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Canada assembles best team, not all-star team

by Jon Lane

The last time Canada won a gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship was 2009, so the heat will be turned up as soon as coach Brent Sutter and Hockey Canada's brain trust begin final evaluations of the 25 players invited to attend National Junior Team selection camp Dec. 12-15 at MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario.

But in the spirit of Herb Brooks, Sutter and his staff insisted the 25 selections are not the "best" players, but the "right" players.

"The players that we've chosen for today give us the best chance to win," said Canada National Junior Team head scout Ryan Jankowski during a conference call. "The thing to remember is that it's not an all-star team. We are putting together the best team, and we feel that the 25 players named today give us that opportunity."

As the evaluation process progresses to the Christmas Day deadline, even three of the finest underage players in the country aren't guaranteed spots. Sam Reinhart could go No. 1 in the 2014 NHL Draft, where Aaron Ekblad may be the first defenseman taken, and Connor McDavid is the projected top pick when he's eligible in 2015.

That's of no consequence to Jankowski.

"That doesn't really play into anything that we do," Jankowski said. "We're looking to form a hockey team here, and yet for the players, it's an obvious opportunity for them to be able to show their stuff, market themselves and so on and so forth. But hopefully at the end of the day, they're more worried about gold medals and having success with us rather than their NHL Draft position."

Reinhart, 18, who has 16 goals and 46 points in 29 games for the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, captained Canada to the gold medal at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship and comes from a hockey pedigree. His brother Max was a third-round draft pick (No. 63) of the Calgary Flames in 2010. Another brother, 19-year-old Griffin, was chosen No. 4 by the New York Islanders in 2012 and skated for Canada in the 2013 WJC. Their father, Paul, was drafted by the Atlanta Flames at No. 12 in 1979.

"Sam's a leader," Jankowski said. "He's a versatile player who played center with his club team, but he did play wing last year at the under-18 tournament, so he gives us great versatility."


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

McDavid has 45 points in 27 games for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, and he's only 16 years old. At 15, he was the first pick of the 2012 OHL Draft, and all he did was score 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games. He was named Rookie of the Year.

If McDavid makes the Canadian junior team, he'll become the sixth to play in the tournament as a 16-year-old, following Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester and Sidney Crosby, and the first since Crosby in 2004.

"His skill set speaks for itself," Jankowski said. "He's very gifted, and yet he's only 16 years old. This event is very difficult for every 16-year-old who's ever been there and really the most effective 16-year-old for Canada has been Wayne Gretzky. That being said, he's earned this opportunity to be able to show his stuff."

Proving himself at an accelerated rate is Ekblad, the first skater granted "exceptional player" status since John Tavares in 2005. He has nine goals and 14 assists and is minus-4 as captain of the OHL's Barrie Colts. Taken No. 1 in the 2011 OHL Draft, Ekblad, 17, had 34 points and was a plus-29 as a 16-year-old.

Jankowski called Ekblad the best player for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, where he was scored two goals and added three assists in five games.

"His play with Team Canada all along has been high quality," Jankowski said. "That translated really well for the start of his year. He had a great playoff last year, especially the seven-game series against the London Knights, and then was able to raise his game in the Subway Super Series, which was important. You take everything into consideration and not just one small part of it. Everything from the Ivan Hlinka on to the Super Series made him a worthy candidate for this selection camp."

Griffin Reinhart was also deemed worthy, even though he'll have to sit out three games if he makes the team due to an IIHF suspension for a high-sticking penalty against the United States during the 2013 WJC semifinals. Reinhart's talent and experience were too tantalizing to leave him off the camp roster, even if he can't return until the New Year's Eve game against the U.S.

"It was a pretty unanimous decision that we felt with his talent and his experience he can certainly do so," Sutter said. "That's why he's one of eight guys we named, and obviously with the suspension in place, there was certainly some consideration with that, but at the end of the day, the guy had played there last year and when you look across the country and the defense, where it's at, we felt that Griffin could be a huge plus for us."


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