Many pundits considered the inclusion of forward Jonathan Drouin on the Canadian roster a bit of a surprise at the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia last season.
There was no question about Drouin's inclusion this season, and he might be considered the best player in the 2014 tournament in Malmo, Sweden.
The 18-year-old left wing, selected in the first round (No. 3) of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning, is in the midst of another spectacular season for the Halifax Mooseheads. Not surprisingly, he was one of 25 players invited to the country's WJC selection camp scheduled Dec. 12-15 at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ont.
The announcement Monday was made by Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League at duel press conferences in Toronto and Montreal.
"I would like to congratulate the 25 players that received an invitation today," head scout for the Canadian National Junior Team Ryan Jankowski said in a statement. "Canada is fortunate to have great depth of talent, and these players should be proud of this special opportunity. I would also like to thank the general managers and coaches of the Canadian Hockey League for their great support throughout this process."
Three players were invited to camp from the team that finished fourth in Ufa last year -- Drouin, defensemen Griffin Reinhart and goalie Jake Paterson. Paterson was named Canada's emergency goalie last year and did not see any action.
Drouin, second in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in 21 games this season, earned a spot on the country's top line at the 2013 WJC at one point with captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers) and Mark Schiefele (Winnipeg Jets).
He finished with one assist and a plus-1 rating filling in for Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida Panthers) on the top line in Canada's 4-1 preliminary-round victory over Russia. He finished the tournament with two goals, four points and a plus-4 rating in six games.
While many people in the hockey world thought Drouin would be starring in the NHL this season, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman opted to return him to Halifax in order to give him the necessary ice time he needed to improve his overall game. That plan also enabled Hockey Canada to have one of the country's finest hockey talents available to them a second straight year.
The camp roster will include two goalies, eight defensemen and 15 forwards. Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba was the only player invited currently on an NHL roster. The Wild agreed to loan him to Canada. If Griffin Reinhart makes the final cut, he'll have to sit three games as part of an IIHF suspension received for a high stick infraction against the United States during the 2013 WJC semifinal round.
Canada will be coached by Brent Sutter, who served as an assistant coach during the country's silver medal-winning effort at the 2010 WJC. Before becoming an NHL head coach, Sutter coached the national junior squad for three years, winning gold in 2005 and 2006.
Currently the head coach, general manager and owner of the Western Hockey League's Red Deer Rebels, Sutter went 6-0 in North Dakota in 2005 and 6-0 in Vancouver in 2006.
Canada hasn't celebrated a gold medal at the WJC since 2009.
"Hockey Canada is looking forward to an extremely competitive camp in December, as we look to assemble a team that will make all Canadians proud," said Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada's senior director of men's national teams and hockey operations. "This is a first step towards naming our roster for the IIHF World Junior Championship. We look forward to the camp getting underway."
Three players, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart, Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, will earn plenty of attention from NHL scouts. Reinhart and Ekblad are eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft and McDavid is eligible the following year.
Reinhart, who has 16 goals and 46 points in 29 games for Kootenay, is expected to be the first pick of the 2014 NHL 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 NHL 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.
Ekblad, a 6-foot-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 nine goals and 23 points in 26 games.
Canada, which placed fourth at the 2013 WJC, will compete in a group 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 U.S. will announce its selection camp roster on Wednesday.
CANADA SELECTION CAMP ROSTER
- Zachary Fucale, Halifax, QMJHL (Montreal)
- *Jake Paterson, Saginaw, OHL (Detroit)
- 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)
- *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