TORONTO – The status of Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid remained a question mark on the eve of the Canadian team selection camp for the upcoming world junior championship.
McDavid, who hasn’t played since breaking a bone in his right hand on Nov. 12, had his cast removed this week and is cleared for non-contact practice. But Canadian head coach Benoit Groulx said it’s still too early to know what to expect from the star player.
“We’re going to talk with Connor tomorrow and obviously it’s great news for us to have him on the ice to skate,” Groulx said Wednesday in a phone interview. “We’re going to discuss with him how he feels and he’s going to be monitored by the doctor. Obviously it’s going to be a day-to-day evaluation. We’ll start from there and see how it goes.”
Groulx plans to meet with team brass and doctors on Wednesday night and Thursday to discuss McDavid’s potential timeline.
McDavid, who has 51 points in 18 games this season, is an early favourite to be selected first overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He will likely be eased back but is expected to be ready for Canada’s opener Dec. 26 against Slovakia.
Groulx is expected to ice a lineup that features several 19-year-old players with an emphasis on speed and skill. Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Zach Fucale is returning after playing for Canada at last year’s tournament in Malmo, Sweden.
Eric Comrie of the Tri-City Americans is the other netminder.
Other returning players include McDavid, defencemen Chris Bigras of the Owen Sound Attack and Josh Morrissey of the Prince Albert Raiders, and forwards Frederik Gauthier of the Rimouski Oceanic, Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks and Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice.
The Canadian side got a boost this week when the New York Rangers confirmed that forward Anthony Duclair would be loaned to the team.
“I think he has learned a lot from being in the NHL for three months and obviously it’s a big plus for us in terms of skills, in terms of ability and in terms of puck possession,” Groulx said.
There could more additions to come. NHL clubs have until the Dec. 19 roster freeze to decide whether they will loan players to the team. There is a chance Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Curtis Lazar of the Ottawa Senators and Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks could still be added.
The original camp invite list included 29 players (10 defencemen, 17 forwards, two goalies). A total of 22 players will make the cut. A third netminder could be added during the tournament if needed.
“It’s very important that we get going right away,” Groulx said of his early plans. “We don’t have much time. It’s a short tournament. We want them on the ice to show them exactly the intensity that we want.”
Canada finished fourth in Malmo and hasn’t won gold in five years.
Groulx, the head coach of the Gatineau Olympiques, was an assistant coach under Brent Sutter at the 2014 tournament. Dave Lowry and Scott Walker will serve as assistants this year.
The first practice is set for Thursday night at the MasterCard Centre. Two games will be played against the CIS Toronto Selects this weekend before the players head to St. Catharines, Ont., for pre-competition camp.
The tournament runs through Jan. 5. Canada will play the group stage in Montreal and knockout games in Toronto.
Denmark takes on Russia in the preliminary round opener Dec. 26 at Air Canada Centre. Sweden opens against the Czech Republic in Toronto later that day.
Finland opens against the United States at the Bell Centre. The Canada-Slovakia game will be played there in the evening.
Germany and Switzerland will play their opening games Dec. 27. The playoff round begins Jan. 2.
Helsinki will handle hosting duties in 2016. The tournament will return to Montreal and Toronto in 2017.