With some of the best junior hockey action taking place during the summer, there’s really no reason to sit around and watch…other stuff. USA Hockey has had their summer camp going on for a few days now, and the Ivan Hlinka tournament is set to take place on August 10th. But what about Canada’s World Junior camp tournament, a three team event against the Russians and the Czech Republic to help determine the best players before the main U20 event in December.
Each team is bringing a roster full of players all vying for spots on their respective teams for the World Juniors in Finland. With 40 players suiting up for Canada over two four days, there are a lot of young, talented options at each position. Fortunately for Hockey Canada, they don’t need to make a decision right away, but this is the best chance to see what all the players can do together on one stage. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at five players that will look to make a huge impact for their home country in the summer showcase.
Canada’s first game is set for 10pm EST/8pm MT against Team Russia.
5. Haydn Fleury, F: Fleury has a chip on his shoulder because, unlike the other four players on the list, he was a late cut from last year’s team. A big, physical blue-liner that was drafted by Carolina earlier this year, the Red Deer Rebels defenseman has played with Canada at an U17 tournament and two U18 tournaments in the past. Interesting enough, his U18 performance in 2014 was good enough to earn him the title as the top defenseman, just months after winning the Ivan Hlinka. Despite this, Fleury didn’t do enough to impress the Canadian brass during some pre-tournament games in Toronto last year against the CIS Selects team, and was the final defenseman cut from the roster. This time, the experienced 19-year-old will have an upper hand in making the team and should play a solid role once he does. Canada will have a lot of 19-year-old defensemen available to them once the tournament draws near, but there is a reason to believe that Fleury could be one of the top defenseman once the tournament rolls around.
4. Spencer Watson, F: One of the running jokes from the 2014 NHL Draft was that it seemed like most people had forgotten that Spencer Watson existed. The second last pick of the draft that year, the LA Kings prospect came off a 68 point campaign with the Kingston Frontenacs, only to get passed over by almost every selection in his draft year. 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, and it likely has to do with his small 5’9 stature. On the big ice, like we’ll see at the World Juniors, a good mix of speed and skill will have a much bigger impact than the physical style we see more often in North America. Does that mean he’ll force his way onto the Canadian roster? All signs point to yes, but that is dependent on a strong camp this summer.
3. Mackenzie Blackwood, G: 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. He’ll have to work hard to beat out Calgary Flames prospect Mason McDonald, but Blackwood, a New Jersey Devils draft pick this past June, could have what it takes. A typical butterfly goalie, Blackwood squares up to the shooter very well and continues to develop his rebound control with every passing week. Sitting at 6’4″ and 205 lbs, Blackwood is always ready to challenge attackers, and in many cases, the Colts starter comes out on top. His play is similar to that of Colorado Avalanche puckstopper Semyon Varlamov, who has fantastic reflexes and uses his big frame to over most of the net. Blackwood did miss a few weeks early in the 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.
2. Julien Gauthier, F: Gauthier may be the youngest player taking part in the camp, so making the team may be a stretch. There’s a good reason as to why the only 17 year-old on the team is indeed participating. A powerful player with the knack to score lots of goals, Gauthier is a late 1997-born forward that will be 18 once the tournament commences in December. For a guy that’s 6’4, you can probably imagine what type of role that he’d play if he does indeed make the team. Expected to skate along with Spencer Watson, a small little fellow, Gauthier can create lanes through the middle and likes to give the goalie a hard time if needed in front of the net. He’s participated in one previous tournament for Canada, a zero point effort in six games with Canada’s Quebec team at the U17’s two seasons ago. But that’s alright, considering his role was to rough up the other teams. If he does make Canada when the team heads to Finland this winter, expect his role to be something kind of like Lawson Crouse last year, a young guy looking to hit and contribute a goal every so often.
1. Josh Ho-Sang, F: You’ve probably heard about all the commotion with Josh Ho-Sang, a prospect in the New York Islanders system. 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 while Canada won’t have an issue finding goal-scorers, his explosive speed and natural play-making ability makes him a favourite to make the squad as a 19-year-old. With the threat of Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome both missing the tournament due to NHL action, Ho-Sang could end up being the next Max Domi by putting on an incredible performance a year after getting cut.
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