December 03, 2013
Whether Team Canada lacks experience is all in how one asks the question.
Jonathan Drouin is the lone holdover from the 2013 squad who doesn't have an asterisk next to his name from either having been injured before the tournament (Charles Hudon), having a suspension to sit out (Griffin Reinhart) or having been the emergency third-string goalie (Jake Paterson). Focusing there ignores that eight players on the squad were frontline players on league championship teams who went on the Memorial Cup in either of the past two years. The year-end tournament isn't as high-profile as the world junior but might be equally intense.
That group includes Nic Petan, who only had to score 120 points last season in Portland to warrant being a mid-second-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets. Petan, who tallied 23 points in his last eight games to nail down his selection camp spot, is already halfway to that total. One could consider him an X factor, since there was a time when Hockey Canada would have found a reason not to bank so much on an diminutive 18-year-old who just does nothing but score.
Petan's far from the only 2013 Jets pick enjoying a good run. Here's a look at who is ebbing and who is flowing heading into the week.
Hot: Sudbury Wolves
There are Nos. 2 and 3 playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference for any teams who want it. The Wolves had a strong transition into December that included taking two points out Sault Ste. Marie, getting captain Kevin Raine back from a three-week absence and levelling 48 shots at Oshawa in a Sunday game.
The Mathew Campagna-Connor Crisp-Nick Baptiste first line has given Sudbury a strong combination at the top of the lineup. The trio has off-set attention on 19-year-old wing Nathan Pancel, who's busted out with 25 goals in 28 games. Sudbury doesn't have to travel much for the next five weeks, since it doesn't play a game outside of the Northland until, get this, Jan. 11. There's some prosperity that shouldn't be fiddled away.
Also of note in the Eastern is that the Kingston Frontenacs have won 4-of-5 since dealing for Vancouver Canucks defence prospect Evan McEneny and 18-year-old grinder Mack Lemmon. That included winning on first-place Oshawa's ice one night after having to kill 12 penalties.
Not: Saginaw Spirit
Eric Locke, who was on the unofficial preseason watch list to be the OHL's best overage, has been out since Nov. 15 with a shoulder injury. The Spirit have run hot and cold without him; their 1-2-0-0 week including pasting Windsor, but being beaten by the lowly Sarnia Sting and stumbling against Oshawa dragged them down the RPI.
The Spirit (.607 point pct. through 28 games, sixth in the Western Conference) have a semi-important weekend ahead with divisional games against Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie. Taking five or all six points before goalie Jake Paterson jets off to join Team Canada could be critical. His backup Nikita Serebryakov has a 2.55 average and .926 save percentage in 10 games, so the Spirit are not entirely left in the lurch due to Paterson's pending month-long absence.
Canadian NHL team prospects
Darnell Nurse, Sault Ste. Marie (No. 7 by Vancouver Canucks in '13) — This might sound post-hoc, but there was a small reveal last week that hinted Nurse might have to wait till next year to play for Team Canada. A highlight of Crisp's third-period tying goal shows Nurse ranging all over his defensive zone before being outworked on the scoring play. That illustrates what Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski meant by saying Nurse needs to simplify his game.
Bo Horvat, London (No. 9 by Vancouver Canucks in '13) — Big Bo has been a model of consistency, with only one pointless game since the calendar turned to November. London tends to be very elastic with its line combos, but the two-way centre had three assists last Sunday while skating with Josh Anderson and Max Domi on what could be a dynamic line.
Jimmy Lodge, Saginaw (No. 84 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — Eric Locke's absence in Saginaw has given Lodge an opportunity to take on more offensive duties. The rangy centre is on a seven-game point streak, with nine counters over that stretch. By season's end, he could be counted on for much more from Saginaw.
Hot: Val-d'Or Foreurs
Scotch the talk the Foreurs would have to be sellers vis–à–vis a certain Anthony Mantha. Val-d'Or has climbed up into the top third of the Q — with three other Telus West division teams — after winning 8-of-10, including four in a row. With the heavy parity in the league, Val-d'Or would have to keep some skin in the game. Mantha is the headliner, but forwards Guillaume Gélinas and Louick Marcotte and defenceman Randy Gazzola have each moved into the league's top dozen scorers.
Five of West's six teams are have a .633 point percentage or better. The CHL needs to go to three-point games like yesterday to be sort out who's who.
