Saturday, March 17, 2012

Possibilities for Canada's Under 18 Team

Running from April 12-22, the IIHF World Under 18 Hockey Championships will take place in the Czech Republic. And while the team doesn't even yet have a coach (traditionally named sometime during the third week of March), it's starting to become possible to speculate which OHL players might end up being selected for this tournament, as the OHL playoff match ups become more apparent. We also know which teams won't be making the playoffs (Kingston, Peterborough, Erie, Sault Ste. Marie).

The team will be announced some time over Easter Weekend, giving the team about a week or so to travel and practice before a few exhibition games and the tournament opener against the Denmark on April 12.

Over the past five years, the OHL has averaged over 10 players on this squad (with 14 last year). Because the tournament takes place while the CHL playoffs are occurring, this is not a tournament Canada does traditionally well in. Heck, we were sent to the relegation round two years ago (finishing 7th and thankfully avoiding relegation), haven't medaled since 2008, and have won the tournament only twice in its twelve year existence (last in 2008 under Pat Quinn).

So that means only Ontario Hockey League players (as well as other CHL players and Tier 2 players) who are eliminated from the playoffs can participate.

So with the regular season winding down, let's speculate as to which players could be donning the Maple Leaf come April. Even if this tournament isn't great for the morale of Hockey Canada, it is great for individual NHL entry draft reasons. A good tournament here can really elevate your status.

Players From Teams Eliminated From the Postseason (Kingston, Peterborough, Erie, Sault Ste. Marie)

Billy Jenkins - Kingston
Since coming over from the IceDogs, Jenkins has found a home on a line with Ryan Kujawinski and Trevor Morbeck, that has had a ton of success. He averaged nearly a point per game in his 30 contests as a Frontenac. He's not the biggest guy, but he has a big heart and works hard at both ends of the ice. Perhaps Hockey Canada brass would consider bringing over Kujawinski and Jenkins as a pair?
Likelihood: WEAK

Ryan Kujawinski - Kingston
Since coming over from Sarnia, he's easily been the best 16 year old in the league during the second half of the season (IMO). He's averaged over a point per game and has looked dynamite doing so. I've been incredibly impressed by his very complete game, as he really does it all on the ice. He can play in all situations, wins face-offs, and has a ton of skill. He's also more physical than I figured he was. It's pretty uncommon for 16 year olds to make this team, but there aren't a ton of terrific forwards available to Hockey Canada this year, so it wouldn't surprise me if more 16 year olds made it.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Alex Gudbranson - Kingston
Took a lot of heat last year and through the first part of this year for not living up to his draft status (some of it from me), but he vastly improved his game in the second half of the season. He's starting to develop into a very solid and physical shut down guy. If Canada wants toughness and size on the back end, they may look here (especially with the contributions his brother made to the Hockey Canada program).
Likelihood: WEAK

Warren Steele - Kingston
Had a bit of an up and down year. He's definitely a terrific offensive blueliner who can carry the puck up ice and make things happen. But his defensive play suffered at times because of the amount of high risk plays he made. If Canada feels like they need some speed and offense from the back end, they may look here.
Likelihood: WEAK

Nick Ritchie - Peterborough
Like Kujawinski, Ritchie has been one of the most impressive 16 year olds in the league this year. He's a budding power forward who has the hands to match his physicality. Again, there may not be a ton of terrific 1994 forwards available for Canada to choose from, so going with a few 95's may not be out of the question.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Connor Brown - Erie
Fresh off being named one of the hardest working players in the OHL (as per the Coaches poll), Brown definitely has a terrific shot at being named to this roster. His skating isn't terrific (IMO), which could hold him back on the big ice, but he's skilled with the puck and not afraid to get his nose dirty. As one of the top scoring players available to Canada for this event, I'd be surprised if he wasn't named.
Likelihood: STRONG

Adam Pelech - Erie
His addition to the team has to be a no brainer IMO. He's a very strong two way defender who can play in any role you ask of him. This will be a huge tournament for Pelech to prove he belongs in the upper echelon on defensive prospects for this draft, after failing to get a lot of positive exposure in Erie this year.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Stephen Harper - Erie
Another 95 forward having a terrific season in the OHL. Harper leads all 16 year olds in goal scoring with 24 (in fact he's 3rd in rookie goals behind Radek Faksa and Connor Brown). He's a big body who isn't afraid to go to the net. He also has the hands to finish in close. I think he's got as good a shot as Kujawinski and Ritchie, and quite frankly, I'd be surprised if one of those three 95 forwards wasn't on the team.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Matt Murray - Sault Ste. Marie
It's looking like Murray should be a lock to be one of the goaltenders for this event. He's had an up and down season (thanks to the acquisition of Jack Campbell which really messed with his development IMO), but was absolutely brilliant at the Top Prospect's Game. Like Pelech, this is another guy with a chip on his shoulder going into the event.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Gianluca Curcuruto - Sault Ste. Marie
He definitely didn't have the type of season many people were expecting of him, and to some degree that's a compliment. He impressed so many people as a 16 year old, so we all figured this year would be his coming out party. But he really didn't progress much and looked tentative at times. He remains a fairly solid two way defender who could earn a spot on this team as one of those steady bottom pairing guys.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Players From Teams Who Don't Have Home Ice Advantage Locked Up For Round One (Brampton, Sudbury, Mississauga, Oshawa, Belleville, Windsor, Guelph, Owen Sound, Saginaw, Sarnia)

