The selection camp for the 2012 version of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships will begin next week. Last week, Hockey Canada announced the roster of those who will be competing for spots (HERE).
So let's take a closer look at it. Who has the best odds of making this team? Who are the longshots? Let's not forget that there are no locks. Anybody who follows the World Juniors knows that nobody's spot on this team is guaranteed.
Virtual Locks (While nobody is a lock, these guys have to be considered as close as you can get).
Some may be surprised to see Visentin in this category. But here's my thinking. Visentin has a lot of things going against him. He hasn't played terrific this year. And everyone still blames the Gold medal game collapse on him from last year. But let's not forget he was the team's starter last year. And he was the goaltender of the year in the OHL last season. He is talented. And as rough as his start to this season has been, he's been much better lately (.927 Sv % and a 5-2 record in his last 7). And if there is one thing that Mark Visentin is, it's mentally tough. He's a very focused young man and he'll be determined to get that starter's job again and prove all of his doubters wrong.
Not only does he have a terrific chance of making this team, he has a chance to be the team's top defenseman. Hamilton is having an absolutely fantastic year. He's running away with the defenseman scoring race in the OHL...and he's tied for 6th in the entire OHL in scoring. He's also stepped up his defensive game and is playing like a man among boys out there on most nights. His fantastic mobility and ability to play both ways make him a terrific option from the back end.
Good enough to start the year in the NHL...good enough for team Canada? That argument likely holds some ground. But you can add to the fact that since returning to the OHL, Scheifele is up near the top of the league in points per game and has looked fantastic at both ends of the ice. His versatility makes him that much stronger of an option. He's a likely fit for one of the top two lines, but his strong play away from the puck also makes him an option on a checking line should Hockey Canada feel that they have too many pure scoring options.
I'm not sure he's as much of a lock for this team as many people are suggesting, but he's still a pretty good bet. He hasn't had a terrific year thus far and it appears that he hasn't made the significant strides from last year that many expected. He's going to have to win a spot on one of the team's top two lines to be effective. One thing that is heavily in his favor is that he is fully capable of playing the wing, and looks comfortable there at times...which is more than you can say for some centerman.
He's back...and he's dangerous. Murphy's puck carrying ability and offensive production from the back end would be a huge boost to Team Canada. Now that he's fully healthy, a lot of people are just assuming he'll be on the team and probably should be on my above list of virtual locks. But let's not forget that Hockey Canada has never been the biggest fan of Murphy and that his offensive style can be a bit risky at times. When you have guys like Hamilton, Nathan Beaulieu, Brandon Gormley, Ryan Murray, etc, who can play both ends of the ice equally, you wonder if Hockey Canada is interested in a purely offensive guy? Or at least...a guy still developing his defensive game.
From what I've seen of him this year, I'm really not sure he deserves to be in this category. But I've got him here based on what I'm hearing. And Hockey Canada apparently loves this guy and the simplicity with which he plays the game. He's huge and can actually skate, which makes him a potential defensive stalwart at the international level. He's also smart in using his size, which makes him less of a penalty risk than some of the hulking defenders Canada has brought in the past.
I think Hamilton has a terrific chance of making this team because of his versatility. He has the hands and offensive smarts to play in the top 6, but he could also be a terrific role player for this team on the checking lines. Hockey Canada has traditionally loved these types. Pair this with his excellent performance at the Subway Super Series event, and I think Hamilton could definitely be on the final roster.
He's got a better chance than people are giving him credit for. And I'd absolutely love to see him make the team because of the story it would supply. Pearson has become just a terrific offensive player. When he's on the ice, things happen. Plain and simple. He'd also make the team's powerplay that much stronger. Couple that with the chemistry he has with Mark Scheifele and I think we could easily see him, not just on the team, but on a scoring line.
Thomas has a lot of things going for him. He's obviously one of the best pure goal scorers at the camp and could easily slot on one of the team's top lines. But he's also a tenacious forechecker and energy guy who could just as easily slot in on one of the team's checking lines to provide speed and energy. Again, his versatility makes him a very attractive option. He hasn't had a terrific year, with his slow start and suspension, but he's picking it up as of late (with 6 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games).
Toffoli is an interesting case. On a lot of prognostications for the team, I'm seeing him on the first or second line...or I'm not seeing him on the roster at all. I'd say that's probably pretty accurate. Toffoli is what he is. He can score with the best of them, but he's not someone who will likely find success on your checking line. So he'll need a strong camp to make this team (but then again, who doesn't).
There is no doubt that the goaltending spots for Team Canada this year are wide open. But there is also no doubt that Wedgewood is the biggest underdog among those attending. He's a solid goaltender and he's been better as of late (after starting the year slow). But I just can't help but think he could be a bit over his head.
Ceci is a terrific NHL prospect for this year's draft. He's also older than most of the other 2012 eligibles (with a 1993 birth date). But I just don't think he's ready for the prime time yet. His defensive game has come a long way, but it's still developing. And offensively, there are better options right now...or at least more experienced options (like Ryan Murphy).
I'll relate Harrington's situation to Ceci's. Harrington is having a solid bounce back year, as he's simplified his game again and found his confidence. But he won't be on this team for offensive reasons. At this point, he's strictly a defense first guy. But does Canada have better (and bigger) options for the stay at home spots. Or do they have more well rounded guys who can play defense, but also chip in offensively. I would say yes.
Jenner is a solid checking line center. But he's playing for a position on the team that is the hardest to achieve. Canada is always deep at the center position and despite all things Jenner can do for you...there are currently guys available who can do more and have more experience.
I think he's probably less of a longshot than the guys I've got listed ahead of him. I originally had him in my "Good chance" category...but I switched him at the last second. Why, you ask? I think Spooner is a bit of a tweener on this team. He's been red hot lately, but I think there are guys who are better offensively available to this team. And while he works hard away from the puck, I think there are guys available who are better defensively and away from the puck. In essence, he seems like a guy without a role.
What do you think?