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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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Alexis Lafrenière isn't concerned about a nagging ankle injury that has kept him off the ice this week. 

"When I'm playing I don't feel it that much," the Rimouski left winger said on Thursday in his first media session of Canada's selection camp, "maybe a little bit after, but it’s good when I'm playing. I can skate pretty good I think, so I'm good with it."

The projected top pick in the next NHL draft, Lafrenière hasn't let the issue slow him down at all this season with 70 points in 32 league games. But he did miss the QMJHL series games against Russia and the decision was made by Hockey Canada's staff to get the 18-year-old some rest this week.  

"We talked with the doc and the staff and they don't want me to push too much on it," Lafrenière said. "It got better over the last couple days and I hope it's going to keep being good. I'm excited to be back on the ice soon."

Hockey Canada wraps up its selection camp today with the next scheduled practice on Saturday before the team travels to Europe. Lafrenière is one of four returning players on the roster and is expected to take on a leadership role at this year's event in the Czech Republic. 

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Watching from the stands yesterday, Lafrenière was impressed by draft rival Quinton Byfield.

"He's a big guy and he can move too," Lafrenière observed. "I enjoyed watching him ... We didn’t talk about [the draft] too much, but it's fun to have him here and to eventually be able to skate with him." 

Byfield has racked up 57 points in 30 games while playing centre for Sudbury in the OHL this season, but has been lining up on left wing so far at Canada's camp. 

"I don't mind it, actually," Byfield said following Wednesday's game. "Draws haven’t been my strongest [skill] so I'm not taking too many draws so that's okay. I'll say that's a plus there. You know, it’s kind of just whoever gets back in the zone first is really playing centre so it doesn't really matter there, it's just off faceoffs. I felt pretty good on the wing and didn’t mind playing there."

Byfield seemed to have good chemistry with Kelowna's Nolan Foote and Lethbridge's Dylan Cozens. 

"He's a big kid," Cozens said of the six-foot-four Byfield. "His game's mature too, though. He makes smart plays. He's confident with the puck. He's just a real great player." 

Byfield certainly doesn't look like a 17-year-old. 

"No, not at all," Foote agreed. "He looks like he's developed already and definitely ready for this level and the next level." 

Byfield picked up a couple assists in the first game of the camp and made it clear he's willing to do whatever it takes to make Team Canada in his draft-eligible season. 

"I'll be open to any role just to be able to play and represent my country," he said. "You can't be too picky. It’s a really strong group of guys here and they're older than me so they earned their spots over me just from being older, those higher roles, so I’ll take any role as it comes." 

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After a slow start in Ottawa this season (no points in seven games), Kevin Bahl has been on a roll with 20 points in 21 games impressing 67s coach André Tourigny.

"I'm really happy with his last 20," said Tourigny, an assistant with Team Canada. "He didn’t have a great start in Ottawa, but since then he's rock solid. He's dominant for us."

Bahl believes he put too much pressure on himself early in the season because of how badly he wanted to make Team Canada. Once he relaxed a bit, Bahl felt like he started to get on a roll and he's carried that into this week. 

"You just know that you got to come into this type of camp and you just got to be right on the ball," he said. "There’s no easing into it. Your foot's down on the gas every second you're here."

The big test for Bahl was whether he could get his big body around the bigger international ice surface and the 2019 Arizona second-round pick received a passing grade after the first game.

"His speed is underrated," Tourigny said. "People look at him, six-foot-seven, 240 pounds, and right away they have a question mark about his skating, but I have a chance to see him every night and his skating is really good."

Bahl, who worked with skating coach Dawn Braid when he was growing up in Mississauga, Ont., is three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than anyone else at Canada's camp. 

"I know I can skate at this level," said Bahl. "I know I can do it. So, hopefully they saw it."

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After a slow start in Ottawa this season (no points in seven games), Kevin Bahl has been on a roll with 20 points in 21 games impressing 67s coach André Tourigny.

"I'm really happy with his last 20," said Tourigny, an assistant with Team Canada. "He didn’t have a great start in Ottawa, but since then he's rock solid. He's dominant for us."

Bahl believes he put too much pressure on himself early in the season because of how badly he wanted to make Team Canada. Once he relaxed a bit, Bahl felt like he started to get on a roll and he's carried that into this week. 

"You just know that you got to come into this type of camp and you just got to be right on the ball," he said. "There’s no easing into it. Your foot's down on the gas every second you're here."

The big test for Bahl was whether he could get his big body around the bigger international ice surface and the 2019 Arizona second-round pick received a passing grade after the first game.

"His speed is underrated," Tourigny said. "People look at him, six-foot-seven, 240 pounds, and right away they have a question mark about his skating, but I have a chance to see him every night and his skating is really good."

Bahl, who worked with skating coach Dawn Braid when he was growing up in Mississauga, Ont., is three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than anyone else at Canada's camp. 

"I know I can skate at this level," said Bahl. "I know I can do it. So, hopefully they saw it."

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Bahl opened the scoring on Wednesday and another defenceman, Bowen Byram, got the final goal in regulation to give Canada a 4-3 win. The Vancouver Giant ended up low in the offensive zone and deflected home a point shot from forward Peyton Krebs. 

"There were a couple rotations with forward and D up top and I just ended up there," Byram explained with a smile. 

Byram's ability to get to the right spots on the ice helped him rack up 71 points in 67 WHL games last season en route to being picked fourth overall by Colorado in June. The 18-year-old believes playing on the bigger ice benefits his game. 

"Skating is kind of a strong suit of mine so if I can use my speed on the big ice it definitely helps," he noted. 

At his first NHL training camp in September, Byram couldn't help but be inspired by Cale Makar, who has a World Junior gold medal on his resume. 

"He's pretty good so if I can turn out anything like him I'll be very happy," Byram said. "He's really patient with the puck and he's got really good skill so just being around him and watching him was definitely helpful for me."

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Cozens attended August's Summer Showcase for World Junior hopefuls, but couldn't take part in on-ice activities after sustaining a left thumb injury at Buffalo's development camp. Ultimately the issue, which required surgery in June, may have been a blessing in disguise. ​

"The biggest thing the thumb injury helped with was just my lower-body strength," the seventh-overall pick explained. "I wasn’t really able to work on my upper-body strength so it was all focused on explosiveness and power down low and I think it helped a lot."

Cozens didn't return to game action until Buffalo's prospects camp.  

"You got to take the positives out of the negatives and I think I did." 

Bahl, Cozens, Foote and Quinnipiac University defenceman Peter Diliberatore all skated this morning and will be healthy scratches in today's final selection camp game. 

Spokane defenceman Ty Smith (illness), Owen Sound forward Aidan Dudas (hand) and Lafrenière (ankle) will also sit out. 

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Team Canada lines for Thursday's game v U Sports All-Stars:

McMichael - Dellandrea - Newhook

​Byfield - Mercer - Lavoie 

Holloway - Groulx - Thomas 

Foudy - Zary - Krebs

Perfetti 

 

McIsaac - Bernard-Docker 

Harley - Schneider

Drysdale - Addison 

Byram

 

Jones & Rodrigue

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Hofer & Daws will play for U Sports team