TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on Team Canada, which held its first practice of the World Junior Selection Camp Monday at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ont.
The Detroit Red Wings will loan Joe Veleno to Hockey Canada for the World Juniors, but the forward will play four more games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins before heading to Europe.
"He's been playing good minutes and in all situations so he's going to come back a real good player," said Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen. "He's obviously a good player, but just that experience playing against the older guys and the pro game, I think he’s going to come back with real good leadership (skills)."
Grand Rapids will play two games in San Diego and two in Bakersfield before wrapping up a West Coast swing on Dec. 17.
"He's been in our program so many times and been a tremendous leader and mentor for our group that we’re really excited that we got word that he’s going to be part of it moving forward," said McEwen.
"He was captain of the Hlinka team and we all love him," said Niagara forward Akil Thomas. "A huge addition, a great player and he’s going to make the team a lot better."
Veleno has three goals and six assists in 25 games with Detroit's farm team this season. Last year, he posted 104 points in 59 QMJHL games with Drummondville.
"You talk about 200-foot-type player, that’s what he is," McEwen said. "I mean, he’s probably rounded that side of his game out more. In Quebec last year, he was so important offensively to his team and this year he’s probably rounded some things off and his game is more complete."
Veleno's addition gives Canada four returning players with Rimouski left winger Alexis Lafrenière, Spokane defenceman Ty Smith and Halifax defenceman Jared McIssac also in the mix.
Canada finished sixth last year in Vancouver, the first time the country failed to reach the podium at a World Juniors on home ice.
"Hockey Canada's definitely motivated to put that to rest this year and in this tournament," McIsaac said. "Any time you wear the Canada jersey and end up coming out short it's tough and definitely took a little while to swallow that one."
McIsaac has played just three QMJHL games this season after undergoing shoulder surgery in the summer.
"It's going to take a little bit for me to get completely back to 100 per cent game shape and it’s part of the process," said the 19-year-old from Nova Scotia. "I rehabbed for two and a half months, three months in Detroit and we really pushed the envelope there making sure I was ready as far as the shoulder and conditioning-wise and they were happy with how everything went and I'm here now."
Lafrenière sat out the first practice for maintenance.
Sudbury centre Quinton Byfield missed the first practice due to a travel delay.
Owen Sound forward Aidan Dudas skated on his own before practice, but didn't take part in the main session.
"A little banged up," said McEwen, "so, we'll play that day by day and see where he's at. Moving forward it looks all right, but you have to be cautious ... he'll be carefully handled here the next few days."
Hockey Canada hopes to be down to a 23-man roster by Thursday when the selection camp wraps up following two games against uSports all-stars.
McEwen said the management team continues to hold out hope that three players currently in the NHL – Arizona Coyotes forward Barrett Hayton, Chicago Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach and New York Islanders defenceman Noah Dobson – may be made available prior to the holiday roster freeze.
Initial lines for Monday's Team Canada practice:
Byfield * - Cozens - Foote
McMichael - Thomas - Mercer
Holloway - Groulx - Newhook
Krebs - Zary - Lavoie
Lafreniere * - Dellandrea - Foudy
McIsaac - Byram
Harley - Drysdale
Diliberatore - Addison
Smith - Schneider
Bahl - Bernard-Docker
* Missed practice