It's a banner year for Edmonton and area hockey prospects as Hockey Canada holds the selection camp for the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament this weekend in Calgary. 6 players from our neck of the woods will attempt to crack the final roster and represent Canada at the event being held in the Czech Republic a couple of weeks from now.
There is only one forward from Edmonton who earned an invite to try out but it's a familiar name. Brendan Ranford is the nephew of former Edmonton Oil netminder Bill Ranford and after his rookie year with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, the 5'10 forward is definitely a viable option for the U18 club. Ranford scored 13 times as a 16-year-old with the Blazers, one of the weaker teams in the Western Conference last year. The left winger was taken 15th overall in the 2007 Bantam draft by Kamloops and he'll be expected to carry a big offensive workload in 2009-10. Ranford scored 7 points in 6 games for Team Pacific at the U17's last Christmas, second highest point total on the club.
There are a trio of blueliners from E-Town at the camp including the biggest defender who received an invite. Alex "Petro" Petrovic stands 6'4 and weighs 180 lbs (room to fill out) which might him a bit of advantage over the rest of the group. The Red Deer Rebels really liked what they saw through the 66 games that Petrovic played for them last season. He was a 2nd round pick (33rd overall) in 2007 for the Rebels and Petrovic's stock is on the rise as he begins his NHL Draft season for Brent Sutter's WHL club. Petrovic notched just 13 points for Red Deer last season but he had 3 points in 6 games for Team Pacific at the U17s.
Troy Rutkowski had a bit of a break out at the U17s last year as he led Team Pacific in defensive scoring with 7 points. That was a big step up in production from the 15 points he provided Portland with in the WHL. The Winterhawks deserve a ton of credit because they got Rutkowski basically for free; they listed him in 2007 so didn't use a draft pick or get him via trade. The Edmonton kid might not have been on the radar for some people this year but considering his success at the U17 and now this invite to the U18s, Rutkowski will be high on the must-see list for NHL teams heading into 2009-10.
Potentially the marquee Edmontonian at the camp this weekend is Edmonton Oil King defender Mark Pysyk. Touted two springs ago by The Hockey News as a top 10 pick for 2010, Pysyk is still regarded as one of the top WHLers available next June for NHL teams and should be a near lock to make the U18 club this weekend. I spoke with a couple different NHL teams last spring who wondered if Pysyk might even play in the U18s last April because he's that good. There isn't much that the Sherwood Park product can't do and that versatility is going to be hard for Canada to overlook. His endurance is a remarkable aspect of his skill set that enables him to log a ton of ice time. Pysyk scored 3 points with Team Pacific last year and totaled 20 points in 61 games with the Oil Kings.
The last two Edmonton products at the camp are both goalies giving the City of Champions a 50% chance of having representation between the pipes. I'd be stunned if Calvin Pickard isn't Canada's starter but Kent Simpson and newly added Tyler Bunz will both be in the hunt for the back up job.
Simpson, not the Oil Kings colourman of the same name, is the keeper for the Everett Silvertips and was that club's 1st round pick in 2007. He also backstopped Team Pacific to the silver medal last year playing all six games en route to the silver medal finish. With Everett he had a bloated 3.85 GAA and .892 sv% through 28 games and finished with a 8-11-4 record.
Tyler Bunz (right) is a late addition to camp as J.P. Anderson (Mississauga, OHL) has been scratched due to injury. Bunz is a St. Albert native who plays with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers as the back up to Ryan Holfeld. Although he only go in to 22 games and had a 3.46 GAA and .886 sv%, Bunz had a 9-6-1 winning record.
It's tough to predict a final roster at this age group unless you've seen all of the players in action. I haven't so I can't really look up and down the camp roster an start eliminating players. I'll simply say that if Ranford, Pysyk, Rutkowski and Petrovic aren't on Canada's U18 team I will be surprised. All four should have a very good chance of cracking the line up considering their performances at the U17s last year and their rookie seasons in the WHL.
Edmonton can take pride in having these 6 players representing the city at the tryouts and potentially on the world stage. Don't look now but as strong at the '92 class is for Edmonton there are plenty of people who look at the '93 group and feel it's even better so the future definitely looks exciting.