Team Canada World Junior Evaluation Camp: The Forwards

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

When it comes to the 2016-17 edition of Canada’s World Junior team, there is going to be a lot of uncertainty right up until December, as a number of their top players are hoping they won’t be playing junior hockey this season.

Each of Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse, Mitch Marner, Mathew Barzal and Travis Konecny are in attendance at the evaluation camp this week but all five have a very good chance of being in the NHL this season. Each of these players has a strong possibility of being unavailable to Hockey Canada as the have all proven that they are too good to be back in the CHL. That said, should any or all of them be released by their organizations to participate in this year’s tournament, Team Canada would welcome them with open arms.

Earlier I took a look at the goalies and defenders attending Team Canada’s evaluation camp, now let’s take a look at the forwards.

Mathew Barzal – Seattle (WHL) – 2015 1st round – New York Islanders

Mathew Barzal was a key member of last year’s team and if the Islanders make him available this December he will undoubtedly be one of the team’s leaders. Unfortunately, Barzal was one of the last cuts from the Islanders last season and barring something unforeseen, he will likely be playing in the NHL this season.

Barzal is a very solid two-way center that can play in any situation asked of him. He could go from centering the top offensive line one period to being asked to kill penalties and protect a lead the next. As one of the few bright spots from the 2015-16 team, Barzal’s exemplifies the kind of player Hockey Canada likes to lean on.

He hasn’t been skating at camp this week but he has been with the team as Hockey Canada is hopeful that he will be loaned to them in December even if he’s playing in the NHL.

Anthony Beauvillier – Shawinigan (QMJHL) – 2015 ist round – New York Islanders 

Another returning New York Islanders first round pick, Beauvillier should make the team again despite a less than impressive performance at least year’s tournament. He’s been a mainstay with Hockey Canada since the U17 tournaments and will look to take a leadership role on the team.

Beauvellier is a dynamic scorer who put up 40 goals in only 47 games last season playing for Shawinigan. He can play both center and wing, which makes him valuable to a team that is filled with guys who are used to playing down then middle during their regular season. He played on the wing last year and will likely do the same this time around.

A great puck handler that can create havoc for opposing defenders, Beauvellier has to work on trying to distribute the puck a little more when he’s unable to create his own chances.

If some of his fellow 2015 draft picks aren’t available to Team Canada, Beauvillier will be looked upon to carry a lot more of the offensive load.

Anthony Cirelli – Oshawa (OHL) – 2015 3rd round – Tampa Bay Lightning

The Oshawa Generals captain will likely have his fate on Team Canada tied directly to Mathew Barzal. The two play a very similar style and if Barzal is up with the Islanders and unavailable, it would be very likely that Cirelli could fill his role despite having never played internationally for Canada.

A left-handed shooting center, Cirelli can play in either the top or bottom-6 depending on what the team needs. He is a very good skater and is great with the puck on his stick especially when creating zone entries for his line.

To go along with his talent with the puck, Cirelli also plays a very sound defensive game and can be a difference maker when helping out in his own zone.

Cirelli is the kind of player that seems to thrive in the spotlight. He played the best hockey of his career during the 2015 Memorial Cup and if he is called upon by Team Canada, don’t be surprised if he ends up being one of the guys who becomes a household name thanks to the tournament.

Lawson Crouse – Kingston (OHL) – 2015 1st round – Florida Panthers

This would be the third time Crouse has been a part of the Canadian World Junior team and you’d have to assume that he’d be disappointed if he was available to play in December.

The 19-year old power forward is hoping to make the Panthers this season, because otherwise, he’ll be back in the OHL – a league in which he’s used to dominating. Crouse doesn’t fill the stat sheet the way Strome and Marner do, but he does produce at a very good rate while being absolutely untouchable physically.

Crouse plays a great complimentary role and will be a very good top-6 power forward in the NHL when he eventually gets there. He shoots like an NHLer, he skates like and NHLer and unlike most guys his age, he looks like an NHL physically. The problem is that Florida is a good team and it is far from a given that he’ll crack their lineup this season.

One thing that is helping Crouse is his ability to play a complete game that would allow him to fit into a bottom-6 role in the NHL while he develops. Even if he is up in the NHL to start the season, my bet is that Hockey Canada will be pleading with the Panthers to release him for the tournament.

He’d be Canada’s captain and top left-winger if he is made available to play.

Dillon Dube – Kelowna (WHL) – 2016 2nd round – Calgary Flames

Dube is a player who will likely have his fate determined by the type of team the coaching staff wants to assemble. He is a decent offensive player but not necessarily in the way some of the other wingers at the camp are.

Dube can play an agitating game that would look nice in the bottom-6 of the team if that’s the avenue the team decides to go. He can play short minutes on an energy line while being able to provide a secondary scoring threat.