Not: Charlottetown Islanders
The Islanders are dragging a five-game losing streak into the week that included a fruitless 0-2 homestand. This might have been mentioned previously, but it must be grating for the Islanders that they have had the fewest power plays in the Q (119) and have faced the fifth-most penalty kills (163). No wonder coach Gordie Dwyer thought it was rich that Cape Breton's coaches carped about the officiating on Sunday.
Charlottetown could use an offensive spark; its only point-per-game scorers are top draft pick Daniel Sprong and overage Jack Nevins.
Canadian NHL team prospects
Frédérik Gauthier, Rimouski (No. 21 by Toronto Maple Leafs in '13) — The potential grind-liner for Team Canada went 0-for-November in the goals column before striking in Quebec on Sunday. The 6-foot-4 centre can fill a particular need for the national junior team, which is shy on front-end bulk due to the Washington Capitals promoting Tom Wilson from the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. The selection ought to buoy Gauthier's confidence.
Émile Poirier and Martin Reway, Gatineau (No. 22 by Calgary Flames & No. 116 by Montreal Canadiens in '13) — Might as well put the 'Piques pair together, since they are now respectively fifth and sixth in league scoring. They do share a great chemistry, which was a factor in helping Gatineau beat division leaders Baie-Comeau and Blainville-Boisbriand (albeit after losing to lowly Shawinigan).
Zach Fucale, Halifax (No. 36 by Montreal Canadiens in '13) — There seem to be few worries about Fucale, who was sharp last week ahead of being named to Team Canada. The 18-year-old now sports the Q's third-lowest average.
Consider the link below a passionate plea for a NHL team to bring Moncton's Alex Dubeau to a rookie camp next summer.
Fabrice Herzog, Quebec (No. 142 by Toronto Maple Leafs in '13) — The 18-year-old Swiss began the new month with a two-goal game vs. the Leafs (and fellow Buds pick Gauthier). Herzog's up to 18 goals in 30 games, fairly heady for a newcomer to the league.
Hot: Vancouver Giants
Coach Don Hay's Giants have a hectic end to the first half with eight games in 13 days, including six against the top four of the Western Conference. That makes it a good time to point out last season's also-ran has carved a nine-game point streak to climb into a playoff position. Forward Dalton Sward has begun to heat up offensively now that he's a 19-year-old under pressure to produce, while Edmonton Oilers-drafted wing Jackson Houck had 11 points in 12 November games. Ultimately, getting above .500 is a benchmark for GM Scott Bonner's rebuild, although it might be fleeting.
Not: Spokane Chiefs
"Fatigue" was Spokane coach Don Nachbaur's one-word summation for Spokane going 0-3 last weekend and falling into a tie for fifth in the Western Conference with surging Seattle. Only two Chiefs, Mitch Holmberg and 18-year-old right wing Riley Whittingham, scored goals during the week. That's a troubling sign.
In the big picture, the Chiefs were initially projected to be in for some rebuilding this season. Their third-ranked power play, which went 1-for-13 over those three losses, has propped them up for much of the season. Spokane has an inter-conference game vs. Saskatoon this week prior to a home-and-home with those aforementioned Thunderbirds.
Canadian NHL team prospects
Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert (No. 13 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — The Raiders had a soft portion in their schedule, but nine points in three games from a defenceman will do any time. The 18-year-old who could man a point shot for Team Canada turned fellow NHL first-rounder Ryan Pulock around on a goal during a game last Saturday.
Curtis Lazar, Edmonton (No. 17 by Ottawa Senators in '13) — About a year ago, Lazar admitted that worrying about his individual stats sometimes affected his overall play. It didn't move all in a straight lien but the Vernon, B.C., native worked that out, played his way into being a top 20 pick and is now in line to be an energy player for Team Canada. The 18-year-old Lazar and 19-year-old Edmonton Oilers pick Mitch Moroz have become a dependable pair for an Oil Kings team that realizes the best defence is to stay on offence. Edmonton's allowed the fewest goals in the Dub, with Lazar leading the loop in plus/minus.
Nic Petan, Portland (No. 43 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — As noted up top, the Jets easily could have had three 18-year-old draft picks at Team Canada's final selection camp if it had been larger. Petan has to be the frontrunner to be the WHL's player of the year to this point, with 60 points in 28 games following his mortarboard trick last Sunday.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.