|Kings prospect Drew Doughty does not want to return to Team Canada in December in order to show that he can make it in the NHL.|
"Do you want to play for this team?" we asked Los Angeles Kings defense prospect Drew Doughty.
Well, duh. What Canadian teenager doesn't want to represent his country at the World Junior Championship, which this year happens to be in Canada’s capital, an added bonus for sure?
Doughty, though, immediately understood the reason behind the opening question of the interview and without hesitation gave an honest answer, one Hockey Canada's staff expects and understands, but surely doesn't like hearing.
"I guess the answer to that would be no," he said.
What? Is he joking? This is Team Canada. This is the World Juniors.
"My main focus right now is to work as hard as I can to become a much better player because I really want to play in L.A. next year," Doughty added. "Coming back to this team would be disappointing because it would mean I didn't make it in L.A."
Oh, well, that makes sense.
While Doughty, the second pick in last month's draft, said all the right things – "Playing in Ottawa would be awesome and a great experience." – it's obvious that he and the few other potentially NHL-ready prospects at Hockey Canada's National Junior Team Evaluation Camp want nothing to do with this team come December.
It's hard to blame them.
"Every kid that plays hockey wants to make it in the NHL," Carolina Hurricanes prospect Brandon Sutter told NHL.com. "That's the No. 1 priority."
When it comes to playing in the NHL in 2008-09, Sutter and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Kyle Turris are the closest to sure things in this camp, even if they still have plenty to prove. Turris played three games for the Coyotes last season and Sutter played seven with the Albany River Rats, Carolina's AHL affiliate.
This year's No. 1 pick, Steven Stamkos, could play in the World Juniors, too, but he's not at the camp because the Tampa Bay Lightning need him at their own prospect development camp this week.
It wouldn't be shocking, either to see Doughty, fellow Kings defense prospect Thomas Hickey and Toronto Maple Leafs defense prospect Luke Schenn in NHL uniforms this coming season. Schenn was the No. 5 pick of last month's draft; Hickey, who is unable to play this week due to a wrist injury, was the fourth pick in 2007.
There are a few wildcards as well, such as Zach Boychuk (Carolina), Colton Gillies (Minnesota Wild), Josh Bailey (New York Islanders), Cody Hodgson (Vancouver Canucks) and maybe Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues).
For all of them, their grandest hockey dream is closer than ever to becoming reality, but none are taking this opportunity from Hockey Canada for granted.
"It's a dream of every kid to play in the NHL one day, but whichever way it is I think it'll be a good situation," Schenn told NHL.com. "Of course, who wouldn't want to make it in the NHL? But playing in the World Juniors, there is nothing like it.
"This year it's in Ottawa and the fans will be crazy. There's nothing wrong with trying to compete for another gold medal."
Even though Turris played for the Coyotes at the end of last season and likely figures into their plans for this season, he's here with Phoenix's blessing.
"Hockey Canada was so good to him last year by inviting him to play in the World Championships and we feel it's the right thing to do," Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney told NHL.com. "Until you've made it in the NHL, this is the right place to be. It can only help him."
That's how Sutter looks at it, too, especially with the Hurricanes’ training camp approaching.
"There are a lot of good players, so it's a test," Sutter said. "It's a good tune-up for camp in Carolina to play at a pace like this."
Doughty's World Junior dream, however, was realized last year. Other campers that played for Team Canada in 2008 include Schenn, Sutter, Turris, Gillies, Stamkos, Hickey, Boychuk, John Tavares and P.K. Subban.
"My next dream is to make the NHL," Doughty said. "I guess I'm trying to look past (the 2009 WJC) because I really want to play in the NHL next year and if I don't do that I'm not going to be satisfied."
To make sure these potential NHL-ready prospects stay on the ball and play with an edge this week, Team Canada coach Benoit Groulx repeatedly has said that no one is guaranteed a spot on the team, which won't be picked until December.
"We know what they can bring to this team because they are proven players and they know a lot about what it takes to win," Groulx said. "We expect them to provide leadership and we are pleased with what they have brought to this summer camp. They are showing examples on the ice and off the ice and that's good.
"Even if they're not on the team at Christmas because they might be playing in the NHL, they are going to contribute to this team."
Added Sutter: "I want to make an impression to make sure that if it doesn't work out with Carolina, I am able to come back as part of this team. I had a chance to go last year and win a gold medal, so I have one at least. If it so happens that I come back here and play in it again, I'll try to make sure it's two."
No offense to Hockey Canada, but that's not what he wants.
"My No. 1 priority is not to go back to junior, but if it happens, playing in this tournament is a huge thing in itself so I don't think it will be disappointing at all," Sutter said. "If I have a chance to sit back and watch it, well, that would be just as exciting."
That's not so ridiculous now is it?
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.