In my books, Dube’s inclusion on the team will come down to whether or not Travis Konecny is there. There isn’t really a need for both of them but if Konecny is with the Flyers this season, Dube would be a very good replacement for Team Canada.

Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cape Breton (QMJHL) – 2016 1st round – Columbus Blue Jackets

Through his career, Dubois will likely always be known as “the guy the Jackets passed on Puljujarvi for”. He was a very puzzling pick at third overall but that doesn’t take away from how good a prospect he is.

Dubois is big, fast, incredible with the puck and assuming he’s not with the Blue Jackets this season, he will likely be one of the focal points of Team Canada. He will be in Canada’s top-6 – likely on the wing – and if Dubois ended up leading the tournament in scoring, I doubt anyone would be surprised, especially if Strome and Marner aren’t there.

He had a disappointing U18 tournament with only a single assist in 6 games played but that shouldn’t be taken as any indication of what he can do at the international level. Unless something crazy happens, we should expect to see Dubois among the key members of the team in December.

Julien Gauthier – Val-d’Or (QMJHL) – 2016 1st round – Carolina Hurricanes

As the only 2016 draft-eligible player on Team Canada last winter, Gauthier definitely has an inside track on making the team again this year. He was a bit of a surprise to make the team and wasn’t overly impressive – but that isn’t saying much since many of the Canadian forwards were underwhelming last year.

Gauthier had a bit of a rough season last year that resulted in a fall down the draft rankings but that shouldn’t make people forget how talented the big right-winger is. Like Dubois, he’s big, strong and plays with a speed not often seen from players with his size. A second line with Gauthier and Dubois on the wings would be something that any opponent would have trouble with.

Gauthier is likely looking to prove a few things this season and a strong performance at the World Juniors would be a good compliment to what he hopes will be a dominating season in Val-d’Or.

Brett Howden – Moose Jaw (WHL) – 2016 1st round – Tampa Bay Lightning

Howden is another player that has the ability to play both center and wing – something that often proves very valuable when trying out for Team Canada.

One would think that if Howden performs close to how he did at the U18 tournament in the spring during camp, that he would be a frontrunner to make the team. After a decent season, Howden took off, playing incredibly well in the WHL playoffs followed by a dominant performance at the U18s.

Howden is a three-zone player that is more of a distributor than a goal scorer – although he did score 5 goals in 6 games at the U18s. He isn’t the burner that some of the other players are but he is strong on his skates and is able to make up for less-than-elite speed with intelligent play.

Howden should be expected to be in the running for a bottom-6 role with the team. Especially with his head coach in Moose Jaw serving as one of the assistants for Team Canada.

Mathieu Joseph – Saint John (QMJHL) – 2015 4th round – Tampa Bay Lightning

Joseph had a bit of a breakthrough season playing for Saint John in the QMJHL last year. After being selected in the 4th round of the NHL draft, Joseph turned into a legitimate offensive threat for the Sea Dogs, scoring 33 goals in 58 games – he followed it up with a goal per game in the playoffs before getting injured.

Joseph is a newcomer to the national team as he has never played for Hockey Canada before. At first glance, Joseph would look like a long shot to make the team, but again, if the coaches want bottom-6 defensive specialists then Joseph might get the call.

He doesn’t have the best puck skills, but Joseph plays with a speed and tenacity that you might expect to see from an energy line, the problem is that there are other guys at the camp that could likely provide the same thing while adding skills elsewhere.

To have any chance of making the team, Joseph is going to have to outplay guys like Dube and Keegan Kolesar.

Tyson Jost – University of North Dakota (NCAA) – 2016 1st round – Colorado Avalanche

Like defenseman Dante Fabbro, Tyson Jost is a player from the BCHL that had a coming out party at the World U18 Championship this past spring. As captain of Team Canada, Jost was absolutely electrifying putting up 6 goals and 15 points in 7 games. He was the tournament’s best player and turned himself into a top-10 pick in June.

Jost does everything at a very high speed and has the kind of offensive talent that you can easily envision being a top line scorer in the NHL.

He can play either center or left wing and depending on which forwards are on the team, Jost could end up being Canada’s best player again this time around. Assuming he’s healthy, it’s hard to envision a Canadian Junior team that doesn’t have Tyson Jost playing a big role.

Graham Knott – Niagara (OHL) – 2015 2nd round – Chicago Blackhawks

The oldest forward at camp, Knott has been a mainstay for Hockey Canada since the time he was 16 years old. That fact is one that could give him a leg up when competing for a roster spot against younger forwards with more recognizable names.

