The expectations are clear for Frederik Gauthier in Canada’s selection camp.
“Freddy is a big man, he has to skate and he has to get involved,” Canada coach Benoit Groulx said on Saturday.
“We don’t want him to be only a checker or a (penalty killer). We want him to be a three-zone player. He has to have a presence on the forecheck. He has to have a presence in the corners, in front of their net, not only in our zone. It is something he has to do.
“He has been very solid defensively. I think he has to bring a little more offence to his game.”
That has been a bit of a knock on Gauthier, the 21st pick overall by the Maple Leafs in the 2013 NHL draft. Gauthier isn’t going to dazzle you when he has the puck on his stick, but he has been a good provider for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Gauthier has 14 points (eight goals and six assists) in 15 games this season after recovering from a rib injury. In 131 regular-season games with Rimouski in his junior career, Gauthier has 126 points (48 goals and 78 assists).
With Canada in the world junior a year ago, Gauthier was misused early by coach Brent Sutter, playing the wing. Once Gauthier was put back at centre, he made a positive impact, and won 25 of 40 draws he took. Canada also likes what the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Gauthier brings on the penalty kill.
“I want to be part of the offence, not only defensive,” Gauthier said. “I haven’t played every game (because of the injury), so maybe I have some more energy. I’m excited, there is stress, but I think that will help me.”
On Saturday night against the select team of university players, Gauthier will be in the middle between Anaheim Ducks prospect Nick Ritchie and Vancouver Canucks pick Jake Virtanen.
The expectations are clear for Frederik Gauthier in Canada’s selection camp.
Circle Dec. 21 on your calendar, and if you’re in Ottawa, buy a ticket for the hockey game at the Canadian Tire Centre that night.
The cast on Connor McDavid’s right hand was removed on Tuesday, and Hockey Canada is looking at Canada’s exhibition game against Sweden in the nation’s capital as McDavid’s debut.
“He is on track and he is probably a little bit ahead of where everyone thought he would be,” Hockey Canada vice-president of hockey operations Scott Salmond said in a phone interview on Tuesday.
“I think coming out of Toronto he will be ready to practice full on and we are probably targeting around the 21st for his first exhibition game, which would be great.”
McDavid has been out of action since Nov. 11, when he broke a bone in his right hand during a fight. The Erie Otters superstar and probable No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL draft suffered the injury as he scrapped with Bryson Cianfrone of the Mississauga Steelheads.
In 18 games with the Otters this season, McDavid has 16 goals and 35 assists.
Earlier Tuesday, Hockey Canada received word that the New York Rangers will loan forward Anthony Duclair for the 2015 world junior, a move that immediately bolsters Canada’s top six. Duclair will be on the ice when Canada’s selection camp starts on Thursday at the MasterCard Centre.
Further good news is that talks continue with the respective NHL clubs of forwards Curtis Lazar, Jonathan Drouin and Bo Horvat. None of the Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning nor the Vancouver Canucks have told Hockey Canada those players will not be loaned for the tournament.
The cutoff date is Dec. 19, when the NHL holiday roster freeze goes into effect.
“There is not a no yet and to me, that is good,” Salmond said. “In fairness to those teams, they are considering and they are concerned possibly about injuries, so I think they want to take as much time as they can. We’re still hopeful. We’ll see what happens.”
Bo Horvat will play in front of no less than 40 family and friends on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Will the 19-year-old Vancouver Canucks centre — who will face the Maple Leafs for the first time in what should be a long NHL career — be doing the same during the first week of January?
There remains the possibility Horvat could be loaned by the Canucks to Hockey Canada for the 2015 world junior championship. Canada will play its preliminary-round games in Montreal, with the medal round to follow at the ACC.
Horvat played for Canada last winter when it finished fourth at the world junior in Malmo, Sweden. His savvy is an asset Canada would covet, and coach Benoit Groulx would love to have Horvat in the lineup.
Horvat hasn’t been told one way or the other by the Canucks what the team’s plans are, but he is open to either scenario — staying put in the NHL or trying to help Canada win gold in the event for the first time since 2009.
“Still up in the air,” Horvat said. “I have not heard anything about it or what is going on. My main goal is to stay here and help this team win, but if I get that opportunity where they want me to represent my country, I will do that as well.
“Being in Montreal and Toronto, it’s going to be awesome. Playing in Sweden last year, we had tons of Canadian fans there. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like here in Toronto and Montreal.”
