Junior team's lineup in hands of NHL clubs
Several top players could be made unavailable for 2009 Ottawa WJC
OTTAWA - Before Kyle Turris pulled on a jersey for Tuesday night's final red-and-white game of the national junior team's development camp, it occurred to him that it might be the last time he suits up for the program.
Turris will be seeking to crack the roster of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes this fall. If successful, there's a good chance he won't be made available by the club to play for Canada at the upcoming world junior championship.
"I'm kind of aware of it," he said. "If I'm in Phoenix, that's my dream come true.
"And if I come back here, it's always an honour to represent your country, so either way, it's a win-win situation."
But should the 18-year-old centre from New Westminster, B.C., stick with the Coyotes, his gain will be Canada's loss as it seeks to win a fifth consecutive gold medal when the tournament starts in late December. But that hasn't stopped Turris from working hard at this camp, and it's a similar story for several players here.
"The coaches haven't addressed it, they just said come out and work hard," he said. "Just from my perspective, it's a new coaching staff and you want to impress them."
Turris, the third-overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft by the Coyotes, left the University of Wisconsin after his first year in order to sign with Phoenix in March. He's among 10 members last year's squad who are eligible to return.
How many of those will still be in the mix when it comes time to name the roster for the final selection camp in early December is a question that will keep Hockey Canada staff on alert throughout the fall.
"(The coaches) haven't really said too much, but I think there's a good chance that a lot of the guys who are here probably won't be back and that kind of sucks in way," said defenceman Drew Doughty of the Ontario Hockey League's Guelph Storm.
Doughty said he'd be thrilled to get the chance to play for another gold, but he's also intent on making the jump to the NHL right away after being selected second overall by the Los Angeles Kings in June.
"That's been my main goal," he said. "I really just want to play in the NHL this year."
Coach Benoit Groulx said it's too early to worry about the possible talent drain now. But it will be something to keep an eye on in the fall.
"It's something we don't control and it's something we keep in the back of our head and we're going to have to address that in December because we're not going to know before that maybe," he said. "Some of them are going to be NHL players for good, but maybe some others are going to be sent down for the tournament.
"It's something we don't know and we'll address later."
Last year, Hockey Canada was hoping to have players such as Sam Gagner (Edmonton Oilers), Milan Lucic (Boston Bruins) and David Perron (St. Louis Blues), but they all stuck with their respective NHL squads. Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks suffered a knee injury, but wouldn't have been made available anyway.
This year's first-overall NHL pick, Steven Stamkos of the OHL's Sarnia Sting, withdrew from the development camp in order to attend the Tampa Bay Lightning's prospect camp in Victoria. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract Tuesday and likely will be lost to the juniors.
In addition to Turris, Brandon Sutter, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect, also stands a good chance of being unavailable. Many others, such as Kelowna Rockets defenceman Luke Schenn, the fifth-overall pick in June by the Toronto Maple Leafs, are expected to be given a legitimate shot at making an NHL roster.
"We don't know if we're going to make it (in the NHL) and we won't find that out until maybe October or late September to see where we're going to be," Schenn said. "All of us still like to play for our country in the world juniors and wear that jersey . . . but I know a lot of us want to also stick in pro."
That's where the door will open for any players who may have slipped under Hockey Canada's radar this time around. They'll have the fall to catch the eyes of Hockey Canada's staff, including head scout Al Murray.
"If you look in the past, last year . . . many guys were not here and then had a great start with their own team and then were invited and had a great camp and made the team," Groulx said.
And whoever does wind up suiting up for Canada this winter when it opens the world junior tournament against the Czech Republic, Doughty is sure this country's chances for success won't be diminished.
"Either way, I think Canada will be a very good team this year and I can see them winning the gold medal no matter what," he said.