Marcus McIvor - Brampton
Has developed into a very solid defensive defenseman who can skate and be physical. He can also make a solid first pass. If Brampton gets ousted, he could be a really solid, unheralded guy for Canada.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Matthew Campagna - Sudbury
Had a tough season dealing with injuries, but when he has played he's put up points. With the puck on his stick, he's very skilled and as Hockey Canada is fully aware, he's excellent in the shootout. His play away from the puck has improved a bit too. His play in round one of the playoffs (if Sudbury loses of course) will likely dictate whether he makes the team.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Nathan Pancel - Sudbury
Pancel has been terrific in the 2nd half of the season, and has been one of the highest scoring draft eligible players in that time. He's very quick and has good hockey sense to get himself in scoring position. He's also a bit of a pest out there isn't afraid to stir the pot. I think he could have a fair amount of success on the big ice. If Sudbury loses, I think Hockey Canada would be making a mistake by not putting him on the roster.
Likelihood: STRONG

Trevor Carrick - Mississauga
The way Missy has been playing lately, who knows if they'll lose in round one. But if they do, Carrick has to be a shoe in as one of the team's defenseman. He's one of the most improved players in the league from the start to end of the season and is playing with a ton of confidence right now. He excels at both ends of the ice and adds a real physical edge to the game that Canada always looks for from their defenseman.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Scott Laughton - Oshawa
Another guy who has to be a virtual lock for the team should the Generals get ousted in round one. He's the perfect candidate to center a hard working third line, as he busts his butt at both ends of the ice and really gets in your face. But he's also skilled enough to dictate the pace of play offensively.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Daniel Altshuller - Oshawa
Canada's starting netminder on their gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka team this summer, it'll be interesting to see if Altshuller gets the call again after a pretty sub par first year in the OHL. With his confidence likely at a lower spot, do they take a guy they're familiar with? Last year Tysen Teichmann backstopped the Ivan Hlinka team, had a terrible year in the OHL and was left off the Under 18 team. Possible it could happen again.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Brendan Gaunce - Belleville
Hockey Canada has to be drooling at the thought of Belleville losing in the first round. If they do, they'll get likely one of their top 6 centers in Gaunce and a possible captain candidate for the team. He's such a terrific two way player already and he has the vision to make those around him better. Plus, he's used to playing on the big ice in Belleville.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Garrett Hooey - Belleville
Sandpaper and grit type of guy who could do well in a checking line role for Canada. Works hard both ends of the ice and knows his role. Hockey Canada always selects a few guys like this.
Likelihood: MODERATE

Kerby Rychel - Windsr
One of the most improved players in the OHL this year, Rychel has developed into a quality scoring option in Windsor. He's so dangerous in close to the net and has an underrated playmaking ability. I'd like to think he'd be close to a lock should Windsor fall in round one.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Michael Clarke - Windsor
After suffering from a serious midseason lull, Clarke has stepped his game up again to close out the season. The fact that he can play any forward role makes him a valuable player to consider for the selection process. And when he's on, he's aggressive and in your face. Could make a good linemate for a guy like Scott Laughton on a tight checking 3rd line.
Likelihood: STRONG

Scott Kosmachuk - Guelph
It's hard to imagine Guelph getting by one of Plymouth or London in round one, which means that Hockey Canada is likely to get two potential impact players out of the loss (Kosmachuk and Finn). Kosmachuk is a guy who could play any role Hockey Canada asks of him, be it playing the wing on a top line, or providing forechecking and energy on a 4th line. He has to be considered a lock.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Matt Finn - Guelph
Should Guelph be eliminated, he'd likely be one of Canada's top defenseman, playing the point on the team's top powerplay unit. Finn is a terrific two way defender and could really elevate his draft status even more with a solid tournament.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Gemel Smith - Owen Sound
If Owen Sound falls in round one (certainly possible with Halmo out now), Smith would be another guy close to a lock for the roster. His energy and skill would provide a huge boost to Canada's line up, whether it be on a scoring line or a checking line.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG

Top Five Players Canada Hopes Get Surprisingly Eliminated in Round One

Aaron Ekblad - Barrie
Even though he's practically a baby, he's already become one of the better young defenseman in the OHL. This tournament would be great for his development, even if he's the 7th defenseman.