Knott is a very big left winger that does his best work down low in the offensive zone and in front of the opposition’s net. He’s lanky and doesn’t play with the same kind of power and strength as others with his height like Crouse of Gauthier.

He is a decent skater but lacks the high-end speed with the puck that you see from top offensive prospects. The fact that he is a veteran of the Canadian system might point to Knott being a favorite to grab a role on the fourth line or as the extra forward.

Keegan Kolesar – Seattle (WHL) – 2015 3rd round – Columbus Blue Jackets

Kolesar is a two-way right winger that is likely at camp trying out for the checking/energy line. He plays a very good defensive game and is responsible in all three zones both with and without the puck.

While he’d likely be looked upon in a more defensive role Kolesar is no slouch offensively either. He scored 30 goals last year playing alongside Mat Barzal in Seattle.

At 6’3, 220lbs, Kolesar is a physically intimidating player that many of the younger players at the World Juniors haven’t experienced playing against. While it’s easy to envision a team that doesn’t include Kolesar, I wouldn’t completely rule out Kolesar for the slot on the right side of the fourth line.

Travis Konecny – Sarnia (OHL) – 2015 1st round – Philadelphia Flyers

Assuming his shoulder holds up, there is a very good chance that Travis Konecny will be in the Flyers lineup this season and thus won’t be a part of this team. However, if he is available, the returning forward will have a big impact on Team Canada.

Konecny can play up and down the lineup and contribute in any situation. He could be the team’s best defensive center one game then best offensive winger the next – all while playing with an edge to his game that drives opponents nuts.

Konecny is yet another player that very well could be in the NHL when the tournament rolls around, but that Hockey Canada will be begging to be made available.

I’m not going to say Travis Konecny is Brad Marchand 2.0, but I’m also not not going to say it.

Mitch Marner – London (OHL) – 2015 1st round – Toronto Maple Leafs

If  Maple Leafs fans get their way, Mitch Marner will be playing on a line with Auston Matthews this holiday season and not with Dylan Strome or Mat Barzal.

Marner has proven he is far too good for the OHL and it’s hard to envision him benefiting at all from being sent back to London this season. That said, being too good for junior hockey is not the same thing as being ready for the NHL and the fact that the Maple Leafs have him attending the summer camp shows that it is far from a certainty that he will be in the NHL full-time this season.

At times Marner was Canada’s best forward last winter. He was out of this world dangerous on the power play and helped keep Canada in their biggest games. Unfortunately, there were also times when he looked like a player that had to learn that there is a big difference in playing against Saginaw and playing against Team Finland.

If the Leafs loan him to team Canada, expect Marner to put on a show and exhibit the kind of elite talent that makes him one of the best prospects in all of hockey.

Michael McLeod – Mississauga (OHL) – 2016 1st round – New Jersey Devils

McLeod is the kind of player we see every year at this tournament that transitions seamlessly from his usual top-line role to become a key complimentary player.

McLeod is an elite two-way center in the OHL and plays with the kind of speed and intelligence that would make him a top shut down forward for Team Canada. At the U18 tournament, McLeod spent time at all three forward positions and was relied upon to kill penalties and take big faceoffs.

McLeod would be the fastest skater on the team and with his knack for driving possession, he could be the key to neutralizing the opposition’s best weapons.

A penalty killing unit of McLeod and Mitchell Stephens would be faster than most teams could handle and create a threat that you don’t normally see when a team is shorthanded.

Nick Merkley – Kelowna (WHL) – 2015 1st round – Arizona Coyotes

Nick Merkley hasn’t been participating in on-ice activities during the camp this week as he recovers from an injury. The playmaking winger will be looking to bounce back from a tough season and prove through October and November that he deserves to be on Team Canada in his final year of eligibility.

He doesn’t have the best foot speed and his play without the puck is often lacking the intensity that you’d like to see. On the flip side, when he has possession of the puck Merkley is a wizard that has an elite hockey intelligence that makes his linemates better.

He has the ability to read the play and create scoring chances that most don’t. He’s seen by some as a Mitch Marner lite. With that in mind, Merkley’s fate could be directly linked to the Maple Leafs prospect. If Marner is in the NHL, Merkley wouldn’t be a bad substitute to fill his role as the offensive-minded playmaker in the top-6.

Nolan Patrick – Brandon (WHL) – 2017 draft eligible

Like Merkley and Barzal, Nolan Patrick isn’t participating in on-ice sessions during the summer camp – which is a shame because it would give many fans their first chance to see the next great prospect.

He is the consensus top pick in next June’s NHL entry draft and like Auston Matthews last winter, Patrick could use the World Juniors to show the world why that is.

Having scored 41 goals and 102 points during his draft -2 season in the WHL, Patrick is an elite offensive center that already has NHL size and is head and shoulders above anyone else his age.

