ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — It was a big camp for Louis Leblanc, Kyle Clifford, Cody Eakin and goaltenders Olivier Roy and Jean-Francois Berube, but making Canada’s team for the world junior championship is still four long months away.
The team’s annual five-day development camp was a first step toward cracking the lineup that will battle for gold beginning Dec. 26 in Buffalo, N.Y. The task now for the 46 players whose summer camp ended Sunday at Mile One Centre is to look even better when the team is picked in December.
They will need to play well enough on their club teams to be invited back for the selection camp that begins Dec. 11, from which the final 22-man roster will be chosen.
“We’ll start weekly conference calls somewhere around the middle of October and each week we’ll re-evaluate and re-rank the guys,” said head coach Dave Cameron, who heads back to his full-time job as coach of Mississauga St. Michaels in the Ontario Hockey League. “It’s an interesting process.
“By Dec. 11 we want a real good handle on the core guys and where they should fit.”
No decisions could be made from the development camp. Many players, including Boston’s second overall draft pick Tyler Seguin, had spent the summer on off-ice training and had done little skating in earnest since their NHL rookie camps, some as long as two months ago.
So performances in the two intra-squad games at the camp may be deceiving.
And some players, like Seguin, Edmonton’s first overall pick Taylor Hall who did not attend the camp, third overall pick Erik Gudbranson or centre Brayden Schenn, may jump straight to the NHL and not be available to the junior team. Last year, eight players who were eligible missed the world juniors because they were already in the NHL, including John Tavares, Matt Duchene and Evander Kane.
“Obviously there are some elite guys that if they’re available, they’re going to be on the team, but it’s all about finding the right mix,” said Cameron. “Our biggest challenge is the summer camp.
“Kids haven’t been playing competitive hockey. They’ve been working off ice. There are a lot of guys each year that have a realistic shot at making the NHL. They have to come here and they’re probably guarding a little bit against getting hurt at this camp, so I think the best thing that came out of it was that they were focused, and the effort was real good. I don’t think anyone wasn’t giving a full effort.”
Cameron and the Hockey Canada staff did not go into who played well and who didn’t, but it was clear that some stood out.
Leblanc, the 2009 Montreal Canadiens first round pick who left Harvard this summer to join the Montreal Juniors, was probably the best forward on the ice in the intra-squad games. Quick and combative, the six-foot right-winger was in the middle of scoring chances on most of his shifts and didn’t back down from the physical play.
Eakin of the Swift Current Broncos was a bundle of energy at centre in the first game and then produced three points while playing on left wing with Leblanc in the second. It is clear the staff has an eye on the five-foot-11 forward as much for his versatility as his skill.
Clifford, a Barrie Colt, tied Leblanc for the lead with four points from two games and made a dandy move to finish a two-on-one with Jaden Schwartz in the second game.
Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, tabbed as a potential first overall draft pick next June, did not disappoint, using his six-foot-three frame to battle for pucks and feed his linemates as well as scoring a goal. Comparisons to Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal did not look far off the mark.
Schenn, of the Brandon Wheat Kings, picked up three points and made a variety of linemates look better. Will one of the few returning players from last year be named captain if he’s available for the world juniors?
Big winger Zack Kassian of the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires upset the coach by spearing Gudbranson in Game 1, but over the two games he dished out hits and created several scoring chances for the weaker Red team. There is concern for his on-ice discipline, but it’s hard to imagine a coach not wanting this physical force on his team.
Roy, an Edmonton prospect from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, played for the stronger White team and allowed only two goals in two half-games. He was outstanding in the third period of Game 1 as Red pressed for goals while trailing 6-2.
“He’s aggressive and that’s what you want from a goaltender,” said Cameron. “Not a guy that’s back under the bar hoping pucks don’t go in the net.”
Roy’s performance was at least matched by Berube, the big Montreal Juniors goalie who stopped all 19 shots he faced in the first period of Game 2 — including a few gems. Playing for Red, he faced more tough chances and allowed four goals overall. Calvin Pickard of the Seattle Thunderbirds let in three and improved from Game 1 to Game 2 while Mark Visentin of the Niagara IceDogs, the only first-rounder among the goalies, had a tough camp with seven goals allowed.