We all know that the Tampa Bay Lightning have put together one of the best prospect pools in hockey. That was highlighted last week when Hockey Canada announced the roster for their development camp to pick their team for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship.
The Lightning are better represented than any other team at the camp. Of the 33 players invited to try out for Team Canada, we see four baby Bolts: Cal Foote, Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and Brett Howden.
It’s going to be hard for all four of Tampa’s prospects to make the final roster but it’s definitely not out of the question.
As a returning player, and one of the best players in the OHL, Taylor Raddysh is a stone cold lock to be on the team. He was tied with Julien Gauthier for the team lead with 5 goals in last year’s tournament. Team Canada will be counting on Raddysh to carry the offensive load again this year, especially with the absence of Owen Tippett. Raddysh will serve as the right winger on the team’s first line and is likely to end up with a letter on his chest as a part of the leadership group.
The next most likely to make the team is probably Boris Katchouk. Playing with the dominant Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds in the OHL, Katchouk has an amazing 27 goals in only 30 games this season. The big winger can play in the middle-6 and has the offensive instincts to serve as a great complimentary piece to Canada’s top players. The fact that left wing might be Canada’s weakest position makes the likelihood of Katchouk making the team very high.
Also up front, is Brett Howden. The 19-year old center was cut from last year’s team, but he has a long history with Hockey Canada, something that will help tilt the scale in his favor if the coaching staff is having a hard time choosing between a few players. Howden has only played 20 games this season, but he has 31 points with the Moose Jaw Warriors - where he serves as the team captain.
Howden is going to have a tough time making the team. Michael McLeod and Sam Steel are locked in as Canada’s top-2 centers and St. Louis Blues prospect Robert Thomas has the inside edge on the third spot. That leaves a fourth position down the middle that Howden to compete with Cody Glass and Jonathan Ang for. I would have picked Glass to claim the spot, but after last night’s exhibition game, Hockey Canada cut both Glass and Ang leaving only four centers at camp - Howden being one of them,
One factor to consider is that Hockey Canada still hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the Colorado Avalanche will loan Tyson Jost to them for the tournament. If that happens, he becomes Canada’s top center, pushing Howden down to the 5th best option.
There is also the possibility that Canada moves Nick Suzuki back to his natural center position so Howden still has some work to do.
On the back end, Tampa Bay’s 2017 first round pick Cal Foote has always been a favorite of Hockey Canada. Born in the USA, Foote chose to represent Canada internationally - thanks in large part memories of watching his father play for Team Canada at the Olympics.
He wasn’t eligible to play last year thanks to his citizenship, but if he was, there was a good chance he would have been on the World Junior team as an 18-year old. Foote is big, strong, skates well and he will look very good on Canada’s blueline this year.
With Dante Fabbro and Cale Makar on the right side, Foote is going to be battling with Avalanche prospect Connor Timmins for a spot on the third pairing. Foote probably has the advantage over Timmins and he is likely to make the team in a shutdown/ penalty killing role.
One factor to consider is that Dante Fabbro is nursing an injury and hasn’t been on the ice with Team Canada yet. If he isn’t ready to go in the next week, Foote’s chances of making the team increase dramatically.
So, for me, that’s two locks, one very likely and one looking more realistic every day. Regardless of how the final roster shakes out, Tampa Bay Lightning are going to want to pay attention to the Wolrd Juniors - and they might even find themselves cheering for Team Canada.