Canada’s count­ing on Lafrenière

Coun­try’s lead­ing scorer tops list of 31 ju­nior play­ers in­vited to camp in Oakville

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON

Canada will be count­ing on Alexis Lafrenière for of­fence at the up­com­ing world ju­nior hockey cham­pi­onship.

And with the sta­tus of some of the other veter­ans from last year’s team up in the air, he’ll add lead­er­ship to his to-do list.

The pre­sump­tive No. 1 pick at the 2020 NHL draft, Lafrenière was one of 31 play­ers named to the coun­try’s se­lec­tion camp Mon­day.

The 18-year-old cen­tre is joined by de­fence­men Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith, who were also part of the ros­ter that fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing sixth in Van­cou­ver and Vic­to­ria some 11 months ago.

McIsaac, how­ever, has played just one game this sea­son fol­low­ing shoul­der surgery, while a trio of 19 year olds from the 2019 squad — cen­tres Joe Ve­leno and Bar­rett Hay­ton, and de­fence­man Noah Dob­son — are play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally and might not be avail­able for the tour­na­ment that be­gins Dec. 26 in the Czech Repub­lic.

Hockey Canada’s head scout, Brad McEwen, said last year’s ex­pe­ri­ence for Lafre­niere, who had one goal in five games as the youngest player on the team, should serve both him­self and the pro­gram well.

“Un­til you live it, it’s some­times hard to put it in words or ex­plain what it’s all about,” McEwen said on a con­fer­ence call. “His ex­pe­ri­ence last year and the role he played will only make him stronger go­ing for­ward. He’s go­ing to be a real good, pos­i­tive guy for our team.”

Lafrenière leads the Cana­dian Hockey League with 59 points (17 goals, 42 as­sists) in 28 games for the QMJHL’s Ri­mouski Oceanic this sea­son.

“I like our group that were a part of it last year,” added Mark Hunter, who is part of Canada’s brain trust for the 2020 event. “Good or bad, it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence that they see, the pres­sure of how to play in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. “It’s only go­ing to help our group to be able to show (the new play­ers) how to play un­der pres­sure and how we, as a group, push to­gether.”

Four goal­tenders, 10 de­fence­men and 17 forwards will bat­tle for spots on Canada’s ros­ter at the se­lec­tion camp, which runs Dec. 9 to 12 in Oakville.

Ve­leno, who is prop­erty of the Detroit Red Wings and cur­rently in the AHL, seems like the most likely of the play­ers el­i­gi­ble to be re­leased to the Cana­dian team.

Hay­ton has suited up for 14 games with the Ari­zona Coy­otes this sea­son, while Dob­son has played seven times for the New York Is­lan­ders. Kirby Dach, 18, was ex­pected to be avail­able, but the No. 3 pick at the 2019 draft has five goals and 10 points in 20 games for the Chicago Black­hawks.

A trio of 17 year olds were named to Mon­day’s list of 31, in­clud­ing Quiton By­field, who’s also ex­pected to go high at next June’s NHL draft, fel­low cen­tre Cole Per­fetti and de­fence­man Jamie Drys­dale.

Lafrenière was the only 17-year-old at last year’s camp.

“We felt strongly that they were the best play­ers,” McEwen said. “(Re­gard­less) of age, they’ve been good, productive play­ers.”

A six-foot-four, 215-pound mem­ber of the Sud­bury Wolves, By­field has 20 goals and 50 points in 28 games this sea­son, and likely has the best shot at mak­ing the team.

“He’s a big body that pos­sesses the puck,” McEwen said. “He brings some real qual­i­ties with the over­all pack­age and skill.”

Hunter said By­field’s big frame could set him apart at camp.

“We want a big power for­ward that can do things at high speeds and drive to the net,” he said. “We need some big­ger bod­ies that can play heavy with top-end skill.”

The crop of de­fence­men to com­pete for ros­ter spots is led by the smooth-skat­ing Bowen Byram, who was picked one spot af­ter Dach by the Colorado Avalanche.

Hunter said puck pos­ses­sion will be key on the big­ger ice sur­faces in the ci­ties of Os­trava and Trinec — which sit roughly 400 kilo­me­tres east of Prague — when Canada’s tour­na­ment starts Box­ing Day against the United States.

“We can’t just throw the puck blindly,” he said. “We re­ally be­lieve we’ve got good skaters out here that can skate at high speeds and dif­fer­ent ways and stop on a dime.”

Only two of the five goalies in­vited to the World Ju­nior Sum­mer Show­case in sub­ur­ban Detroit four months ago — Olivier Ro­drigue and Hunter Jones — made the cut, with Nico Daws and Joel Hofer get­ting the call over Colten El­lis, Zachary Emond and Alexis Gravel

Size is clearly a fac­tor in the crease for Canada. Ro­drigue, who ap­pears to be the front-run­ner, stands six-foot-one, but Daws is six-foot-four, while both Jones and Hofer both come in at six-foot-five.

“Our goal­tend­ing peo­ple from Hockey Canada stamped all four, liked all four, wanted all four,” Hunter said. “It’s go­ing to be very com­pet­i­tive.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Alexis Lafrenière, who leads the Cana­dian Hockey League with 59 points (17 goals, 42 as­sists) in 28 games for the QMJHL’s Ri­mouski Oceanic, will be ex­pected to put the puck in the net and show vet­eran lead­er­ship.

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