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Sutter takes measured approach to Canada WJC camp

Thursday, 12.12.2013 / 11:39 AM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Canadian National Junior Team coach Brent Sutter isn't concerned about the expectations, a gold medal or even opening night at the 2014 World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.

When Canada's national junior team selection camp opens at MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario, on Friday, the only concern for Sutter will be identifying his team and the players needed to succeed in a short tournament.

Sutter would know. He went 6-0 in North Dakota in 2005 and 6-0 in Vancouver in 2006 to lead Canada to a WJC gold medal each year.

"There's no question the pressure is out there all the time, just the way it is in our country with any major hockey event," Sutter said. "But we're not concerned about a gold medal right now, our concentration here is focusing on Day 1 when the kids get in. There's a process you have to go through to get to where we want to get to, but that can't be a focal point.

"The focal point is taking care of the day-to-day things, getting better each and every day and giving ourselves the best chance we can."

Sutter will work with two goaltenders, eight defensemen and 15 forwards at the three-day camp, and it is expected that two forwards and a defenseman will be cut when the final roster is released by Dec. 25. The 25-player camp roster marks the smallest pre-tournament camp since 26 players were invited in 1983.

"The players we've chosen here give us the best chance to win," said Ryan Jankowski, the national junior team head scout.

The biggest question mark heading into camp was the status of 2013 first-round pick (No. 3) Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect suffered a concussion on Dec. 6 after a hit by Adam Erne of the Quebec Remparts. On Wednesday, Drouin informed local reporters that he was almost at the point where he could start skating again.

"He'll be evaluated when he gets here," said Hockey Canada's senior director of men's national teams Scott Salmond. "We'll follow the protocol. If he's symptom-free, he could skate."

Drouin, who had two goals, four points and a plus-4 rating in six games at the 2013 WJC for Canada, would be expected to play on the top line at the 2014 WJC in Malmo.

In addition to Drouin, three other players from last year's team were invited back, including goalie Jake Paterson, defenseman Griffin Reinhart and forward Charles Hudon. Hudon missed last year's tournament due to injury.

"Last year [was] the first year in 15 years that we did not bring home a medal," Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson said. "We had to look at different ways to get better. We wanted to make sure we had more eyes and more people watching the players throughout the season."

Another question was the status of Reinhart, who might be the best defenseman at camp.

The 19-year-old New York Islanders prospect and 2012 first-round pick (No. 4) would miss the first three games of the tournament while serving an IIHF suspension for a high-sticking penalty against the United States during the 2013 WJC semifinals. He would be eligible to return on New Year's Eve against the United States in preliminary-round action.

"It was a pretty unanimous decision; with his talent and with his experience, he could certainly [contribute]," Sutter said. "The guy played here last year and we looked across the country at the defense and where it's at, and we felt Griffin could be a huge plus for us."

Three players, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart, Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, will be given every opportunity. Reinhart and Ekblad are eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft and McDavid is eligible the following year.

Reinhart, who has 16 goals and 50 points in 33 games for Kootenay, is expected to be the first pick of the 2014 draft. The 18-year-old right-handed shot captained Canada to the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. He is the younger brother of fellow camp invite, Griffin.

McDavid, who made his debut in the Ontario Hockey League last season after being granted exceptional-player status from Hockey Canada, is expected to be the first pick at the 2015 draft. The 6-foot, 185-pound left-handed shot is bidding to be the first 16-year-old to play on Canada's WJC team since Sidney Crosby in 2004. He has 12 goals, 50 points and a plus-22 rating in 31 games for the Otters.

Ekblad, a 6-3.5, 216-pound right-handed shot, was also granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada to be eligible for the 2011 OHL priority selection draft as a 15-year-old. He captained Canada to the 2013 Under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka title this past summer. He has 10 goals and 25 points in 29 games.

Canada will compete in Group A with the United States, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia. The U.S. scored a 3-1 victory against Sweden in the 2013 WJC gold medal game to garner its third championship at the tournament (2004, 2010). The tournament runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, 2014.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mikemorrealeNHL

CANADA SELECTION CAMP ROSTER

GOALIES: Zachary Fucale, Halifax, QMJHL (Montreal), *Jake Paterson, Saginaw, OHL (Detroit)

DEFENSEMEN: Aaron Ekblad, Barrie, OHL (2014 eligible), Chris Bigras, Owen Sound, OHL (Colorado), Adam Pelech, Erie, OHL (New York Islanders), Matt Dumba, Red Deer, WHL (Minnesota), Joshua Morrissey, Prince Albert, WHL (Winnipeg), Derrick Pouliot, Portland, WHL (Pittsburgh), *Griffin Reinhart, Edmonton, WHL (New York Islanders), Damon Severson, Kelowna, WHL (New Jersey)

FORWARDS: *Jonathan Drouin, Halifax, QMJHL (Tampa Bay), Frederik Gauthier, Rimouski, QMJHL (Toronto), Felix Girard, Baie-Comeau, QMJHL (Nashville), Bo Horvat, London, OHL (Vancouver), #Charles Hudon, Chicoutimi, QMJHL (Montreal), Taylor Leier, Portland, WHL (Philadelphia), Scott Laughton, Oshawa, OHL (Philadelphia), Josh Anderson, London, OHL (Columbus), Curtis Lazar, Edmonton, WHL (Ottawa), Anthony Mantha, Val-d'Or, QMJHL (Detroit), Connor McDavid, Erie, OHL (2015), Nicolas Petan, Portland, WHL (Winnipeg), Sam Reinhart, Kootenay, WHL (2014), Kerby Rychel, Windsor, OHL (Columbus), Hunter Shinkaruk, Medicine Hat, WHL (Vancouver)

*- Returning player

#- Selected to 2013 team but missed tournament because of injury

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