Others in the same situation as Horvat, where Canada is concerned, include Anthony Duclair of the New York Rangers, Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Curtis Lazar of the Ottawa Senators. The cutoff date is Dec. 19, the day that the NHL holiday roster freeze goes into effect.
Canada’s selection camp opens on Dec. 11 in Toronto.
“It is going to be in the back of your mind, but right now I just want to focus on doing what I can here and helping the team win,” Horvat said. “If they do want to send me to the world junior, I will go. It’s entirely up to them. If I am helping the team win, hopefully I can stay up here.”
In 13 games with the Canucks, Horvat has one goal and four assists and is averaging nine minutes 45 seconds of ice time a game.
During the world junior last year, Horvat was Canada’s best faceoff man, winning 63.5% of his draws (61 of 96). He was second in the tournament, behind only Elias Lindholm of Sweden, who won faceoffs at a 65.7% clip.
As much as the hockey world — or the majority of National Hockey League scouts who are part of it — will be focused on the New Year’s Eve game between Canada and the United States at the world junior, Maple Leafs brass will have its attention drawn to another game in the tournament.
On Dec. 29 at the Air Canada Centre, Sweden will face Russia in the preliminary round. If the scenario unfolds as the Leafs hope it will, William Nylander, the Leafs’ first-round pick in June will square off against defenceman Rinat Valiev, the 68th pick overall by the Leafs in the same draft.
Nylander, the eighth pick overall, is second in team scoring with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League, recording 17 points (six goals and 11 assists) in 15 games.
“He’s on the right track,” said Leafs director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison, who will return to Toronto on Wednesday from a scouting trip to Sweden.
“It’s one thing to get a player with skill. It’s another to get one you can win with. He is working at it.”
The Leafs are keeping their fingers crossed that three of their prospects will participate in the world junior. For now, Frederik Gauthier, the 21st pick overall in 2013, is pencilled in as Canada’s fourth-line centre. Gauthier is an effective penalty killer and is smart in the faceoff circle and had a limited role with Canada last winter. There’s no guarantee he will be on the final 22-player roster for Canada when it is announced later this month. Gauthier’s shot at making the team could diminish if the Vancouver Canucks loan centre Bo Horvat to Canada for the tournament.
Nylander has the ability to be a top-six forward with Sweden.
Valiev, in 16 games with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League, has four goals and 15 assists. Valiev didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 24 after he recovered from a knee injury.
“I don’t think any one of them will be just given a spot,” Morrison said, referring to Gauthier, Nylander and Valiev. “That’s the way it should be.”
Still, that Nylander and Valiev could spend a couple of weeks in Toronto would be a bonus.
“It would be good for them to get a feel for the city and the fan support we get,” Morrison said.
As for that New Year’s Eve game involving Canada and the U.S. in Montreal? Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel. It shouldn’t be missed.
Hockey Canada envisions a clearly defined role for Maple Leafs prospect Frederik Gauthier at the 2015 world junior championship.
“He is a very specialized player and when I talk about skill players and players who have that underlying skill and talent, I still think we have room for maybe one or two guys who are specialized players on the defensive side,” Hockey Canada director of player personnel Ryan Jankowski said of the Rimouski Oceanic centre on Monday.
“That is where Freddy would certainly play in.”
In the 2014 world junior, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Gauthier didn’t find a rhythm until coach Brent Sutter moved him to his natural position in the middle from the wing. In a New Year’s Eve 3-2 victory against the United States, Gauthier won nine of 14 draws including a couple in the final minute.
Gauthier, the 21st pick overall by the Leafs in 2013, finished the tournament with a 62.5% success rate in the circle (25 of 40).
He also would be sent over the boards when Canada runs into penalty trouble this winter.
“Where his real strengths lie is on the penalty kill,” Jankowski said. “He was excellent in the Subway Series (against Russia last month), blocking shots and getting in lanes. It would be really important for him to accomplish that through camp and in the exhibition games.”
As Jankowski hinted, there is no guarantee that Gauthier will have a spot on the 22-player roster, never mind that he is a returning player.
“Really, the guys there is an ironclad guarantee on are Connor McDavid (as long as he is healthy) and (goalie) Zach Fucale,” Jankowski said. “After that, everybody still has to perform in the way we expect them to make the team the second time around.”