandon McMillan and Scott Glennie. Duchene is also on Team White and started between wingers Gabriel Bourque and Louis Leblanc at the first practice.

It's worth noting that natural centre Evander Kane was scheduled to be moved to the wing - a reflection of Canada's depth up the middle. That means players looking to make the grade will have to show more than just pure skill this week.

For national team head coach Willie Desjardins, a player's attitude and perspective will play a big role when the talented juniors compete head-to-head for spots on the squad.

"If something happens to you, you have a couple of choices," said Desjardins. "You can say 'oh, those guys are right, they shouldn't have taken us', or you can say 'those guys are wrong', and that's what they did. They went out and proved that they were good hockey players and maybe they should have been picked for our team. I think that's the attitude that you want players to have."

With the experience of coming so close but falling just short, all three players say they have learned how to fit themselves into Canada's plans this time around.

"Last year I tried to play too much of a grinder role," said Schenn. "I think I'm more of an offensive guy, and that's what I've got to bring to the table. This year that's what I'm looking to do."

"Sometimes I've got to keep it simple, especially with smaller ice. We're not playing in Europe on the big ice where you have a lot of room to skate. It's North American hockey, you know, battling and grinding," said Kadri.

Only time will tell if this talented trio will make the rosters of their respective NHL teams. If they don't, they could potentially form a large part of the leadership core along with up to 10 returning players from last year's World Junior squad that won gold in Ottawa.

- with files from TSN Reporter John Lu