Yesterday I put together the forward core of what I believe Team Canada could look like at this year’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, today I will look at the back end.
Often forgotten in this tournament are the guys on the blue line. The forwards get all the glory, the goalie can become the hero but often the backbone of the roster is the defense core that can sometimes go unheralded. This year there are a couple intriguing battles among similar players (Dunn vs Dermott, McKeown vs Juulsen) that could make the evaluation camp next month very interesting.
Travis Sanheim Joe Hicketts
Haydn Fleury Thomas Chabot
Vince Dunn Roland McKeown
The lone returning blueliner from last year’s team is Joe Hicketts, he also happens to be the Captain for Team Canada’s head coach Dave Lowry in Victoria. Hicketts is the lone certainty to be on the team and will most likely play the right side (even though he shoots left) on the top pair. Lowry will likely lean on him heavily and we’ll likely see Hicketts as the quarterback on the top power play unit. I’ve put Sanheim in the top pair with him due to his incredible play for Team Canada in the U18 tournament. A big 19 year old defender that can move the puck well and is capable of playing in every situation.
If not Sanheim, Hayden Fleury is likely the one to fill in as the team’s top defender on the left side. Fleury will play the shutdown role on this team. He is a big player who has the skating ability to handle the international ice. He’ll kill penalties and likely emerge as the stereotypical big bruising veteran defender that has become a trademark of the Canadian junior team. Thomas Chabot is another big defenseman who is a great skater and has the smarts to play just about every role. He’s got a great first pass to lead a breakout and has the ability to simplify his game to make a very good partner for Fleury creating a pairing that could be one we see on the ice late in close games.
In the third pairing Vince Dunn is a very good option. He is a possession defender that makes his teammates better with smart play and great passing abilities. He’s no slouch in his own end either, often playing bigger than his 6’0 size, Dunn can be a great addition if Lowry employs a system that allows his defenders to play a lot with the puck on their stick. Next to Dunn is fellow OHLer Roland McKeown. The captain in Kingston, McKeown plays a simple game and just flat out knows how to play his position. He could be a steady presence and one of those guy who you don’t recognize when he’s receiving his medal but an integral part of making sure that medal is gold.
The extra defender and wildcard is 2016 top prospect Jakob Chychrun. As many of you know I am a huge Chychrun fan. He is a monster on the back end and is likely to be the second player taken in this summer’s draft. Many (myself included) think Chychrun will be better than Aaron Ekblad and that he could be a regular in this lineup. The problem is, Hockey Canada has a tendency to favor 19 year olds in this tournament, especially on defense. Chychrun wasn’t at last summer’s evaluation camp because of a shoulder injury and sometimes that portends to not being invited to the camp in December but Chychrun is too good to not be there. Like Ekblad two years ago, Chychrun might force his way onto the team and into the lineup it will depend on how many of the older guys he can outperform during the evaluation camp (assuming he gets invited).
The one question mark in all this is how much the coaching staff values left vs right shots on the blue line. On my roster I have 6 lefties with McKeown being the only right handed shot. Dave Lowry has shown with Hicketts in Victoria that he has no problem playing defenders on the opposite side of the ice so this may not be an issue but if it is we could see a right shot like Alexandre Carrier or Jeremy Roy make the team in place of Dunn.
Now time for the voodoo. There were only three goalies invited to the camp by Hockey Canada this summer, Mackenzie Blackwood, Mason McDonald and Samuel Montembeault. Blackwood has been very good for Barrie this season and is likely the front runner for the starting role as both McDonald and Montembeault are currently riding sub-.900 sv% this season. Of these three Montembeault would likely be the odd man out but if we see some new invitees to the tryouts both might find themselves cut from the team. Personally I would like to see Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips and Zach Sawchenko of the Moose Jaw Warriors get invited but a 17 year old goalie is something that has been unheard of for Hockey Canada. If we see goalies outside of the three from the summer camp guys like Michael McNiven in Owen Sound, Jayden Sittler in Lethbridge or Adin Hill in Portland could get the call.
Update: Hockey Canada announced today that Vince Dunn is injured and will be leaving camp. I would slot Travis Dermott onto the left side of the 3rd pair now.
— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) December 11, 2015