MONTREAL -- The last time Canada won the gold medal at the IIHF World Junior Championship was 2009, and with the tournament on home soil for the 2015 WJC, the host nation is doing everything possible to put an end to that drought.
One of the most striking aspects of the roster announced Monday by Hockey Canada for the Canadian National Junior Team selection camp was how heavy it was on 19-year-olds, with 19 of the 29 players invited born in 1995.
Canada National Junior Camp Roster
GOALTENDERS: Eric Comrie, Tri-City, WHL (Winnipeg Jets); Zachary Fucale, Halifax, QMJHL (Montreal Canadiens)
DEFENSEMEN: Chris Bigras, Owen Sound, OHL (Colorado Avalanche); Madison Bowey, Kelowna, WHL (Washington Capitals); Haydn Fleury, Red Deer, WHL (Carolina Hurricanes); Dillon Heatherington, Swift Current, WHL (Columbus Blue Jackets); Joe Hicketts, Victoria, WHL (Detroit Red Wings); Samuel Morin, Rimouski, QMJHL (Philadelphia Flyers); Joshua Morrissey, Prince Albert, WHL (Winnipeg Jets); Darnell Nurse, Sault Ste. Marie, OHL (Edmonton Oilers); Travis Sanheim, Calgary, WHL (Philadelphia Flyers); Shea Theodore, Seattle, WHL (Anaheim Ducks)
FORWARDS: Nicholas Baptiste, Erie, OHL (Buffalo Sabres); Rourke Chartier, Kelowna, WHL (San Jose Sharks); Lawson Crouse, Kington, OHL (2015 draft eligible); Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa, OHL (New York Islanders); Jason Dickinson, Guelph, OHL (Dallas Stars); Max Domi, London, OHL (Arizona Coyotes); Remi Elie, Belleville, OHL (Dallas Stars); Robby Fabbri, Guelph, OHL (St. Louis Blues); Frederik Gauthier, Rimouski, QMJHL (Toronto Maple Leafs); Morgan Klimchuk, Regina, WHL (Calgary Flames); Connor McDavid, Erie, OHL (2015 draft eligible); Nicholas Paul, North Bay, OHL (Ottawa Senators); Nicolas Petan, Portland, WHL (Winnipeg Jets); Brayden Point, Moose Jaw, WHL (Tampa Bay Ligthtning); Sam Reinhart, Kootenay, WHL (Buffalo Sabres); Nick Ritchie, Peterborough, OHL (Anaheim Ducks); Jake Virtanen, Calgary, WHL (Vancouver Canucks)
MCDAVID EXPECTED TO BE READY FOR WJC ›
The 2015 WJC will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, with games at Bell Centre in Montreal and Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Hockey Canada believes relying on experience in what should be a pressure-packed environment in Montreal and Toronto gives it the best chance to end a long run of disappointment at a tournament it used to dominate.
"There's a lot of other good players in different age groups. There's a great groups of [players born in 1997] this year. You look throughout the [Canadian Hockey League], a lot of them are leading their leagues in scoring, and there are some good '96-born players,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said after the roster was announced Monday at Bell Centre. "But with the group of '95s, we feel really strongly that the older age group, it's going to help us have success."
Erie Otters center Connor McDavid, expected to be among the top two players picked at the 2015 NHL Draft, is one of the 10 players invited not born in 1995, and is one of two draft-eligible players on the camp roster, along with Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs.
Defensemen Haydn Fleury (Carolina Hurricanes), Joe Hicketts (Detroit Red Wings) and Travis Sanheim (Philadelphia Flyers), and forwards Rourke Chartier (San Jose Sharks), Michael Dal Colle (New York Islanders), Robby Fabbri (St. Louis Blues), Brayden Point (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Jake Virtanen (Vancouver Canucks) are the only other underage players invited to Canada's camp.
There are seven returning players from last year's fourth-place team that were invited to camp this year, but if the final roster is heavy on graduating players, there won't be so many coming back for the 2016 WJC.
"We're focused on this year," Jankowski said. "I think any year we're focused on that year, but last year it wasn't a great group of '94s, so that's why all the '95s ended up playing. As much as we'd like to prepare some guys for next, it's about this year. It's about winning now. It's about having success now.
"So much changes. The development landscape of these young boys in Canada, they change. We've got two kids here who weren't on the radar a year ago who are coming to our camp, and it will be the same thing next year. You can't get too caught up in the future; we've got to worry about the now."
Those two players are Dallas Stars prospect Remi Elie of the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, who wasn't invited to the summer evaluation camp in August, and Ottawa Senators prospect Nicholas Paul of the North Bay Battalion of the OHL, both of whom played their way into consideration for inclusion on this year's team over the past year.
Some players who were not invited to last year's camp, when the list was 25 players long instead of 29, will be a big part of the team this year. Jankowski said he doesn't necessarily feel they are less attractive candidates just because they didn't participate last year.
Two players who fall into that category are defenseman Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Oilers) and forward Max Domi (Arizona Coyotes).
"Darnell, Max Domi, their games have really matured," Jankowski said. "They've become more mature on the ice, off the ice, just in how they understand how to be professional. The numbers last year kept those guys out. This year there's no doubt they're going to be key parts of our team. They've really taken a step in their games with their training, through their NHL teams, through their own club teams, to be high-end players in the [OHL] and hopefully high-end players for us."
The same thing could happen for several top players who were left off the list this year, such as New York Islanders forward prospect Joshua Ho-Sang, who plays for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL.
"We talked a lot about Josh," Jankowski said. "We've had viewings on Josh, and like a lot of '96-born players, even first-rounders, they're not quite ready for this event, for this stage. He’s a tremendous talent, as are the other first-rounders who are '96-born that aren't a part of this camp. Josh will hopefully have his chance moving forward."
The wild card in the process for Hockey Canada is the possibility of NHL players being loaned out to play in the tournament.
Two junior-eligible NHL players, center Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and defenseman Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers, already have been ruled out because they are too important to their teams.
But Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin, New York Rangers forward Anthony Duclair, Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat and Ottawa Senators forward Curtis Lazar are considered to be real possibilities to join Canada for the tournament, depending on the situations on their teams at the Dec. 19 NHL roster freeze.
"There's a real trick to working with the NHL teams and that's not to be so disruptive and in their grill every single day that they don't get a chance to do their job," Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney said. "We have to respect the fact that they understand what this is all about, they understand the gravity of the situation. We also understand that they've got their teams to take care of. These players under their circumstances have all had pretty significant roles with their NHL teams. With that being said, mind you, I think the dialogue has been very good with the NHL general managers to the point where we certainly haven't finished talking with them.
"The bottom line is they want to make sure they're secure with respect to their rosters vis-a-vis injury, for example. We're willing to accept that. If we can get them on Dec. 11 to be a part of the process from Day One, I think that has huge benefits, naturally. But if it happens on Dec. 19, so be it."
One area Canada will not need to worry about is goaltending because the decisions at that position already have been made.
Two goalies were invited to the camp: Montreal Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale, who plays with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, was Canada’s top goaltender from the 2014 WJC. a year ago, and Winnipeg Jets prospect Eric Comrie, who plays with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. The lone question that remains is who will receive the bulk of the work in the tournament.
"You're not basing your evaluation on one game, 10 games or 20 games; you're basing it on two years of evaluation," Canada coach Benoit Groulx said. "When you look at consistency, being competitive and success, the two of them were on top of the list. We know them, we know what they can do and we're very comfortable with both of them."