Thursday, November 8, 2012

Unleash The Young Guns

By Andrew McGilligan
SN Staff

I hope Jonathan Drouin, Zachary Fucale, Aaron Ekblad, Max Domi and Connor McDavid are all part of Team Canada when it heads to Ufa, Russia for the 2013 World Junior Hockey Championship.

It’s highly unlikely any of these players will be in the lineup when Canada faces off in the annual holiday tournament given Hockey Canada’s preference to skew older in the under-20 tournament, usually sending a contingent of 18 and 19-year-old players. Droiun, Fucale and Domi are 17 years old and NHL draft eligible while Ekblad is 16 and McDavid will be a couple weeks shy of his 16th birthday when the tournament begins.

However, after three-straight years without a gold medal, a change in philosophy might be what’s needed and the 2013 tournament could be the perfect setting. If the NHL lockout continues into the holiday season, it will free up several players to suit up for their country who might otherwise be playing in the NHL including Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele and Ryan Murphy, among others. 

This would give Team Canada a great group of core players, loaded with talent who have been through the world junior pressure cooker and several other “big” situations. By having these veteran players lead the way and take on the roles of being the top scorers and shut down defencemen, it would free up space to bring some younger players to the squad, let them gain valuable world junior experience and take on roles (penalty killers, energy line, grind line) that will help them develop into better all-around hockey players. 

Many point to the under-18 tournament as the place for younger players to gain international experience. A good point, but those tournaments cannot compare with the World Juniors which have become a holiday tradition in this country on par with eating too much food over a three-day span and making resolutions you will never keep.

The five players mentioned above will hardly form the nucleus of Team Canada at this year’s tournament, but will likely be the ones relied upon for the 2014 and, in the case of McDavid and Ekblad, 2015. If the NHL is locked out, why not rely heavily on guys who have proven they can play in big moments while giving some younger players a chance to see, up close, what it takes to compete on the world stage.

Some may have noticed Nathan MacKinnon has not yet been mentioned as he would fall, age wise, in with the five players at the top of the column. I excluded him because it would be a gross oversight if he didn’t get the chance to play for Team Canada in Ufa.  

Photo Credit: Marc Henwood/Station Nation

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