MONTREAL, QC — Over the past week and a half, Montreal Canadiens prospects Alex Galchenyuk and Charles Hudon have attended training camps for Team USA and Canada respectively for this coming December’s Under-20 World Junior Championship. This summer camp is the first step in making the team, and often includes players who may or may not be available come December depending on how they fare in NHL training camps in the Fall.
Team USA camp included a three team tournament with Under-20 squads from both Sweden and Finland in Lake Placid, New York. The Americans began camp with a lengthy roster, icing separate blue and white split squads for their first contests against the European nations.
When cuts were made to trim to a single team, to no one’s surprise, Alex Galchenyuk had survived, and thus played in all but one of his country’s games, with the staff opting to rest he and a few other locks in the final matchup. Over five games, Galchenyuk amassed two goals and one assist, which isn’t an eye-catching output, but coaches and scouts indicated he seemed to progressively get better as camp went on, to be expected from a player shaking off rust after playing only eight OHL games last season. Those watching him indicated his high level of skill was on display at times, but that he was invisible at others, suffering from the inconsistencies of a young man who is looking to find his timing after so much time off.
It should be noted that this is traditionally the only large American camp for the WJC, with a mostly final roster expected to be named by early December. But unless he’s still in the NHL at that point, don’t expect a surprise of Galchenyuk being left off the team; he should be an important pivot for the Americans. Sebastian Collberg, a Habs second round pick in June’s draft, did not travel with Team Sweden to this event, as he is recovering from a minor injury. Having been one of his team’s stars at the World Juniors a year ago, he should be a lock to make the club. Prospect Erik Nystrom, on the other hand, was cut from the U20 team roster prior to their travelling to the U.S.
Canada runs its program differently, not making any cuts during the summer camp, and instead inviting a larger roster to a pre-tournament camp in November/December. Charles Hudon was consistently one of Canada’s top forwards in all four games of the series, being used in every situation. Paired with Phillip Danault and either Boone Jenner or Phil Di Giuseppe throughout, his line’s main task was often shutting down the top Russian trio of Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Griogrenko, and Anton Zlobin. Still, the unit generated many scoring chances in each game, most often created through a hard forechecking and cycling game. Hudon showed a good shot and great vision in finding teammates with passes for opportunities on goal. He also showed shiftiness in evading checks, an important skill for a player of his diminutive stature, and not unlike the snake-esque quality to former Hab Mike Ribeiro‘s game, which allowed him to draw several penalties on frustrated Russian defenders. He took shifts on both the powerplay and penalty kill, showing that he had earned his coach’s trust, even if he wasn’t considered among the team’s top offensive threats. Hudon scored a goal and an assist in the four games, both coming in a 6-5 loss in game 3. He also charged the net and created a screen on the series-winning overtime Ryan Strome goal last night.
Hudon, who wore number 10 for Canada as he does for Chicoutimi, likely entered camp as one of the bubble players under evaluation. He was part of Canada’s U18 squad in 2010-11, but underwhelmed with his production in his draft year, likely the other factor (the first being size) that saw him slip to the fifth round. He certainly opened many eyes and helped his chances with a strong Canada-Russia Challenge, which should mean that if he can start the year on a roll – and particularly if he can improve his skating, the only real weak spot in his game – there are good odds of him making the team.
One important factor will be the fates of the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Ryan Strome, and Mark Scheifele. Huberdeau looks like a near-lock to play for the Florida Panthers this season, which would make him unavailable to Hockey Canada, but where Strome and Scheifele will play this season is much-less decided. The more eligible players stick in the NHL, the better the odds of Hudon making the squad, though it will of course weaken the overall team. The good news is, even if Hudon doesn’t make the squad this season, he will still be young enough to participate in 2013-14.
With both camps now in the books, players are individually completing the final stretch of their offseason training regimens. The NHL and NHLPA continue to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, hoping to reach a deal before the previous contract expires one month from today. If they are able to do so, Galchenyuk, Hudon, and others will be present for the opening of Habs Rookie Camp in just under a month on September 14th.