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Canada gets pumped for world juniors

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Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter watches a drill during the start of world Juniors selection camp in Toronto on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter watches a drill during the start of world Juniors selection camp in Toronto on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Hockey fans in this country never grow weary of watching our flag being raised to the rafters after a win in international hockey.

And in a couple of days the annual holiday tradition that is the World Junior Hockey Championships open in Sweden with Canada facing Germany in pursuit of gold again. But what has made this event special for fans of the Winnipeg Jets over the last couple of winters is the excitement that comes with once again being able to study the progress -- and potential NHL readiness -- of some of the organization's young prospects.

After all, it was while watching this event last year that Jets' fans first began falling in love with Jacob Trouba -- voted the tourney's top defenceman -- and got glimpses of Mark Scheifele's offensive vision.

And the fact both have emerged to play prominent roles already with the big club is a testament to the draft-and-develop blueprint GM Kevin Cheveldayoff & Co. hold up as the cornerstone of a franchise rebuild.

So it's with that in mind we present a bit of a tournament primer for this year's event, our Jets Fan's Guide to the World Junior Hockey Championships...

Five reasons to watch

1. LITTLE BIG MAN: The Jets were ecstatic when they were able to grab Portland Winterhawks diminutive centre Nic Petan (generously listed at 5-9) in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2013 draft. He’s been proving doubters wrong for a long spell, especially in the past couple of years in which he has piled up 66 goals and 120 assists in 103 games for the Winterhawks.

 

2. SLIGHTLY BIGGER LITTLE MAN: Josh Morrissey will never be compared to a shut-down D-man like Shea Weber or Brent Seabrook, but more in the mold of a Kris Letang or Scott Niedermayer. He’s an excellent skater with an offensive flair and has a compete level that, according to former Jets D-man Dave Manson — now an assistant with Morrissey’s Prince Albert Raiders, is through the roof. He was the WHL’s Scholastic Player of the Year last season and that shows up on the ice, too, with the way he thinks the game. He will apparently start the event on Canada’s third defensive pairing, but with Griffin Reinhart suspended for the first three games of the event (for a hit in last year’s semifinal), Morrissey’s workload could increase significantly.

Canadian coach Brent Sutter likes his skill set and could have him on the No. 1 line in Sweden with Jonathan Drouin and Curtis Lazar.

3. OTHER GUYS, OTHER COLOURS: Keep an eye on Andrew Copp of the United States, a fourthround draft pick in 2013 who had nine goals and five assists for Michigan and was this week named an assistant captain for the American squad. He’s got good size at 6-1, 205 and a deft touch around the net and if he’s even close to as ready as the last Jet prospect to wear Wolverine colours — that would be Trouba — then the Jets could have a mid-round gem. Czech defenceman Jan Kostalek was another fourth-round pick of the Jets, taken 10 spots after Copp, and despite breaking his collar bone in his rookie season with the Rimouski Oceanic, was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie team in 2012-13. He’s one of only three Czech players who have been drafted by NHL teams.

 

4. THE NEXT WAVE: The Jets don’t have the swack of picks like they did for the 2013 draft when they called out six names, but will lean heavily on its scouting staff to find more prospects in Sweden.

Marcel Comeau, their director of amateur scouting along with assistant GM Craig Heisinger and head scout Mark Hillier will all be on the ground in Malmo, along with a few of the team’s amateur and European scouts.

The Jets are down a second-round pick after surrendering theirs to Minnesota for Devin Setoguchi, but also grabbed an extra fourth-rounder as part of the package that sent Alex Ponikarovsky to New Jersey.

Two of Canada’s three undrafted players — Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad — are ranked 1-2 by the International Scouting Service for the 2014 draft; Connor McDavid is already the consensus No. 1 in 2015.

Those are the easy names to call out on draft day. What the Jets hope to find in Sweden is more gems with their later picks.

 

5. OH, CANADA?: Hockey fans have come to expect greatness from the collection of teenagers who represent this country over the holidays ever years. And there have been stretches of absolute dominance from our lads — the eight golds between 1988 and 1997 and the five straight from 2005-09.

And since then? Not one trip to the top of the podium (two silver, a bronze and — gulp — a "Dream Team" edition sent over during last year’s lockout that finished fourth and went home without a medal for the first time since 1998.

Gather round the tube, all you shinny patriots, this should be fun... again.

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 C3

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