For the second straight year, Hockey Canada hosted a summer camp tournament in hopes of having the best Canadian hockey prospects shine against others from around the world. 40 players were given a chance to prove themselves while all spending time together, giving the coaching staff a chance to figure out the best possible combinations prior to the 2016 World Juniors in Finland.
Canada has one of the biggest prospect bases to choose from. In fact, some of the top prospects from the upcoming draft didn’t even take part in the U20 event. So it’s definitively a tough team to put together. With hockey news being slow in the summer, as usual, I put together a potential team built up of players that shined at the summer camp, while giving a few others the benefit of the doubt. With that in mind, here is my projection for Canada’s offense at the tournament the entire country has grown to love.
Michael Dal Colle- Robby Fabbri – Jake Virtanen
When it comes to experience in both age and in the junior ranks, this line will look to be an effective scoring option for Team Canada. Featuring two returning players from last year’s team, the team will have a few leaders to choose from on the first line alone. Fabbri, a first round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues back in 2014, was having a solid tournament on Canada’s second line last year before suffering a high ankle sprain in Canada’s 8-0 crushing of Denmark in the quarter-finals. It was a huge disappointment for the kid who was doing everything in his power to have a strong tournament. This year, Fabbri should be ready to make a big impact, and after proving to score pretty much everywhere he plays (including the AHL), Fabbri is pretty much a shoe-in that will use his quick speed to expose opponents on the big ice.
Jake Virtanen had a strong Summer Showcase in Calgary, scoring two goals and adding an assist during Canada’s 7-1 win over the Czech Republic. Virtanen, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, had a solid tournament at the most recent World Juniors, scoring a goal and adding three assists for the gold medal winning Canadian squad. Not the biggest goal scorer on the roster, he’s still good for about 70 points a season if he participates in the full campaign. He’s a tremendous power-forward with a fantastic shot, so he can be the guy you rely on for one-timers in the slot.
Dal Colle was an early cut from the team a year ago, but don’t expect that to be the case for the 2016 tournament. The only issue is that he could find himself on the New York Islanders roster come October. He’s probably the most NHL ready out of the entire roster, and while he could make Islanders out of training camp, the team could still choose to let him go play at the tournament in search of more ice time. Dal Colle is capable of putting up big numbers pretty much anywhere he plays, so if he does indeed make the team this time, he should be an imposing two-way forward that makes you mad and then has you pay for it with a goal in the back of the net.
Brayden Point- Travis Konecny – Nick Merkley
Some of the most intriguing prospects at the summer camp came from this proposed line. It’s hard to deny Brayden Point’s dominance for Canada, scoring eight points in just two games against the Czech Republic. The Moose Jaw Warriors captain showed his tremendous skating and passing abilities, making himself invincible by blowing past the opposition before, somehow, finding a strange lane for either Merkley or Konecny to find the back of the net. A pass first kind of player, Point could hit somewhere near the 40 goal mark in the WHL this year, and with his tremendous play-making plays to booth, he may be able to chip in close to 100 points. His role with the World Junior team was rather limited last year, sometimes getting used as the 13th forward, but that wont even be close to the case in Finland this year.
Involved on four of Point’s points was Travis Konecny, one of the faster skaters on the team. A smart goal-scorer with electrifying puckhandling skills, Konecny showed tremendous chemistry with Point every single time they were on the ice together. A teammate of Point’s at the U18’s in 2o14, Konecny was drafted 24th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers this past June, considered by some to be a little low due to his solid skill set. Konecny, while 5’10, has the ability to play an effective physical game, something that this trio would lack in otherwise. He should make the team, and if he does, look for him to be the catalyst up the middle for Point and Merkley.
Speaking of Merkley. the Arizona Coyotes prospect can be switched around any forward spot and be effective. The dynamic scoring star with some of the best vision in junior hockey, Merkley set up teammates for four goals at last year’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the only previous time that he had won a gold medal for his country. If you need any proof of his skill, his 22 assists in 19 playoff games for the WHL champs from Kelowna was the most of anyone in the entire league during the post-season. Konecny and Point could act as the two scoring forwards for Canada, while Merkley, who did score twice in Canada’s second game against the Czech’s, could be the tremendous set-up man that makes magic happen on the big ice.
