The selection camp roster for Canada’s 2013 World Junior team was announced on Monday, kicking off a fresh round of comparisons to the 2005 team that saw a number of NHL-ready players on the team due to the 2004-05 lockout. While there is still no guarantee that the lockout will continue through all of December, it feels like a safe bet to assume that Canada’s World Junior team will once again reap the benefit.
As I was looking through the World Junior rosters of the last eight years, however, I noticed something interesting. Despite icing one of the youngest teams with the fewest high draft picks, the 2008 team was one of the best teams with just as much future NHL talent as the 2005 team. What they didn’t have was players ready to step into the NHL immediately, but that didn’t prevent them from winning gold.
The 2008 team illustrates that even if the lockout ends, Team Canada will likely be just fine.
The 2007 NHL entry draft is widely considered to have one of the weakest draft classes in recent memory, while the two best Canadians from the 2006 draft, Jordan Staal and Jonathan Toews, were already in the NHL. All told, Canada had just 7 players who had already been selected in the first round of their draft. In the last 8 years, 87 of Team Canada’s 177 players had been selected in the first round by the start of the World Junior Championship, just short of 50%. The 2008 team wasn’t even close.
They did, however, have a number of future first-round selections, with four players draft-eligible for 2008 and one for 2009.
Steven Stamkos and John Tavares were both only 17 during the tournament, while Drew Doughty turned 18 just a couple weeks before the season started, with Luke Schenn turning 18 a week before that. They had 10 players under 19. In comparison, the 2005 team had 2: Cam Barker and Sidney Crosby.
Stamkos, Doughty, Luke Schenn, and Zach Boychuk all went in the first round of the 2008 draft, with all but Boychuk in the top-5. John Tavares had to wait until 2009 to go first overall. But at the 2008 World Junior tournament, Canada lacked experience, particularly on defence. That isn’t to say that they were underdogs by any means. It was worse than that: they were expected to win.
The one area where they had experience was in net: Steve Mason and Jonathan Bernier were both outstanding, although Bernier only made 2 appearances. Mason was dominant, allowing just 6 goals against in 5 games while posting a .951 save percentage. While Mason is much-maligned now, he and Bernier are both, at the very least, NHL backups. The same can’t be said for the 2005 tandem of Réjean Beauchemin and Jeff Glass; although Glass was fantastic for the 2005 team, he struggled in the AHL and eventually made his way to Russia to play in the KHL.
Kyle Turris led the way offensively for Team Canada, with 8 points in 7 games, including 4 goals. Tavares and Brad Marchand also chipped in 4 goals apiece. Although it took Turris awhile to get there, he’s now a solid contributor to the Ottawa Senators, while Marchand was key to the Bruins’ Stanley Cup win in 2011 and Tavares is a legitimate star for the Islanders.
The 2008 team also boasted Claude Giroux, PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Karl Alzner, Matt Halischuk, Brandon Sutter, and Shawn Matthias. By my count, that’s 16 veritable NHL players, with there still being some room for Zach Boychuk and Thomas Hickey to break through and make that 18.
Still, 16 out of 22 is actually quite good and there’s a lot of high-end talent in that mix. 16 is about the number of legitimate NHL players to come of the 2005 team, though Cam Charron would dispute that by calling into question the legitimacy of Nigel Dawes, Anthony Stewart, and Cam Barker.
Clearly, the 2005 team featured some amazing players and was fortunate enough to have a number of players who should have been in the NHL, but the 2008 team had just as many future NHLers and still won the gold medal, losing just one game in the process. And I’d be willing to stack up a top-four defence corps of Subban, Doughty, Schenn, and Alzner against 2005′s Phaneuf, Seabrook, Weber, and Coburn.
If the NHL and NHLPA somehow come to an agreement by next week and the NHL season kicks off in time to scuttle Team Canada’s dream team, it’s not the end of the world. Instead, it may simply open doors for draft-eligible players like Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, and Hunter Shinkaruk to fill the roles of the 5 draft-eligible players on the 2008 team. Sure, they may not be Stamkos and Tavares, but that’s hardly necessary.
Canada’s main strength at the junior level is their depth; while it will certainly be fun to see players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Dougie Hamilton at the World Junior Championship, it’s not necessary in order for Canada to have a strong team.