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Monday, 3 December 2012

Can Nathan MacKinnon Crack Team Canada's Roster?

On Monday afternoon Hockey Canada released the names of the 37 players who would be invited to the World Junior selection camp to battle it out for their chance to don the Red and White for the World Junior Championships in Russia. Amongst the 37 players was QMJHL star and projected 1st overall pick Nathan MacKinnon. But the question now becomes can MacKinnon crack the lineup for Canada when they kick off the tournament on boxing day?

Now you're probably thinking "of course the projected 1st overall pick is going to make the World Junior team, what a silly question", but there is some serious debate on whether he will be on the final 20 man roster and if he is at what position? There has never been a question about the depth Canada has to draw from, especially at the forward position and with the NHL lockout sending top prospects down to the minors the competition is that much tougher.

There is a very strong chance that in oder for MacKinnon to crack the team, he will be moved to the wing. With Edmonton Oilers youngster Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being invited it's almost a guarantee he'll centre the first line and having returning bronze medal winner and 3rd overall pick from 2011 Jonathan Huberdeau from last years squad tie up the 2nd line centre spot. Also in the mix for jobs at centre are, member of the 2012 squad Mark Scheifele and fellow 2012 Bronze medalists Boone Jenner and Ryan Strome. One of the new players battling for a spot against MacKinnon will be Ottawa 67's Sean Monahan. Of course Scheifele can move to the wing but that still leaves 4 centres, 3 of whom were on the bronze medal winning team in 2012, the chances of MacKinnon snagging a centre spot are slim to none at this point.

After being left off the roster last year as a 16 year-old, MacKinnon will be even more motivated to show team Canada that age is but a number and he can help bring home that elusive gold medal. He will be in tough again this year as 1 of 2 17 year-olds invited to camp who are facing off against mainly 19 year olds. At 5 foot 11 and 180 MacKinnon certainly won't be lacking size but he may be lacking maturity and experience which are vital aspects at the World Junior Championships. Another thing MacKinnon has that the 6 other centres don't is time, there are still 2 more World Junior Championships that he will eligible to play in.

On paper at the moment the best chance for the 17 year-old to crack the team is on the 2nd or 3rd line wing. Although putting him on the wing with Nugent-Hopkins would do wonders for his development and make for a flashy line up, putting the young kid on the first line is a bit of a risk and there's no guarantee the two would find chemistry. The best thing that could have happened for MacKinnon at development camp is his fellow linemate with the MooseHeads Jonathan Drouin was also invited. If the two of them get paired up for any stint during camp look for instant chemistry and stints of brilliance from the youngsters which may be enough to push MacKinnon into the top 6.

In a way the lockout is unfortunate for players like Drouin, Monahan, MacKinnon and even Hunter Shinkaruk who didn't earn an invite to camp as they may miss out on a chance to play for their country at the World Junior championships. Any other year and MacKinnon would easily be slated as the number 1 or 2 centre and one of the leaders on the team but this year he'll be in tough just to crack the top 9. But it's great for Team Canada as a whole as they have the ability to ice a team near the same calibre as 2005. This years squad may be Canada's best chance to win gold since 2005, but one thing to remember is both the Americans and Russians will also benefit from the lockout.

As of right now I imagine the majority of top 6 spots are already pencilled in, the only variable being MacKinnon. If he can spark some chemistry on the wing with one of the older centres then he'll likely earn a spot, if not he'll have to wait yet another year to play for the World Juniors. Do I see MacKinnon making the team as a centre, not a chance. Him on the wing, possibility.

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