via @langluy

Above is a screenshot of the lineup of the 2005 Canadian World Junior squad, courtesy @langluy.

What is so special about the 2005 Canadian World Junior squad? Well, it was widely considered to be the best team ever assembled at the annual tournament, helped by several NHL-calibre players being held back a year in junior due to the lockout. Many of these came from the 2003 NHL draft. Patrice Bergeron, Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Anthony Stewart, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Dion Phaneuf, Braydon Coburn, Shawn Belle and Brent Seabrook were all taken in the first round of that draft.

Canada had a fairly easy go through the tournament. They out-scored their opposition 41-7, including a 6-1 drubbing of Alexander Ovechkin and the Russians in the gold medal game.

However, how great are our expectations for junior players? There’s a new term I like going around, “prospectophile”, in regard to a hockey fan who prefers the promise of the future over the success in the immediate. With the amount of public information about young hockey players (though very little public substantial information) our eyes watch young bodies perform on the ice and they become “players we can dream on”, to quote one of the old scouts in Moneyball.

However, look for some historical perspective. The best ever roster Canada sent produced relatively few NHLers compared to what we’d expect. Not listed on the lineup above are goaltenders Jeff Glass and Réjean Beauchemin. Not listed are Jeremy Collition or Cam Barker. Of the 22 players sent to the tournament, you can say that 12 have made the NHL full-time, and possibly 13. I wouldn’t necessarily count Stewart or Barker, and Nigel Dawes is a debatable choice as well.

Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, Mike Richards... Stephen Dixon???

There’s some very high-end talent on this team. The problem is that people place fairly high expectations on these kids each year. Not just in the sense that a lot of people in Canada watch this tournament, but moreso in the sense that Pierre McGuire has projected a successful NHL future onto every player who has worn red and white at the tournament.

In 2006, Canada’s goaltenders were Justin Pogge and Devan Dubnyk. On defence, they had Barker, Kristopher Letang, Ryan Parent, Sasha Pokulok, Kris Russell, Marc Staal and Logan Stephenson (not going to include Luc Bourdon in this, since he was killed in a highway collision the summer of 2007).

Up front, we’re looking at Daniel Bertram, Michael Blunden, David Bolland, Dustin Boyd, Kyle Chipchura, Andrew Cogliano, Blake Comeau, Steve Downie, Guillaume Latendresse, Ryan O’Marra, Benoit Pouliot, Tom Pyatt and Jonathan Toews.

Not necessarily a roster that inspires fear years later. Other than Letang and Staal, the defence has a lot to be desired. The best trait of the forward group other than Toews is a couple of fairly effective checking centremen in Bolland and Cogliano.

Canada won gold in 2007, five years ago, enough time for players to develop. The defence was mostly the same, but up front, the team saw the additions of Marc-André Cliche, Kenndal McArdle, Darren Helm, Brad Marchand, James Neal, Bryan Little and Sam Gagner.

Other than Neal, Little and Marchand, neither have overwhelmed at the NHL-level. The incomparable Tyler Dellow has written some great stuff this past spring and summer about bottom six players. He broke down in this post where bottom six forwards tend to come from: The upper reaches of the draft. These were prospects that beat the odds and made the NHL, but a lot of them are considered to have busted because they didn’t become first line players.

What does that tell you going ahead? Canada is poised to have a terrific 2013 World Junior team. The fact remains that the historical odds are stacked against players on the edge of the selection camp.

Hockey Canada publish their rosters for each team back to 2005. Going through five seasons (between ’05 and ’09) I looked to see, fitting into my loose definition, how many players on the team went onto “elite”, “regular” or “replacement” hockey careers. I was somewhat loose with definitions. I couldn’t really do it by ice-time because Jeff Carter and Mike Richards qualify as “elite” under my definition despite playing second-line roles in Los Angeles, but generally, “elite” is a top player. “Regular” NHLers play on lines two and three, and cases can be made for good fourth liners. The rest, who never made it, or are swappable fourth line pieces, are “replacements”.

Here’s how it worked out:

Elite Regular Replacement
Defencemen 40% 14% 46%
Forwards 31% 30% 39%
Both 34% 24% 41%

I left the goaltender numbers out since it takes a long time for goalies to develop. The odds are still in favour of these players at the 2013 Canadian camp to make the NHL, but they’re more likely to become very good AHLers than very good NHLers. I love the way Canada’s defence is shaping up with players like Morgan Rielly, Scott Harrington, Dougie Hamilton, and Ryan Murray if he’s healthy, but an appearance on the roster doesn’t guarantee these players a shot into the NHL.

The lasting legacy, perhaps, of the 2005 team is that it generated more “elite” players than any of the other teams. It also produced as many replacements.

The 2013 Team Canada World Junior squad will get a lot of media attention, particularly if the NHL remains locked out. Not only will it satisfy some thirst up north for televised hockey on a day other than Friday, but a lot of guys who probably should be in the NHL at this point will be competing.

Comments (4)

  1. Prior to the 04-05 team the previous “best ever” team was the 94-95 Canadian team which also benefited from a labour stoppage. Here’s that team:

    G – Dan Cloutier
    G – Jamie Storr

    D – Chad Allan
    D – Nolan Baumgartner
    D – Ed Jovanovski
    D – Bryan McCabe
    D – Wade Redden
    D – Jamie Rivers
    D – Lee Sorochan

    F – Jason Allison
    F – Jason Botterill
    F – Larry Courville
    F – Alexandre Daigle
    F – Eric Daze
    F – Shean Donovan
    F – Jeff Friesen
    F – Todd Harvey
    F – Marty Murray
    F – Jeff O’Neill
    F – Denis Pederson
    F – Ryan Smyth
    F – Darcy Tucker

    • Yeah, pretty much. Shows how much work players have to do between junior and the pros. Lots of NHL players on this list, but not a whole lot of all-stars. I think people expect that out of junior players.

  2. That team went 7-0-0 and pretty much rolled over the competition. If I recall I think they were the first Canadian team to win every game in the tournament. Team featured 13 first round picks.

  3. It’s a real strange phenomenon. It all depends on where players wind up; that 2008 team is really aging well (Giroux / Stamkos / Tavares / Doughty), but people like Hickey and Bernier haven’t really gotten a sniff at the NHL level yet in spite of being major parts of that team. With those two, it’s not really their fault – it’s the fault of being part of a well-developed talent system that didn’t need their help to win a Cup.

    Of course, then you get the Angelo Espositos of the world – dominant junior players who pretty much everyone agreed wouldn’t make it at the next level. It happens.

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