Bring on the Ruskies!
It’s that time of the year again, time for the Subway Super Series — a six-game exhibition showcase with Canadian Hockey League all-star teams representing the WHL, OHL and QMJHL hosting Team Russia. This heavily scouted mini-tournament, which starts tonight in Saskatoon, serves as a measuring stick for the upcoming world juniors in Toronto and Montreal. Hockey Canada certainly uses the Super Series as an evaluation tool and will invite about 30 of these players to its selection camp in early December. Most the Russian players will be back in Canada for the world juniors too.
Historically, the Super Series has been competitive and highly entertaining, and this year should be no different. Here is a closer look at Team WHL’s roster heading into tonight’s opener (and for Team Russia):
1) Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice (2 GP-2G-1A-3PTS) = He put up 105 points in 60 WHL games last season en route to getting selected second overall by the Buffalo Sabres. After a 9-game NHL audition this fall, in which he was limited to 1 assist and spent a lot of time on Buffalo’s fourth line, Reinhart was recently sent back to junior. He should dominate at this level, including at the Subway Series and world juniors, but it will be interesting to see if he stays with Kootenay or gets traded as the Ice (6-13-0-0) are currently cellar dwellers.
So Sam Reinhart waited a whole 30 seconds to score his first goal
— Andy Eide (@AndyEide) November 8, 2014
2) Nic Petan, Portland Winterhawks (14-2-15-17) = Like Reinhart, this is old hat for Petan, a Super Series and world juniors veteran who will be counted on to lead Team WHL. A second-round pick in 2013, Petan came close to cracking the Winnipeg Jets out of training camp before returning to Portland where he had put up two straight 100-plus-point seasons. He and the Winterhawks (8-11-0-2) strangely struggled to start this season but appear to be hitting their stride now. These two games, including Tuesday’s rematch in Brandon, should help Petan take his game to the next level.
3) Morgan Klimchuk, Regina Pats (9-4-6-10) = He’s battled injuries, but is a proven sniper when healthy and could be a perfect complement for Petan and Reinhart on Team WHL’s top line should the coaching staff play them together. Klimchuk is a first-round pick of the Calgary Flames from 2013 and a strong candidate to make Canada’s roster.
4) Jake Virtanen, Calgary Hitmen (9-2-7-9) = The sixth overall selection by the Vancouver Canucks this past June, Virtanen underwent off-season shoulder surgery and is still getting his legs and scoring touch back. He needs a big showing in the Super Series to garner consideration for Canada’s roster.
5) Conner Bleackley, Red Deer Rebels (18-6-9-15) = A first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche this year, Bleackley is a great two-way player and leader. His offensive upside is debatable and his conditioning was called into question by Avs coach Patrick Roy, resulting in an early release from training camp. But Bleackley should be pretty noticeable, for good reasons, in the Super Series.
6) John Quenneville, Brandon Wheat Kings (12-6-10-16) = He was the last pick of the first round by the New Jersey Devils and plays a similar game to Bleackley. They might be competing for the same invite to selection camp.
7) Jayce Hawryluk, Brandon Wheat Kings (18-12-13-25) = He was the second pick of the second round by the Florida Panthers and is sitting ninth among WHL scoring leaders. He’s a bit undersized and that could hold him back in terms of cracking Canada’s roster, but if he makes a positive impression in the Super Series, Hawryluk might get another look next month.
8) Brayden Point, Moose Jaw Warriors (17-8-14-22) = He’s small but skilled, with his size causing him to drop to the third round of this year’s NHL draft where the Tampa Bay Lightning gladly took him. His goal total seems low this season as he’s thought to be more of a sniper than a playmaker. He could be that Brendan Gallagher type in the future, but it’s unlikely he’ll make Team Canada for the world juniors.
9) Greg Chase, Calgary Hitmen (15-2-13-15) = He’s currently not playing, having demanded a trade from the Hitmen after being a healthy scratch. Chase will be a wanted commodity for his offence and his grit, so Calgary won’t have a problem moving him if and when it decides to grant that request. A seventh-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 and the nephew of former St. Louis Blues enforcer Kelly Chase, he has overachieved for his draft status and could be a player to watch down the road. Chase could also be a thorn in the side of the Russians tonight.