Joshua Ho-Sang – Mitch Marner – Dylan Strome
Three super-skilled forwards on the third line? Sign me up! Just think, getting Josh Ho-Sang at his best, with a fire in his stomach, is going to wow everyone when the entire world situates their eyes on the best Under-20 players around. A year ago, the talented, yet controversial star forward wasn’t invited to the World Junior camp, something he was very vocal about. Ho-Sang had just come off a huge season in the OHL, leading his Windsor Spitfires team in points (85) and assists (53). Some believe it may be due to his attitude, something that Ho-Sang has been known to let fly loose at times, but regardless, it’s a totally different situation this year. His 81 points split between Windsor and Niagara last year was rather impressive, and if you were looking to find a player on the roster with unmatched on-ice talent, Ho-Sang’s your guy.
With the 2015 NHL Draft recently wrapping up in June, there was no shortage of attention on Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner. Marner continuously made everyone better during the summer camp, and he even earned some important power-play time in his two games played. His chemistry with Dylan Strome was fantastic through two contests, helping set up Canada’s fourth goal in their final game after dodging multiple Czech defenders at the blue line. As long as he doesn’t make the NHL, he’s a lock for this team.
Strome is another high-profile player that will make the roster assuming he doesn’t crack the Arizona Coyotes. A powerful two-way scoring forward, Strome rose to fame this year thanks to playing with some kid that wore #97 in Erie. A native of Mississauga, Ontario, Strome led the entire Canadian Hockey League in points with 129, including an OHL-high 84 assists. It’s hard to find a game where he wasn’t effective on the scoresheet, especially at the international stage. Who can forget his 11 point performance in five Under-17 World Championship games back in 2013? How about his six points in five Ivan Hlinka games last year, helping his team win the gold? Even his two goals in the final Summer Showcase game was impressive enough. Strome will likely turn into a very effective NHLer in the future, and the only thing he needs to do now is compete for a gold medal at the World Juniors.
Brendan Perlini – Mathew Barzal – Lawson Crouse
Perlini wouldn’t end up participating at Canada’s summer camp due to an injury, but you have to imagine he’ll have a good shot at still making the roster. Another Coyotes forward prospect with a good chance at making Canada, Perlini is a quick thinker and fast skater, helping him get one step ahead of his opponents on many occasions. Perlini’s international resume isn’t very big just yet, having played in just the 2014 Under-18 World Juniors, but he did go home with a bronze medal. Perlini is capable of 70 point seasons with the Niagara IceDogs, and with the team expected to have a strong year in the OHL this year, Perlini could be poised for a strong start to the season. He’ll need it to cement a spot on the roster this year.
Barzal is, undoubtedly, the best passer on the Canadian roster. A recent draft pick by the New York Islanders, Barzal has tremendous vision and is able to pick out anyone from just about any angle. Barzal has the skill level to go end to end with the puck and either deke out a defenseman or slide a slick pass to one of his linemates, even through tough spots. A future star in the NHL, Barzal still has the opportunity to be an effective player in 2017, so this could be big for him. After all, he was absolutely dominant at the Under-18’s earlier this year, so Hockey Canada knows he can be effective.
And then there’s Lawson Crouse. The biggest argument against Crouse last year was that, despite his strength, he wasn’t deserving of making Canada when the team won it all last year. Known for more of his aggressive nature than his lethal scoring ability, Crouse was solid for Canada when used as a fourth liner a year ago. That’s where his calling will likely be again this year, as his grinding strength, as well as his ability to chip in goals at times, could make him useful in front of the net.
Spencer Watson isn’t some unknown prospect anymore. Drafted second last by the Los Angeles Kings back in 2014, Watson has done everything possible to prove himself at the international level, having put up big numbers in both tournaments he’s participated in. First, his seven point performance at the U17’s during the 2012-2013 season proved he could put up big point totals against the best of his age group. In August of 2013, Watson skated for Canada’s gold medal U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, leading the team with ten points in five games. Watson is one of the most under-rated prospects in his age group, but after a strong effort at the Summer Showcase, the team can’t leave him home and expect to score at a high rate on all four lines.
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