Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Team Canada Camp: Hits and Misses

This morning Hockey Canada announced the 36 players they are inviting to it's training camp starting ten days from now in Regina.

The list, which can be found here, includes 7 returning players from last year's squad that claimed a record tying 5th straight gold medal for Canada.

The OHL leads the way with 12 players on the list, while the WHL and QMJHL each have 10. There are 3 NCAA players and apparently the St. Louis Blues will loan Alex Pietrangelo to the squad.

14 of the 36 players invited are first round picks, and the LA Kings top all NHL clubs with 5 prospects on the squad, while the Edmonton Oilers are 2nd with three.

There are four 2010 draft eligible players attending camp. Recently I threw out some names that I thought would get consideration, and Hockey Canada agreed with 4 of my choices. The one that didn't get an invite is Prince George forward Brett Connolly(pictured) who has missed much of this season with hip injury.

He did return in time to play Russia in the Super Series, and does have 4 points in the two games he played during the month of November. Oddly enough that's 3 more points than Sudbury's John McFarland had during the month. After notching 20 points in 12 games to start the year, McFarland put up just one in 10 November games. Unless he makes the jump to the NHL next year, Connolly will have another chance at Canada's team next year, as will goaltender Calvin Pickard who was edged out by Calgary's Martin Jones for one 4 pipemen spots.

Head coach Willie Desjardins told me today that Connolly's lack of playing time played a big role in him being left off the roster. "I was really impressed with him, he's a smart player, and you can just tell he's a real good player. Last year when they came into Medicine Hat and he was 16, and was with Dana Tyrell, the two of them put on a great show."

Ok, so here are the thoughts of TPS. The first thing that jumped out in Guy's mind was the absence of Boston Bruins first round pick and Denver Pioneer forward Joe Colborne. The former Camrose Kodiak had a 31 point campaign as a freshman last year and has 11 points in 12 games this year. By all reports his broken finger has healed as Jumbo Joe has 6 points in his last 4 games. What makes me scratch my head on this is that Harvard's Louis Leblanc did get an invite. Colborne plays a much tougher schedule with Denver than the Canadiens draft pick does with Harvard. He's a year older, and 5 inches taller. If you track these guys statistically, Leblanc has 9 points in 8 games this year, while he had 59 points in 60 games last year with Omaha of the USHL. Colborne meanwhile in his final season with Camrose had 90 points in 55 games and was named the Canadian Junior 'A' player of the year.

Along with Leblanc, Denver blueliner Patrick Wiercioch, and Minnesota Duluth rearguard Dylan Olsen (who was listed as playing with Camrose) made the grade from the college ranks. Ironically both have a connection to Colborne. Wiercioch plays with him now in Denver, while Olsen skated with him in Camrose.

What I love about Canada's potential blueline is the beef. 5 guys tip the Toledos at over 200 pounds - Jared Cowen being the biggest at 226 lbs - and 4 more are a cheeseburger away from joining them. There are also 7 dmen that are 6.02 or taller with Cowen and Wiercioch being the sky scrapers at 6.05. But being big is only beneficial if you're mobile, and Canada has plenty of that as well. Starting with returnees Ryan Ellis and Alex Pietrangelo. Newcomer Travis Hamonic of Moose Jaw combines both. It'll be interesting to see if 2010 prospect Brandon Gormley can outshine the likes of Nicolas Deslauriers from Rouyn-Noranda, Marco Scandella of Val d'Or or Shawn Lalonde for a roster spot.

Of course there are a few guys I'm surprised that didn't make the cut. Michael Stone of Calgary leads all WHL dmen in goals with 13, he's also 6.04 and 217 pounds. Right behind him in points is Vancouver's Kevin Connauton and then Saskatoon's Stefan Elliot who will miss out on playing in his home arena. Elliot to me is a wonderful player, great skater and has played near flawless hockey when I've watched him. One of his greatest skills is getting the puck through from the point.

"In different ways guys we left off the roster will be better than some players we have on the roster," said Desjardins on his way back to Medicine Hat this afternoon, "but with a team you need different role players, you need different types of players."

Tyler Cuma is also an interesting absentee. Cuma was injured at last year's camp, where most thought he would have made the team. He also played with most of this group a the Ivan Hlinka and 2008 U18 World Championship, however a slow start for the Minnesota Wild first rounder likely did him in. But alas, the group Hockey Canada has assembled is pretty impressive.

Up front if Brampton's Cody Hodgson is healthy enough to play he should be named captain and will likely form the basis of Canada's top line with Regina forward Jordan Eberle. Who will be the lucky left winger on that line? Rouyn-Noranda's Philippe Cornet might be a candidate. His 45 points in 30 games puts him 2nd in QMJHL scoring, and his Huskies Head Coach Andre Torigny is an assistant with Team Canada. Cornet also brings with him chemistry with Eberle. It started at the Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2007, continued in the 2008 Top Prospects game, then carried over to the past 2 NHL training camps, as both players are prospects of the Oilers.

"It was interesting because I talked to Eberle today and he talked about Cornet and what a great camp he had with the Oilers and what a real good player he is, so those are certainly things we'll be taking into consideration when it comes down to making our lines" said Desjardins who admits to already thinking about combinations.

Speaking of possible trios, if you watched the Subway Super Series on Rogers Sportsnet, you would have witnessed the "C" line when the QMJHL took on the Russians. Phillipe Cornet, Patrice Cormier and Jordan Caron combined for 5 points in 2 games. The three players all played in Rimouski last year and could get a look see from Desjardins when camp begins. When the series shifted to Ontario, the Spitfires combo went to work. Taylor Hall, Greg Nemisz and Adam Henrique skated together.

Whatever the line combinations, Canada will have plenty of fire power to choose from with the likes of Wheat King duo Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie, along with London's Nazem Kadri. One player who definitely used the Super Series as a springboard is Luke Adam of Cape Breton. The forward notched 5 points in 2 games, to go along with his 44 in 29 games during the regular season. He also brings nice size at 6.02 and 200 lbs. Adam might be a nice role player who can chip in offensively the way Brett Sonne and Jamie Benn played last year. Another guy who fits that bill is Cody Eakin of Swift Current. Eakin brings 25 goals in 29 games to the table and has a nice all around game.

Guy and I both agree that the netminding tandem will likely be Montreal's Jake Allen as the #1, with Matt Hackett from Plymouth as the back up.

As mentioned many times before, we can always second guess who Canada does and doesn't invite, but when it comes down to it, the job that Al Murray and his staff do is pretty impressive. If you don't believe me, maybe 5 straight gold medals would convince you. What were you surprised with from the roster?

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