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.
When you look at building a team, the talk about offense seems to steal the headlines. When you think about it, everyone talks about the Marner’s, and the Strome’s and the McDavid’s of a junior team, but not as much the blue liners. Despite the defensive pool being just a little smaller than their forward counterparts, there is going to be one heck of a battle to fill out that top six. Only one guy is returning from the team a year ago, so the selection wont be easy.
Inexperience is also a key thing when it comes to their goaltending. Super talented nonetheless, with each goalie playing in just one full match each this summer, it’s hard to really judge how the three goaltenders performed for Canada. They all had very strong performances, though, so it’s hard to really choose a clear order for them all. The favourite looks to be Mason McDonald, who already has a bit of experience with Canada at various events, but Blackwood could easily steal the spotlight by the time the tournament takes place.
With that in mind, here is my projection for the back end of Canada’s World Junior roster.
Joe Hicketts- Thomas Chabot
Joe Hicketts is the only returning player on the Canadian roster this year. The funny thing is, he didn’t get invited to last year’s camp, only to make the team in the end. Hicketts can be viewed upon as somewhat of a leader on back end due to his experience, and his skill was evident earlier in the month in Calgary. A Detroit Red Wings prospect, Hicketts is as much of a underdog as you can get. Undersized, undrafted, almost unheard of. But thanks to an incredible work ethic, followed by superb abilities in pretty much every important category, Hicketts is going to be one heck of a defenseman when called upon in Finland this year.
Perhaps the defenseman Hicketts clicked with the most during the summer camp was Thomas Chabot, the newest star defensive product of the Ottawa Senators. A quick moving two-way defenseman, Chabot has only gotten better with time, so we could see a huge spike in his production this season. Known well for his passing, Chabot recorded five points at the 2014 U18 WJC’s, with his four assists contributing to Canada’s Bronze Medal that year. He and Hicketts play similar style games, with Chabot bringing more of the physicality. Put them together, and we should see a very impressive duo as the top pairing.
Noah Juulsen- Travis Dermott
Juulsen also had a strong summer camp, specifically when paired with Hicketts. A solid two-way defender, Juulsen is one of the better passers from the point, and it was clear with his 43 assists with the Everett Silvertips this past season. One thing that really stood out in August was his ability to transition between the three zones ahead everyone else and to move fluently with and without the puck. Juulsen has already represented Canada in the past, suiting up for the silver medal Canada Pacific team at the U17’s two seasons ago. The Montreal Canadiens prospect has a solid chance at making the squad in December, and as he continues to succeed at the WHL, the right handed shooter could find the net a few times in Finland.
Travis Dermott had a quiet summer camp, and while he isn’t overly flashy, Dermott is a hard-working, fast skating blue liner that should make Canada’s roster. One of the better NHL Draft picks from the OHL this past season, the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect is an absolute dynamo in his own zone, winning pretty much every battle in the corner. Smart with the puck, Dermott wont make costly mistakes if you choose to put him on the ice during key times late in a game. The former Newmarket Hurricanes defenseman hasn’t played for Canada in the past, but that’s fine. His progression over the years has been steady, and he’s finally proving to be a very good candidate to have a long NHL career, For Canada, that sounds good enough.
Haydn Fleury- Travis Sanheim
Both Fleury and Sanheim had less-than-stellar summer camps when called upon on the ice, but they’ll likely make the team regardless. A late cut from a year ago, Fleury had some really strong moments where he was very good defensively. At the same time, he was responsible for a few goals throughout. It was kind of an up and down tournament for Fleury, but I would still lean on the side of him making the team. A prospect with the Carolina Hurricanes, Fleury has participated in three junior tournaments for Canada in the past, even getting named the Top Defenseman of the 2014 Under-18 World Junior tournament. Fleury brings a good mix of speed, skill and size, and can be a shutdown guy used against almost any competition. Don’t let his camp fool you, he’s rather good.
Now Sanheim wasn’t at the top of his game either this summer, but it’s not really clear yet how much of an impact that should leave on his overall chances. In league play, Sanheim is one of the best defenseman available. Just months after getting cut from the 2015 World Junior team, e still seemed to struggle in the transition game, making a good rush in the offensive zone, only to be made look dumb in front of his own net. Canada won’t lack solid two-way defensemen, so his negative impact in Canada’s zone wont help him. Fortunately, there’s still a lot of time for him to improve and continue his strong play with Calgary. In fact, he could end up being one of the better WHL defenders this year. But when he returns to put on the jersey at the selection camp in December, he’ll have to do a whole lot better than the last two times he did. If he does, he can be dynamite.
Like Dermott, Hickey’s summer camp was more of a quiet one, but that’s a good thing. A teammate of Juulsen’s back at the U17’s in 2013, Hickey is the only NCAA prospect with a realistic chance at making the team. Expected to return to Boston University again next year, Hickey knows what it’s like to play in major games, having won the Hockey East championship last season. Projected as a two-way player, Hickey could be solid if needed to be used for 5-10 minutes a game, chipping in at both ends of the ice.
Mason McDonald, Mackenzie Blackwood
Mason McDonald probably has the starting role just on experience alone. After acting as the starting goalie for Canadian teams at both the U17 and U18 tournaments, Hockey Canada knew what to expect from McDonald. In his one game of action, a 4-1 victory over Russia, McDonald looked rather unbeatable, minus the one soft goal from far that he allowed. He was the best goaltender in the last tournament that he participated in for Canada, the U18’s back in 2013, and at 19 years old, he’s the oldest option of the three goalies that made it to summer camp.
Blackwood won’t likely end up being Canada’s starting goalie when the main tournament begins on December 26th, but as we’ve seen in the past, a one goalie race doesn’t always end up being the right thing. Blackwood probably had the best overall game at the summer camp, a 26 save performance over the Czech’s in their first of two meetings. Blackwood did miss a few weeks early last season with a lower body injury, but he impressed enough on a poor Barrie Colts team to continue on without a hitch. Can he play strong enough to cement his spot on Canada? We’ll find out soon enough.
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