Had he been born a week earlier, Patrick would likely be a Maple Leaf today and Auston Mathews would be preparing to start his season in Winnipeg. While draft eligible players don’t often make the kind of impact on Team Canada as guys like Laine and Puljujarvi did for Finland last year, I would be surprised if we didn’t see Patrick playing a significant role on this team.

Nicolas Roy – Chicoutimi (QMJHL) – 2015 4th round – Carolina Hurricanes

Roy is a big power center that has a history of dominating for Team Canada at the international level. He is very strong on his skates and is incredibly hard to knock off his path as he goes to the net – something he does very frequently and with great success.

After a 48 goal season, Roy could be the surprise in this group when it comes to guys making the NHL this year.

He plays well in front of the net and creates space for himself and his linemate. Roy is another guy who might have an inside track on making the team thanks to his age and history with Hockey Canada.

Zach Senyshyn – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) – 2015 1st round – Boston Bruins

In contrast to Roy, Senyshyn is a guy who has no history with Hockey Canada. The Soo Greyhounds forward probably has the odds stacked against him when it comes to making this team.

Senyshyn is a smart winger that skates well and has the ability to contribute to a team’s offensive game. He is, however, very inconsistent and has some improvements to make when it comes to maintaining possession for his team.

He is a very talented player that that can contribute from the right wing, but unfortunately, this is a group that simply has too many players above him on the depth chart.

Deven Sideroff – Kamloops (WHL) – 2015 3rd round – Anaheim Ducks

Sideroff is probably best described as a poor man’s Nick Merkely. He is a faster skater but not quite as electrifying with the puck on his stick and doesn’t put up the kind of offensive numbers Merkley does.

He is a facilitating winger that has great vision and makes his linemates better. He’s good at maintaining possession during his shifts and works well when cycling the puck down low.

Unfortunately for Sideroff, Nick Merkley and Mitch Marner are better versions of the same player. A lot will have to go right for Sideroff to make this team.

Tyler Soy – Victoria (WHL) – 2016 7th round – Anaheim Ducks

Tyler Soy is at camp for one reason – a surprising 46 goal season in the WHL last year.

After being passed over in his first year of eligibility, the Ducks took a flier on Soy at the end of this year’s draft – because if you’re going to take a flier on a guy in the last round, it might as well be a guy who scored almost 50 goals in the WHL.

Soy is an undersized center that has a desire to make the most of every shift he gets. He is a very smart puck handler and takes advantage of the scoring chances he creates for himself. That said, he is not a pure scorer. Soy has great instincts and does all he can to create scoring chances for his linemates as well. Had he been two inches taller and 15lbs heavier, Soy likely would have heard his name called in the second or third round of the draft.

He’s not a name many onlookers will be familiar with but Soy is definitely a darkhorse to be on the team when the tournament starts.

Mitchell Stephens – Saginaw (OHL) – 2015 2nd round – Tampa Bay Lightning

A lot of people were surprised when Mitchell Stephens was named to Team Canada for last year’s tournament. His elite speed and selfless play led Stephens to be a valuable part of both the team’s checking line and top penalty killing unit.

He has a very good shot and a quick release that can catch goalies off guard. While his key role will be to provide more on than defensive side of things, Stephens can definitely be counted on to score a few goals when needed.

Stephens will be back in the OHL this season and will undoubtedly be looked upon to be one of the leaders for the Canadian team.

Dylan Strome – Erie (OHL) – 2015 1st round – Arizona Coyotes

Everything that was said for Mitch Marner can be said for Dylan Strome. He’s too good for junior but not necessarily NHL ready and if he’s playing for Team Canada expect him to dominate the World Juniors from an offensive perspective.

Also like Marner, Strome had moments last year where he was Canada’s best player but then moments where he looked completely out of sorts against a level of competition that was better than he’s used to. If he returns to this team, he will be Canada’s top center and relied upon to use his play-driving ability to dictate the pace every time he’s on the ice.

The Coyotes asked him to work on his skating before he can be a regular in the NHL. By all accounts, he’s done that but he is still far from being a lock to be a regular in Arizona this season.

I’ve thrown this out on Twitter and I believe it applies to both Strome and Marner. They will start the season in the NHL but then be lent out in early December for Team Canada’s camp and the tournament.

 

While it’s far too hard to guess which players will be available come December, this is my lineup based on the players that are at camp this summer:

 

Lawson Crouse Dylan Strome Mitch Marner
Pierre-Luc Dubois Tyson Jost Julien Gauthier
Anthony Beauvillier Mathew Barzal Travis Konecny
Graham Knott Michael McLeod Mitchell Stephens
Nolan Patrick

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s