Running from April 14-24, the IIHF World Under 18 Hockey Championships will take place in Germany. And while the team doesn't even yet have a coach (traditionally named sometime during the third week of March), it's starting to become possible to speculate which OHL players might end up being selected for this tournament.
The team will be announced some time over Easter Weekend, giving the team about a week or so to travel and practice before a few exhibition games and the tournament opener against the Czech Republic on April 15.
Over the past five years, the OHL has averaged 10 players on this squad (highest = 13 in 2010, lowest = 7 in 2007). Because the tournament takes place while the CHL playoffs are occurring, this is not a tournament Canada does traditionally well in. Heck, we were sent to the relegation round last year (finishing 7th and thankfully avoiding relegation), and have one won the tournament twice in its twelve year existence (last in 2008 under Pat Quinn).
So that means only Ontario Hockey League players (as well as other CHL players and Tier 2 players) who are eliminated from the playoffs can participate.
So with the regular season winding down, let's speculate as to which players could be donning the Maple Leaf come April. Even if this tournament isn't great for the morale of Hockey Canada, it is great for individual NHL entry draft reasons. A good tournament here can really elevate your status (just ask Kyle Clifford).
Players from the teams not making the playoffs (Barrie, Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia)
Mark Scheifele - Barrie Colts
If healthy, you'd have to think Scheifele would be a lock as a potential first round NHL prospect. He's got the size and skill to play a top 6 role on the team. The only problem is that he's out indefinitely with a concussion thanks to a nasty hit from former teammate Dean Pawlaczyk. He's got a month to get himself together, otherwise his absence would be a big blow to a team that will need star players.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG (if healthy)
Eric Locke - Barrie Colts
While Locke's late birthday makes him eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, because he's a 1993, that means he's actually someone who'll be looked at for this tournament. The centerpiece of the Taylor Carnevale deal, Locke may not have elite size, but he is very skilled and could provide a solid scoring presence on the team.
John Chartrand - Barrie Colts
Chartrand has had a pretty decent year, all things considered. Even if his numbers since the trade from Niagara haven't been great, he's actually got a winning record in Barrie. Can we name him to the team on that miracle alone! Seriously though, goaltending for this tournament can be a mystery at times if no other options are available from the other leagues. I'm sure his name will, at the very least, be tossed around.
Daniel Catenacci - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The closest thing to a lock for this team as you can get, I'd imagine. The team is going to need him to be one of the leaders and has to be considered a possibility to wear a letter. It'll be a big tournament for him to show people that he's got a high offensive ceiling when it comes to predicting his NHL potential.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG
Nick Cousins - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Cousins has had a good season for the Hounds and is the type of energy player who could excel in a short tournament. He's not good enough defensively to likely fit on a potential "checking line," but he battles offensively, on the forecheck, and in the corners. That makes him a potential 4th line type that Canada usually brings to these tournaments.
David Broll - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
A big power forward, Broll can really throw the body around and has enough offensive skill that he won't stick out in a bad way. But his skating leaves some to be desired, which could hurt him on the big ice. He was also recently disciplined by the Hounds for an unknown reason (sat out a game). Even if it was minor, it likely still raises a red flag. However, he was on the Ivan Hlinka team that won Gold and could earn a look because of that.
Ryan Sproul - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Team Canada is going to need someone to quarterback their powerplay, and what better choice than Sproul. His decision making and passing ability still need improvement with the man advantage, but he's got one hell of a shot. Sproul definitely is right up there with Ryan Ellis and Ryan Murphy (and others) for goals in the 2011. That's mighty impressive. He's also a good skater, which means he should be competent 5 on 5 too.
Brett Ritchie - Sarnia Sting
Like Catenacci, Ritchie is a lock for this team if he can stay healthy. After fighting back from a bout of mono, Ritchie is now sidelined with a knee injury. Although I have been told it is minor and he's expected to return either this weekend or next. He was playing so well before the mono, and even had 4 points in 3 games after returning from mono (before the knee injury). He'll be counted on to be a big contributor on offense for this team. This will actually be a big tournament for Ritchie. With a strong offensive performance, he could probably vault himself into first round consideration, since he probably deserves to be there on talent alone (subtracting his slow start and missed games).
Likelihood: VERY STRONG
Players from the teams who may make the playoffs, one of whom won't (Peterborough, Belleville)
Alan Quine - Peterborough Petes
Quine has been quite good for the Petes since coming over from Kingston. He's not the biggest or the most tenacious, but he's got skill and speed. Most of all, he can really put the puck in the net with an elite shot and good instincts. Those types of guys can be valuable to Hockey Canada, especially on the powerplay. That being said, I don't think he's a lock, as he's kind of a one dimensional player at this point. But again, Hockey Canada is familiar with him as he was on the Ivan Hlinka team.
