It may be August, but World Junior chatter is just beginning, as development camps have concluded both here in Calgary and in Lake Placid. Calgary saw Hockey Canada host a mini-tournament involving Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic, while Lake Placid hosted the United States, Sweden and Finland.
So based upon how things have gone thus far, let’s take a brief gander at which Calgary Flames prospects could be headed to Finland at Christmas for the World Junior tournament.
SAM BENNETT – CANADA
Let’s be blunt here: Sam Bennett is a very, very good 19-year-old hockey player. If he’s somehow not playing for the Calgary Flames, he’ll be on Team Canada. But it seems incredibly unlikely at this point that he’ll be available.
OLIVER KYLINGTON – SWEDEN
Kylington is headed to North America in 2015-16, playing for one of (a) the Calgary Flames, (b) the Stockton Heat or (c) the Brandon Wheat Kings.
If he’s in Brandon, he seems like a lock for Sweden’s World Junior team. If he’s in the pros, I think it’s a coin-toss. He’s talented enough to be there and he has a history with Sweden’s national teams, having played for Sweden last season at both the Under-18s and the Ivan Hlinka tournament. The big question would be whether the Flames feel he’d gain more from playing in Stockton against men or against his peer group.
MASON McDONALD – CANADA
McDonald benefits from having some history with Hockey Canada, as he was the team’s starter at the Under-18s a couple years back. He was the goaltender with the most Team Canada experience of the three invited to the summer development camp last week, and he was perfectly acceptable in his single game against Russia. The fact that he played just one game suggests that the coaching staff had more questions about the other goaltenders.
At this point, he’s probably got the inside track for the starting job.
BRANDON HICKEY – CANADA
Hickey’s an interesting case. He has never played for Hockey Canada before, but he was the only player at the summer development camp who wasn’t from a Canadian league. He played twice and looked pretty damn solid, if you ask me.
Canada traditionally hasn’t brought a lot of NCAA players to the tournament, but they have taken a few. Dylan Olsen went in 2011 and Jaden Schwartz went in 2011 and 2012. Hickey is well-regarded, had a strong first NCAA season and opened a lot of eyes by playing a key role on a team that almost won a national championship. His presence at camp showed he’s very much on Canada’s radar.
RASMUS ANDERSSON – SWEDEN
Andersson has a history with the Tre Kroner, having played for Team Sweden at two Under-18s and an Ivan Hlinka tournament. And he played on Team Sweden at the recent mini-tournament at Lake Placid, putting up three points in four games.
It may be tough for Sweden to put two different Flames prospects on their blueline, but Andersson’s play has definitely merited strong consideration, and he’s played a bunch for his country in the recent past.
PAVEL KARNAUKHOV – RUSSIA
Karnaukhov played for Russia at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last year, but didn’t represent them at the Under-18s in April because the Hitmen were still active in the WHL playoffs. He’s a toss-up, as I can see them bringing him or deciding to leave him off based on how his season begins.
ANDREW MANGIAPANE – CANADA
Mangiapane would have a great chance if he wasn’t Canadian. He had an excellent season, but he also happens to be stuck behind roughly 25 or 30 really strong forwards. He wasn’t invited to the development camp, which very much (to me) says he’s not immediately on Hockey Canada’s radar.
But he’s a dark horse, as if he’s near the high end of the OHL scoring race by December, he’ll probably merit an invitation to selection camp.
ADAM OLLAS MATTSSON – SWEDEN
Ollas Mattsson’s a dark horse on Team Sweden, and in a very similar situation as Mangiapane is for Team Canada. He’s not bad and he’s actually pretty good, having represented his country before, but Sweden’s produced a lot of strong defenders lately and he’s just not found a way to stand out in a very crowded group.
RILEY BRUCE – CANADA
A very dark dark horse. It’s extremely unlikely that he’ll make the team. But he’s a late, late round pick in the NHL Draft, so nobody would really expect him to.
WHAT I EXPECT
Right now, I expect to see McDonald and Hickey suit up for Canada, and Andersson and Kylington suit up for Sweden. Everybody else has an uphill climb to make their teams, or are Sam Bennett and will be playing NHL games at that point in the calendar.