Button: Projecting Canada's roster at 2015 WJHC
Craig Button, TSN Director Of Scouting
9/4/2014 11:06:46 AM
The puck drops for the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship on Boxing Day and while it's still 112 days away, Canada's challenge remains the same - figuring out which players may or not be available to Team Canada because of potential spots available on NHL rosters.
The challenge was certainly there during the gold medal years, but the spoils of victory demonstrated the enormous depth of talent Team Canada could draw upon. Now going five years without a gold medal - not to mention two consecutive years without any medal at all, five countries winning gold in the past six years and this year's tournament on home ice - Hockey Canada's challenge isn't any easier. And the expectations remain as high as ever.
Starting today and at the start of each month going into the 2015 tournament, TSN will examine candidates for Team Canada leading up to the selection camp in December. A roster of 13 forwards, seven defencemen and two goaltenders will be tabled, along with other potential players who could challenge. And this list will certainly change as the season unfolds.
The September edition allows us to look at all candidates prior to NHL training camp. For the initial roster, Jonathan Drouin is not listed because the belief that he'll be in the NHL on Oct. 8 is very strong.
Who are the other players Canada may be missing? As always, the players are ones that can have a significant impact on the team. It's one thing to understand who may be unavailable, but the challenge is actually identifying the players who can fill the void.
First-overall NHL draft pick Aaron Ekblad will almost certainly be unavailable. Think back to the 2014 Men's Olympic Team when head coach Mike Babcock wanted balance between the left and right shots on the blue line. With the absence of Ekblad, that leaves one right shot defenceman - Madison Bowey - on the roster. Chris Bigras was on the World Junior Team last winter, but with the quality of players on the left side he may have to demonstrate a strong ability to play the right side.
Jeremy Roy is a draft eligible player for next June - and is a very good player at that. His maturity is excellent and he may be able to challenge for a spot. Given that he's a right-handed shot, it could give this year's team the balance they're looking for.
At forward, the potential for missing players is always at the top end of the lineup in terms of skill and impact. Possible returnees Sam Reinhart and Curtis Lazar lead the group and Max Domi was close to starting with the Phoenix Coyotes last season.
Replacing Sam and Curtis is a significant challenge, because their impact has a wide-ranging effect. They can play all situations in the game, are versatile and can move throughout the lineup. They're also game changers and either one of them could be team captain.
Meanwhile, Jake Virtanen is coming off shoulder surgery and his health may be a key factor in stepping into the void. He fits the bill of being a top-end talent with the skill to impact a game. The tricky part of the evaluation is identifying those players who can play outside their natural positions and contribute. Centre Robbi Fabbri had a fantastic playoff for the Guelph Storm and would be a leading candidate to step into a vacancy because he's shown a capability to play to his strengths - down the middle or on the wing. On the left side, Anthony Duclair is a tremendously talented player and when looking to replace a guy like Max Domi, it appears to be seamless with respect to his skill.
Keep in mind that Sam Bennett and Connor McDavid have played alongside one another with great success, so this may be a natural fit. Brendan Lemieux brings a different element, but his ability to 'rise to the occasion' in important games could see him fit in a different way - perhaps coming in from the bottom part of the roster as others push up.
Canada's depth is strong, but replacing key performers is never easy. The expectations aren't lower, but the task for the Team Canada's personnel is to form a team that meets those expectations - regardless of who's available or not.