Andreas Athanasiou - London
His speed on the big ice has to be alluring, as are his hands and ability to create off the rush. Definitely a scoring line option.

Jesse Graham - Niagara
Could be one of the team's powerplay quarterbacks and as one of the better skaters in the OHL, he'd excel on the big ice in Europe with tons of room to roam with the puck.

Sean Monahan - Ottawa
The 67's have looked kind of shaky this past month, so who knows what could happen. But if they do get eliminated, Canada would be getting one of the top players in the tournament in Monahan.

Tom Wilson - Plymouth
While I'd be a little concerned about penalty trouble in the international game, Wilson's physicality and net presence would be a must have for Team Canada should Plymouth falter.


Anonymous said...

I'm a Storm fan, but I don't anticipate our boys to beat Plymouth in round one (although I do expect a few close games)... Curious to know your thoughts on the rookies Garlent and Dickinson - both put up impressive numbers this season. In my mind, they looked as strong as the 95 s you mentioned.

Brock Otten said...

I was just as impressed as you were, in particular with Garlent. He deserved every bit of that hardest working nom he received in the coaches poll.

I don't anticipate either of these guys to get a look for the Under 18 team though, even if Garlent was one of Team Ontario's strongest performers at the Under 17's.

Garlent's draft season path will be very interesting to watch. He clearly has a huge heart and a lot of skill, but he's mega undersized right now. Hopefully he can measure in at around 5'10 or so next year and have a similar breakout to a guy like Gemel Smith.

The Storm definitely have a bright future. In two years, they could and should have the best team in the league.

Anonymous said...

I know he is a long shot but 16 year old Chris Bigras of the Attack looks real good. Looks like a veteran out there. Always calm and composed and makes a great 1st pass. Plays on the 1st line and on the 1st PP unit. 1st round quality in next years draft for sure. Next time you take in an Attack game Brock, watch this kid.

Brock Otten said...

Also been impressed with Bigras this year, especially in the second half after returning from the Under 17's.

You're very right. He's very composed with the puck for a 16/17 year old and makes really smart decisions in moving the puck. Looks to be a really smart kid.

I've actually been more impressed with Nastasiuk though. Every time I've seen the Attack play this year, he's been one of the better forwards on the ice. Has a ton of potential as a power winger (depends on whether he becomes more physical or not). Really good at driving to the net with the puck and has excellent puck protection for a young guy. Could be a real beast offensively in a few years.

Anonymous said...

I also am a Guelph fan, but unfortunatly agree that Garlent and Dickinson won't have a chance for this years u18 team. Size is the biggest issue, Garlent is too small and Dickinson although tall enough needs to add some weight. I do think that Garlent has proven his skill and work ethic and finds the back of the net. Dickinson has impressed me in how much he has grown especially looking at his numbers in the second half of the season. Add 20 pounds for next year and this combo will surely impress the scouts. Dickinson's off to a great start in the playoffs. Let's hope he can keep it up. Brock Mcginn has really impressed me since his return. Did his injury affect his draft rankings? Diamond in the rough?

Anonymous said...

Did you see Bigras' goal last night Brock??? What a beaut!!!

Anonymous said...

Brock, what do you think of Athanasiou's performace this year? I think he was ineffective in the regular season save for some very impressive games.

In the playoffs, he's been completely invisible.

He has speed, skill, and all the potential in the world. If someone gets this kid going..look out.

But if I'm Canada, I won't put Athanasiou on my team for now

Brock Otten said...

RE: The Bigras goal.

Saw the highlight of it. Beauty indeed. Dipsy doodle around the defender, top shelf. He's going to be a good one.

RE: Athanasiou

It's a moot point now that London has won and he doesn't have a shot at the Under 18 team...but it's an interesting question none the less.

Had London lost, I still would have taken him because of his potential to explode and his previous body of work internationally (solid performances at the Under 17's and the Ivan Hlinka). But I too have been very underwhelmed by his performance this season. He just hasn't really taken any steps forward offensively. Tries to play off his speed, which gets him the odd goal, but he needs to do way more away from the puck and work on his ability to score in other ways to make a consistent impact.

That being said, since his healthy scratch, I think his defensive game (in the games I've seen) and play away from the puck has improved. He has more intensity out there.

I'll be really interested to see where he goes in the draft.