World Junior Championships Preview: Which Boston Bruins Prospects Will Compete?
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With the IIHF World Junior Championships beginning on December 26th, the competing nations have started to announce their preliminary rosters. So which Bruins prospects are on the road to Russia?
Five future Bruins have received invitations to pre-tournament training camps. Teams are only allowed to select two goalies and 21 skaters for their final rosters, so the competition will be fierce.
Dougie Hamilton, Malcolm Subban and Anthony Camara are among 37 players vying for a prestigious spot on a Canadian team looking to improve on a disappointing bronze medal from last year.
Meanwhile, Alexander Khokhlachev hopes to represent Russia for the second straight year, as they seek gold on their home soil.
Rounding out the group, Matt Grzelcyk will attend Team USA's camp in New York and attempt to solidify his spot on the American squad.
All five players are capable of impacting their nation's medal chances and could use this tournament as a stepping stone to their NHL goals.
Here is a look at each player's prospects for the tournament.
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Club: Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)
Drafted: First Round, Ninth Overall, 2011
The Bruins top prospect, Dougie Hamilton is a lock to start on Canada's blue-line.
Hamilton played superbly en route to a bronze medal in last year's tournament, producing two goals and four assists in six games with a plus-7 rating.
Last season, he won the Max Kaminsky Trophy as the league's top defender and led OHL defensemen with 72 points despite playing in just 50 games. His OHL dominance has continued this fall.
He leads OHL defensemen once again with 39 points through 30 games. After his blistering 21 point November, nobody will even challenge Hamilton as Canada's top defenseman, especially with 2012 second overall pick Ryan Murray out due to injury.
The only thing that could keep Hamilton from leading Canada's hunt for gold is an end to the NHL lockout. Hamilton is expected to join the Boston Bruins in the big leagues as soon as the season begins. So if progress is made soon then Canada could lose one of their top players.
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Club: Spartak Moscow (KHL)
Drafted: Second Round, 40th Overall, 2011
Khokhlachev earned a silver medal at last years World Junior Championships and is almost certain to return.
In his first WJC experience, the skilled Russian forward scored four goals in seven games. The 2011 second round pick gained more international experience in this years CHL Subway Super Series.
The 19-year-old played alongside Nail Yakupov on Russia's top-line and scored two goals in the six game series.
Unfortunately, Khokhlachev has not matched his international success at the club level this fall. He has just five points in 23 KHL games this year, but continues to have the faith of Team Russia officials.
Despite his recent struggles, his talent has been consistently impressive. Kirk Luedeke tweeted the following about him during the Subway Super Series:
Koko is legit. Knew that before, but he's faster than when drafted in 2011. That's big, because no doubting his hands, hockey sense.
— Kirk Luedeke (@kluedeke29) November 15th, 2012
He should be expected to play a major role for Russia on their home ice. He will likely see big minutes and has the ability to make some highlight reel plays.
Club: Belleville Bulls (OHL)
Drafted: First Round, 24th Overall, 2012
According to TSN's Bob Mckenzie, Malcolm Subban is currently the favorite to start in net for Canada, but he will face intense competition from fellow camp-invitees Jordan Binnington, Laurent Brossoit and Jake Paterson.
Whoever wins the starting job in the Canadian net will likely face more pressure than any other player in the tournament, considering the perennial favorites have not claimed gold since 2009.
Subban has been dynamite for the Belleville Bulls this season. The athletic goaltender ranks fourth in the OHL in both save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (2.23).
Ryan Boylen of The Hockey News had the following to say about Subban's battle for the starting job:
"What makes Subban so intriguing, and may ultimately give him an edge, is that he’s clearly carrying his team."
Subban has lifted his team into second place in the OHL's East Division despite the fact that the Bulls have scored the fewest goals of any team in the league.
He also pitched a shutout in one and a half periods of action for Team OHL in the Subway Super Series.That game, played against Team Russia, was eventually lost after Binnington surrendered two third period goals.
Subban is almost certain to make the final cut and join team Canada in Russia but it remains to be seen who will get the nod in net.
If he starts, he has the talent to lead his country to gold, but he must first overcome his fellow countrymen, especially Binnington who leads the OHL in save percentage and goals-against average.
Club: Barrie Colts (OHL)
Drafted: Third Round, 81st Overall, 2011
Winger Anthony Camara was probably invited to Canada's camp for his size, but could stick around because of his surprising offensive ability.
Considered by Hockey's Future to be among the toughest and hardest hitting players in the OHL, Camara at first glance can look like a run-of-the-mill pugilist.
However, the fall of 2012 has seen Camara suddenly emerge as an elite scorer. He currently ranks 12th in the OHL with 19 goals, after scoring just 16 all of last season.
TSN's Bob Mckenzie tweeted the following about him in late November:
BOS prospect Camara of Barrie is big, physical presence with good skill, could be a consideration for 3rd or 4th line duty. May get invite.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) November 28th, 2012
Now that Camara has been invited to camp, he'll have every chance to make the team. He is far from a lock, but he could be a sleeper who can make a serious impact in Russia.
His chances would be greatly helped by an end to the NHL Lockout. If the NHL returns to action, a number of Canada's best, such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, would be unavailable, making plenty of room for the likes of Camara.
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Club: Boston University (NCAA - Hockey East)
Drafted: Third Round, 85th Overall, 2012
A product of the US National Team Development Program, the undersized Matt Grzelcyk has a good chance to make Team USA.
The Charlestown, Mass. native has taken Hockey East by storm during his freshman season at BU. Through 13 games the offensive defenseman ranks third on the team with eleven points. He also has a plus-6 rating.
His two collegiate goals have both come against rival Boston College, who were the nation's top ranked team until a loss to Grzelcyk's Terriers on November 30th.
He was named Hockey East's Rookie of the Month for November, after producing eight points in eight games, and he is quickly establishing himself as one of the NCAA's best young players.
With a hockey IQ described by one scout as "what you'd expect to find in the top 10, 15 picks in the draft", Grzelcyk could be a very influential player for Team USA.
The competition for roster spots on the American blue-line will be fierce as three first round picks were invited to camp. That said, Grzelcyk's offensive upside should secure him a roster spot.
If he maintains his current form, he could be one of the tournaments breakout players.