The first game of the Subway Super Series against Russia on Monday will be a statement game for Rimouski Oceanic right-winger Jordan Caron.
It's the chance for the 19-year-old from Sayabec, Que., to prove to Hockey Canada he's healthy and ready to play for the Canadian junior hockey team in December.
Caron broke his collarbone during the junior team's summer camp in Saskatoon. Regina Pats defenceman Colton Teubert dealt Caron a thunderous open-ice check in the first period of an Aug. 8 intrasquad game.
Now Caron is listed a six foot two and 206 pounds, so it requires some force to topple him.
Caron was drafted in the first round, 25th overall, by the Boston Bruins in June, but his injury meant he couldn't skate in his first NHL training camp. He missed Rimouski's first 15 games of the season and has been back on the ice for just three weeks.
He's one of 28 players chosen to represent the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in two games against a squad of Russian players, before the annual six-game series heads to the Ontario Hockey League and then the Western Hockey League.
About 100 Canadians will participate in the Subway Series and all are eligible (born in 1990 or later) to represent Canada in the 2010 world junior hockey championship in Saskatoon and Regina starting Dec. 26.
Caron was marked as a candidate for the team by virtue of his invitation to summer camp. He wants to show he's still in the hunt for a spot on the team to Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray, who will select about 35 players for December's selection camp.
"I want to show them I came back 100 per cent and it's going to be a special moment to play against the Russians," Caron said. "I was supposed to play (in the series) last year, but once again I was injured, so I'm anxious to play this year."
Murray will scout Canadian players in Drummondville on Monday, Shawinigan on Wednesday and Barrie, Ont., on Thursday, followed by games Nov. 23 in Windsor, Ont., Nov. 25 in Victoria and Nov. 26 in Kelowna, B.C.
Rogers Sportsnet is carrying all games and RDS will broadcast the pair of QMJHL games (check local listings).
Canada has won the previous six series against Russia with an overall record of 30-6 and a scoring margin of 169-74.
Caron's Rimouski teammate Patrice Cormier is also on the QMJHL squad. Cormier, a New Jersey Devils draft pick, helped Canada win a fifth straight world junior gold medal at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa.
Barring injury or major decline in play, Cormier will play for Canada again in Saskatoon and Caron wants to join him in wearing the Maple Leaf.
"For sure, it's going to be hard given the fact I haven't played in the last three months," Caron said. "My game shape is not 100 per cent. I've been working hard in practice and hopefully the next couple of weeks I'll be at the top of the game, so they will invite me."
A player's performance in the series versus the Russians is a factor in deciding whether he plays for Canada a few weeks later.
"Those games are never the be-all and end-all, but they are part of the evaluation," says Murray. "If there's two players who are very close and one has a couple of really good games and the other guy struggles, that's the last thing and the freshest thing in your mind, so it will have an impact on it."
Murray will name a selection camp roster in early December.
Canadian team head coach Willie Desjardins of the Medicine Hat Tigers and assistants Dave Cameron (Mississauga St. Michael's Majors); Steve Spott (Kitchener Rangers) and Andre Tourigny (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies) will choose the 22-player roster that will attempt to win a record six straight gold medal in Saskatoon.
The penultimate game of the series is in Victoria, which doesn't have a WHL team. RG Properties manages both the arenas in Victoria and Kelowna, so it worked as a package deal, according to WHL commissioner Ron Robison. More importantly, he wants to the WHL to have a profile in Victoria should the opportunity arise to expand there.
"It's a market of strong interest to us in the future," Robison says. "We draw an awful lot of players from the island and want to maintain a presence in Victoria."
There are five players in the series who helped Canada win a fifth gold in Ottawa in January and will play again for their country again, barring a major injury.
Along with Cormier, pesky forward Stefan Della Rovere of the Barrie Colts and defenceman Ryan Ellis of the Windsor Spitfires will lead the OHL squad against Russia. Regina Pats forward Jordan Eberle, the hero of Canada's semifinal win in Ottawa, and bruising Teubert are the ones to watch on the WHL's roster.
Cody Hodgson of the Brampton Battalion led Canada in points in Ottawa with five goals and 11 assists in six games and was named the CHL's player of the year for 2008-09.
The first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks has yet to play a game for the Brampton Battalion because he's recovering from an off-season back injury. He resumed skating with his junior team last week and has targeted early December for his first games.
The top Russian teens aren't released by their pro clubs for the series. The country's lineup for this leans towards a 'B' roster, although Anaheim Ducks prospect Igor Bobkov, named the top goaltender at this year's world under-18 championship, is on the list.
But Murray is more interested in the Canadian pool of players and muscle it brings on an ice surface smaller than what it would be if the tournament was in Europe. The Canadian team of 2009 wasn't that physical of a squad, but managed to win gold with its scoring prowess.
"If we can have that hybrid of physical play and offensive play, it's always a great thing to have because you can play any style anybody wants to play," Murray explained.
"Last year we were more of an offensive firepower team and it worked out pretty well for us, but if you can add that physical component, it makes it really good for your team."
Nine players, including four who helped Canada win gold in Ottawa, are in the NHL and Murray does not expect them to be available to the junior team. Defencemen Tyler Myers (Buffalo) and Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis) and forwards John Tavares (New York Islanders) and Evander Kane (Atlanta) played for the 2009 squad.
Forwards Steve Stamkos and James Wright (Tampa Bay), Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly (Colorado) and defenceman Michael Del Zotto (New York Rangers) are also eligible to play for Canada, but Murray doesn't expect them to do so.
"The majority of those kids, in fact all of those kids, if you look at their minutes played, they're not bit players for their teams," Murray said. "They're regulars and on at least the third line. Some of them are power-play and penalty kill guys for their teams.
"If they're good enough to play in the NHL, that's where they should be."