Friday 3 December 2010

Building Great Talent

With the emerging trends in the NHL of teams keeping and developing their good, young talent on a regular basis, Hockey Canada is beginning to find itself in a quandary, albeit a very good one. The World Junior Championships are a hallmark event for the Canadian hockey body in which they have seen unparalleled success from the rest of the world. A lot of this has to do with the excellent development programs in the Canadian Hockey League, but this is leading NHL teams to keep their high draft picks on their rosters in order to develop that talent at a faster rate. Because of this, the Canadian World Junior team sees its roster missing a lot of its top-tier talent every Christmas.

While this may sound like a complaint, it's not. It's great to see players such as Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, and Jeff Skinner suiting up for Canada, but the NHL is a business and the teams need to continue to develop their talent if they wish to remain competitive. While sending young players to the World Junior Championships would be a nice luxury for some teams, reality sometimes limits what teams can do.

The luxury that Hockey Canada has in this country is that Canada is deep in hockey talent thanks to a phenomenal major junior system and a passion for the game. Canada will have some solid returning players to man their blueline as Ryan Ellis, Calvin de Haan, and Jared Cowen will return for Canada. Up front, there is only one returnees, but there is some significant talent, and Team Canada's strength will be depth.

The return of Brayden Schenn to the Brandon Wheat Kings yesterday opens all sorts of doors for Hockey Canada. Schenn had spent considerable time with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and the AHL's Manchester Monarchs before being returned to the Wheat Kings before his 10-game option ran out. This, of course, gives Team Canada a big boost as Schenn will be the lone returnee, but the Los Angeles Kings feel this is the best way for Schenn to develop as they have the talent to compete without keeping Schenn in their lineup.

"My candid opinion would be sure, that would be a great thing to be able to go play for Canada in the world juniors like that," Kings' GM Terry Murray told the Times. "It’s great competition and valuable experience."

Add in other notable draft picks such as Erik Gudbranson (Florida), Ryan Johansen (Columbus), Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay), and Zack Kassian (Buffalo, 2009) shows that Canada will have some solid talent assembled in Buffalo. For Kassian, it's a chance to show the team that drafted him that he's ready to make the jump from Windsor in the OHL to the bright lights of the NHL. So while the blue-chip names like Hall, Seguin, and Skinner remain with their NHL clubs, Team Canada still has themselves a very competitive roster.

Canada's major test will most likely come from the Americans once again. Team USA had nine players returning from their gold medal team one year ago for their evaluation camp, including goaltender Jack Campbell, defensemen Cam Fowler and John Ramage, and forwards Ryan Bourque, Jerry D'Amigo, Chris Kreider, Jeremy Morin, Kyle Palmieri and Jason Zucker. Fowler, though, appears to be staying with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, but the other eight men have every opportunity to make the team and defend their gold medal.

It's a credit to the NCAA and the USHL for helping to develop young men in America into solid hockey players in the same way that the CHL does in Canada. These two developmental leagues are putting America on the map as a World Junior Championship power when they weren't even considered an also-ran as recently as a decade ago. Because of their work, there are a lot of excellent American-born players in the NHL, and that trend should continue with the work these two leagues are doing.

It should be an interesting camp in Toronto, Ontario for the Canadians as they prepare for the 2011 World Junior Championships. While the star power may not be there, Canada has a number of top-tier players who should provide a lot of exciting moments during the holiday season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Shawn_MacDonald said...

The return of Brayden Schenn will aid in the top scoring efforts that Canada may be lacking. In a sense, by Canada missing out on a few top players would you say it makes for a more competitive tournament? If they had those players wouldn't they just run away with things? It seems likely to me at least.

Teebz said...

I'd say that's fairly true, Shawn. While I'm not bemoaning the lack of excellent players like Hall, Seguin, and Skinner, I am saying that this tournament provides other kids the opportunity to step up and maybe show NHL scouts that they deserve to be considered as a first-rounder.

Canada is still producing elite-level talent, even if some of them are already playing in the NHL.