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Lafreniere says he'll be ready to play World Juniors for Canada

Projected No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft missed selection camp with ankle injury

by Dave McCarthy / Independent Correspondent

OAKVILLE, Ontario -- Alexis Lafreniere confirmed he has been dealing with an ankle injury, but the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft said he is not concerned the injury will affect his participation for Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.

"It feels pretty good, it got better over the last couple of days and I hope it's going to keep being good," the 18-year old forward said.

Lafreniere has not taken part in on-ice sessions during Canada selection camp, which ended Thursday, but he said he would be able to play in a game if needed. The decision to keep him off the ice has been precautionary and to afford him rest prior to Canada's first game of the WJC, against the United States on Dec. 26. 

"We talked with the doctors and the staff and they thought they don't want me to push too much on it," Lafreniere said. "For sure I'm excited to be back on the ice soon."

Lafreniere, who scored one goal in five games for Canada in the 2019 tournament, has 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists) in 32 games with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season. 

He had 11 points (seven goals, four assists) playing four games in five nights with Rimouski from Dec. 4-8. Canada camp started Dec. 9.

Mark Hunter, leader of Canada's management group, said Tuesday that Lafreniere had nothing to prove at selection camp.

"He played on the team last year, so going forward we all know he's going to be on the team this year," Hunter said.

Lafreniere said he would have preferred to have participated at selection camp but that extra rest would be good in the long run. 

"Yeah, for sure, I want to be on the ice, but a little bit of rest is always good. I think when I'm playing I don't feel it too much," Lafreniere said. "Maybe a little bit after. It's good when I'm playing, I can skate pretty good, so I'm good with it."

Coyotes forward Hayton to join Canada 

Barrett Hayton was made available by the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday and will join Canada for the tournament.

"It's good, he's a top-end guy. He's been playing up in the NHL and it means a lot for leadership in the room when you get a guy experienced like him," Canada coach Dale Hunter said of the 19-year-old forward. "He's a great leader, that's what you need. We always take a lot of skill, but his leadership in the room will help a lot."

Hayton, who had four assists in five games for Canada in the 2019 tournament, has four points (one goal, three assists) in 14 games with the Coyotes this season. Selected No. 5 in the 2018 NHL Draft, Hayton last played for Arizona on Nov. 29. 

"I've seen him enough through the years playing against him to know that he's a good two-way center too, he's not just one way," Hunter said. "He can kill penalties, play power play, and play against the other team's top line. He really strengthens us down the middle."

Canada has not heard if New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson or Chicago Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach will be made available.

Canada released forward Cole Perfetti (NHL Draft eligible, 2020), forward Connor Zary (NHL Draft eligible, 2020), forward Alex Newhook (No. 16, Colorado Avalanche, 2019), forward Peyton Krebs (No. 17, Vegas Golden Knights, 2019), forward Dylan Holloway (NHL Draft eligible, 2020), defenseman Braden Schneider (NHL draft eligible, 2020), defenseman Peter Diliberatore (No. 180, Vegas Golden Knights, 2018), defenseman Thomas Harley (No. 18, Dallas Stars, 2019), and goalie Hunter Jones (No. 59, Minnesota Wild, 2019).

Canada will take 14 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies to Europe. A forward will be released prior to the start of the tournament.

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