10) Jaedon Descheneau, Kootenay Ice (17-8-8-16) = Nobody was happier to hear Reinhart was coming back to Cranbrook than Descheneau. They have great chemistry together and could be paired at some point in the Super Series. A fifth-round pick by St. Louis in 2014, Descheneau isn’t all that dynamic by himself and won’t be on the radar for the world-junior roster.
11) Cole Ully, Kamloops Blazers (18-9-19-28) = He’s tied for third in WHL scoring in what has been a breakout season for the Dallas Stars’ fifth-round pick from 2013. If not for that hot start, Ully probably wouldn’t have been on Team WHL and certainly won’t be on Team Canada.
12) Tyson Baillie, Kelowna Rockets (19-13-8-21) = Ditto here for the undrafted Baillie, who was leading the WHL in scoring at one point but is now tied for 22nd. In hindsight, Baillie’s roster spot on Team WHL probably would have went to Kelowna teammate and potential 2015 first-round pick Nick Merkley, who is leading the league with 34 points in 19 games. Baillie is the only player on Team WHL’s roster without an NHL affiliation, so he’ll have added motivation to shine in the Super Series.
1) Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert Raiders (14-5-7-12) = He’s a Team Canada returnee, but his roster spot might not be a lock this year. A first-round pick for Winnipeg in 2013, Morrissey will need to do what he does best in the Super Series and at selection camp, which is generate offence from the back end.
2) Shea Theodore, Seattle Thunderbirds (0-0-0-0) = He was just reassigned to the WHL on Sunday, presumably to partake in the Super Series. Another first-round pick from 2013, Theodore suffered an elbow injury during Anaheim Ducks training camp and only recently returned to action, scoring 3 goals and 5 points in 5 games during an AHL conditioning stint with the Norfolk Admirals. Theodore led all WHL defencemen in scoring last season, with 22 goals and 79 points in 70 games, so he could be a darkhorse to make Team Canada.
3) Madison Bowey, Kelowna Rockets (17-7-19-26) = He’s leading WHL defencemen in scoring this season and should also be in the mix for Team Canada. The decision might come down to Bowey or Theodore. A second-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2013, Bowey’s looked like a man amongst boys at times this season, so if he can stand out in similar fashion against the Russians, that will help his chances.
4) Dillon Heatherington, Swift Current Broncos (19-1-5-6) = A second-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013, Heatherington is turning into more of a shutdown type, but he’s a good skater, makes a nice first pass and has good size at 6-foot-4. Don’t let his stats fool you, Heatherington is a heck of a player and could work his way into conversation for Team Canada.
5) Hadyn Fleury, Red Deer Rebels (16-1-6-7) = Contrary to Heatherington, Fleury’s got more offence to his game than his numbers show. The seventh overall pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in June, Fleury is a long-shot to earn an invite to Canada’s selection camp and would need to make a big impact in the Super Series.
6) Travis Sanheim, Calgary Hitmen (19-7-7-14) = A fellow 2014 first-rounder, 17th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers, Sanheim has got off to a better start — at least offensively. He and Fleury are more likely to be candidates for Canada at next year’s world juniors, but a dominant Super Series could change that thinking.
7) Joe Hicketts, Victoria Royals (19-5-19-24) = Second only to Bowey in scoring amongst defencemen, Hicketts somehow went undrafted in June only to be signed by the Detroit Red Wings after attending their training camp on a tryout. Hicketts is small but offensively gifted as his point total would indicate. He’s also very confident in his own ability and won’t be afraid to take risks against the Russians. He’ll need to stand out in a big way to get a second look.
1) Eric Comrie, Tri-City Americans (10-6-0-0, .922 Save %, 2.42 GAA) = A second-round pick by Winnipeg in 2013, Comrie has elite athleticism and often makes spectacular saves. His style is quite similar to projected Team Canada starter Zachary Fucale from the QMJHL. At least one WHL goalie will be invited to selection camp, so the Super Series could end up determining which one.
2) Tristan Jarry, Edmonton Oil Kings (8-7-0-2, .922 Save %, 2.15 GAA) = Also a 2013 second-round pick, taken 15 spots higher than Comrie by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jarry has a winning pedigree having backstopped the Oil Kings to a Memorial Cup championship this past spring. That might give him a leg up in this competition, but they are truly 1A and 1B for Team WHL. They will both get a start against the Russians and Team Canada will have a difficult decision on its hands from there.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.