Slater Koekkoek - Peterborough Petes
It's not unusual for Hockey Canada to take underage players to this event. Ryan Murray went last year. Erik Gudbranson and John McFarland two years ago. Koekkek is the type of player who could really excel on the big ice with his speed and offensive ability. He had a strong World Under 17's for team Ontario and might have earned himself a look, even if it's far fetched.
Michael Curtis - Belleville Bulls
Curtis is the type of guy who gets named to this team and then a whole bunch of people go "WHAT, this guy has terrible stats this year, why didn't they take player X?" Curtis is exactly the type of player Hockey Canada likes to take to this event for a spot on a third line/checking role (just like how he made the Ivan Hlinka team). He's a very strong defensive player, can play the PK, has speed, and can put the puck in the net if given the opportunity. I think there's a strong chance he'll be there.
Austen Brassard - Belleville Bulls
Brassard is definitely an enigma. Pretty big guy, and definitely has the skill, but the consistency just isn't there right now. He scores in bunches and when he gets hot, he's a tough player to stop. But overall he's had a pretty disappointing draft season on an underwhelming Belleville club. He'll have to close out the season on a high note to get serious consideration IMO. Especially after he didn't really do a whole heck of a lot for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament (although just being on that team gives him a chance because of the familiarity factor)
Carter Sandlak - Belleville Bulls
Sandlak is another sandpaper type guy who could fill a depth role on the team. Does all the little things his coach will ask of him and can provide some energy. Just not sure if he's got enough offense to warrant a look.
Alex Basso - Belleville Bulls
Basso is an interesting player. I expected him to have a pretty good season, especially after a very strong preseason performance. But things haven't really come together for him in his draft season. He remains a slick skating guy who can a little bit of everything from the back end and if they're looking to fill out the roster with someone with potential, Basso could be that guy.
Malcolm Subban - Belleville Bulls
I think Subban actually has a pretty good shot at being one of the goaltenders for this tournament. He may not get a ton of time in Belleville (split with another contender in Tyson Teichmann), but a lot of scouts seem to think Subban is the better goaltending prospect and the type of guy who could really benefit from an opportunity like this...even if his draft year isn't until 2012.
Tysen Teichmann - Belleville Bulls
Even if it has been a rough season for the former OHL first rounder, you have to think he's got a damn good shot at a spot on this team. Hockey Canada is often pretty loyal to those who've played well for them previously, and Teichmann is just that. He was the starting goaltending on Canada's gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka team this past summer and could get a nod just based on that alone.
Obviously the big loss from this section is Matt Puempel who's now out for the rest of the season due to hip surgery. He could have been an impact player for Canada.
Players whose teams won't have home ice advantage for round one and could be eliminated from the playoffs (Guelph, London, Sudbury, Brampton, Kingston)
Seth Griffith - London Knights
If the Knights do get eliminated in round one, I think Hockey Canada would be foolish to not consider Griffith. He's one of the more underrated 1993's in the league. He's already quite a complete player and he competes hard at both ends of the ice. He could play any role you wanted him to on this team, whether it be on a scoring line, or as part of an energy line and on the PK.
Scott Harrington - London Knights
Even if Harrington's draft status has taken a hit from where it was at this point last season, he'd be a solid addition to this team. While his defensive game hasn't been as strong this season, he's shown in the past a capability of being a rock defensively and the type of guy Canada could send out there against the opposition's top units.
Likelihood: VERY STRONG
Frankie Corrado - Sudbury Wolves
The Wolves are playing some pretty exciting hockey right now and they look primed as a team who could upset in the first round. That being said, who really knows. If the Wolves are out of it, Corrado would be a great addition to team Canada. He can skate the puck up ice and create some offense from the back end. He's also improved his defensive game as the season has gone on.
Justin Sefton - Sudbury Wolves
In the second half of the OHL season, this guy has been a different player. He's getting better and better and is really starting to show signs as to why he was drafted so high. He's big. He's physical. And best of all, he's starting to improve offensively. He's actually got a hard shot and is starting to get it on net more. If Canada is looking for an intimidating presence on the back end, Sefton is that guy.
Barclay Goodrow - Brampton Battalion
Hockey Canada can always use a big guy who can put the puck in the net. Problem for Goodrow is that he's not really the type that uses his size consistently at this point. He's also kind of a one dimensional player at this point, but that one dimension can come in handy in an international tournament when you're looking for a guy with size who has hands around the net.
As for the others, I'm not going to speculate as to which teams are going to be out in the first round, because we don't really know (and I've already done enough speculating with the above). Plus I wasn't intending to write a novel with this!