Saturday, 8 December 2012

World Junior Hockey Championship Preview

 Hope we'll be seeing more of this come January 5th
With the NHL creating a lot of negative publicity, I thought it was about time to inject some optimism to the hockey world. The holidays are right around the corner, which bring with them the spirit of love, giving and happiness; a (Robb) stark contrast to the feeling the NHL is giving to fans. Lucky for us, with the holidays comes the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. I have been fortunate to attend over 30 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) games this season and also paid close attention to the Canada-Russia Super Series last month. Through it all, I have gained a new appreciation for the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) as a whole and I might even become a permanent fan if the NHL continues on their gong show route. Without further adieu, here is my (semi) informed opinion on who Canada should choose to represent the country on Boxing Day.

The complete list of camp invitees can be found here.



With a full year lockout looking like a real possibility:

Ritchie - Scheifele - Strome
Drouin - Huberdeau - MacKinnon
Hudon - Jenner - Rattie
Wilson - Danault - McNeill

This is assuming that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be unavailable for the tournament due to a shoulder injury he suffered while playing for the Oklahoma City Barons. If he is cleared to play, he would most likely replace Drouin (which would be unfortunate for people who haven't seen him play), and the line combinations would also change. Ignoring this glaring omission, I think this is the best lineup Canada could put together. Ryan Strome and his 2.0 ppg in the OHL will be relied upon to be an offensive force on this team, but Scheifele with his size and two way play is better suited for the first line centre position. Although Ritchie's size and physicality would make him a good fit for a bottom 6 role, he and Strome have insane chemistry and it would be foolish to split them up.
The second line is one that we saw in the second game of Russia vs. the QMJHL all-stars. Although it is not common for Hockey Canada to give big minutes to younger players like Drouin and MacKinnon, this line is full of high end skill and something clicked when Drouin was added to the mix against the Russians.
The third line is exactly what you want: a combination of offensive creativity and shutdown ability. Columbus prospect Boone Jenner is one of the few returning forwards for Team Canada. He leads the OHL in goals and does it all for the Oshawa Generals. Hudon is a spark plug that never stops working, and he and Rattie are versatile players that will compliment Jenner nicely. 
On the fourth line I have players that are used to playing top line minutes for their CHL team, but are guys that can buy into whatever role they are given. Tom Wilson will add some big open ice hits and McNeill and Danault are guys you can trust in any situation. I have Monahan as the extra forward because although I haven't seen him play much, from what I've heard he would be a guy you could slot into any line.


With Canadian D man Ryan Murray out with season ending surgery there is a spot up for grabs heading to camp. Here's what I'd like to see on Boxing Day:
Harrington shows Denmark how fun it is to play against him

Reilly - Hamilton
Ouellet - Harrington
Reinhart - Dumba

A lot of things could happen on Canada's blue line because of our depth at the position, but there are also a few certainties:
  • As the only 2 returning D-men, Harrington and Hamilton will be on the team
  • Because of their talent level and style of play, both Reilly and Ouellet seem to be locks
  • For better or for worse, Ryan Murphy will be one of the 7 chosen as his coach in Kitchener - Steve Spott - will also be head coach of Team Canada 
I don't mean to rag on Murphy (as he is a very talented player), but he is too one-dimensional for my liking. His offensive ability is a little redundant on Canada's blue line with the likes of Reilly, Hamilton and Dumba in the lineup. His skating ability would be a great asset on the larger ice surface, but mobility isn't really a problem for any of the guys listed above. They defensive pairings could change, but I think I've put a good mix together. Reilly and Hamilton are a good mix of size, speed and puck moving ability, while Harrington and Ouellet are a go-to shutdown pair that Hockey Canada always likes to have. Reinhart and Dumba also compliment each other well, with Dumba being a more explosive, flashy player and Reinhart a safe stay at home guy. I was a bit surprised not to see Duncan Siemens on the invite list. After a slow start he has played much better for the Saskatoon Blades recently, and also had a good showing in the Super Series. A physical shutdown guy that can skate as well as he can would be a valuable asset on the big ice in Russia.



Unlike Mr. Bob McKenzie, I think goaltending has the fewest question marks heading into camp. Malcolm Subban is more than likely to be the starter, and Binnington will be on the team as well. Although in recent years this position has been one of Canada's biggest weaknesses (especially in big games), I am confident with Subban and his 0.932 sv% between the pipes. 

Finally, since I am acting like the head coach I might as well pick captains too, right?

C - Scott Harrington
A - Mark Schiefele
A - Boone Jenner

Other Players to watch

Believe it or not, there are other countries that compete in the tournament. Here is a list of both drafted players and draft-eligible players to keep an eye on from each country:

Russia - Yakupov (EDM) (lockout pending), Grigorenko (BUF), Nichushkn (2013), Zadorov (2013)
Sweden - Lindholm (2013), Forsberg (WSH), De La Rose (2013)
Finland - Barkov (2013), Ristolainen (2013), Maatta (PIT), Teravainen (CHI)
USA - Galchenyuk (MTL) (could have played for Russia or Belarus as well), Jones (2013), Trouba (WPG), Biggs (TOR)
Czech Republic - Musil (EDM), Frk (DET), Faksa (DAL), Hertl (SJ)


With the final game of camp complete, here is who I want on the roster:

Huberdeau - Nugent-Hopkins - Schiefele
Ritchie - Strome - MacKinnon
Hudon - Jenner - Rattie
Wilson - Danault - McNeill

I think the top 11 forwards are a safe bet, but Wilson and Drouin could be swapped for guys like Camara and Lipon (which will likely happen knowing Team Canada), respectively. I think Wilson played a lot better today and brings a physical game that is only second to Ritchie at the camp. Drouin is a guy that could really step up in big moments in this tournament if given the chance.

Reilly - Hamilton 
Ouellet - Harrington
Reinhart - Dumba

It's likely that Corrado will take Dumba's spot and Murphy will make the team as the 7th defensman, but I think Dumba played better than Murphy today. They are both highly touted guys that have so far disappointed, and if one should make it Dumba has my vote. However, Murphy's status with Spott will get him on the team, and Corrado has played well enough to earn a spot on the team.


Without allowing a goal in camp and looking solid while doing it, I think Jake Paterson has earned the backup role. What is interesting is who will be the 3rd string, and I think the safe pick would be Binnington.