For the first time in three years, Team Canada will have a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect on its roster for the World Junior Championships in Ottawa.
Team Canada announced its roster today, and centre Chris Didomenico has made the cut. Currently the leading scorer of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, Didomenico has netted 204 points in 166 games in the QMJHL, all of them for Saint John. He has been seen as a rare bright spot on a team that is otherwise absolutely horrid.
Didomenico was drafted by the Leafs in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL draft—142nd overall. Given the stats he has put up so far in the QMJHL, he is definitely playing beyond his projection, and is likely to be regarded as a steal.
While being the best franchise player on a fledgling Sea Dogs team is no accomplishment, Didomenico has been considered among the elite of the league, and was named to the rookie all-star team in 2007.
In other words, the potential for Didomenico to be a top-six forward on the Leafs within two years is high. If he doesn't crack the Leafs roster next season, he definitely will by 2010-11.
However, the biggest test of his progress and ability will be in this tournament against the best NHL prospects in the entire world. Leaf fans across the nation will be avidly watching to see how the future of the franchise performs.
While the ideal situation is to watch Leaf prospects suiting up for the Canadian junior powerhouse (it was quite the treat to see then-prospects Matt Stajan, Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo and Brendan Bell all suit up for the team in 2001 and 2002) watching the team's future in other jerseys can also be rewarding. There were Anton Stralman (Sweden) and Nikolai Kulemin (Russia) to watch in 2006, and Tyler Ruegsegger (USA) last year.
And this season will be no exception.
Team USA has released its final tournament roster, and the Leafs' 2008 second round pick, Jimmy Hayes, has made the team.
The Boston native is currently playing collegiate hockey at Boston College, and has amassed eight points in 15 games. He spent last season in the USHL, where he scored 15 points in 21 games.
Hayes definitely has a bright future with the Leafs once his collegiate career is over, and, like Didomenico, could crack the top six someday with the right amount of improvement.
While the best fun of the World Juniors is to sit back and watch some quality young hockey players battle it out on behalf of their countries while waiting for your Christmas turkey to digest, it's also fun to watch your team's prospects and how they stack up against other top juniors.
So Leaf fans, watch these guys closely—they could be a big deal someday.