On the Road to Sweden
There will be a lot of eyebrows raised over the decision of the Canadian national junior program to chop youngsters Angelo Esposito and John Tavares today. In fact, neither even made it to the final round of cuts.
Once upon a time, of course, this kind of story was raised to the level of national controversy when it involved the likes of Brett Lindros, Dan Cleary and Mike Comrie.
But the fact Esposito and Tavares couldn't make, really, just tells you how hard it is for young players to crack a national junior roster for a tournament that is traditionally dominated by 18- and 19-year-old players.
There are always exceptions, and certainly both Tavares and Esposito are regarded as exceptionally talented teenagers.
But this year's national junior team has been blessed with an unusually large number of returning forwards and defencemen, 11 in all. All of those players are 19 years old, save for centre Jonathan Toews, who is 18.
Toews and two other returnees, Andrew Cogliano and Steve Downie, are expected to be 1-2-3 up the middle for Canada. Those are the roles Tavares and Esposito fill with their junior teams in Oshawa and Quebec City, respectively, and the likeliehood is that the coaching staff led by Craig Hartsburg didn't see either player fitting elsewhere in the lineup.
Sidney Crosby played as a 17-year-old in North Dakota two years ago, but he ended up playing on the wing and playing well.
Maybe Tavares or Esposito could have done that. But again, with 19-year-old returnees like Ryan O'Marra, Daniel Bertram and Tom Pyatt likely to be on the roster, they would have had to be wingers filled grinding, checking and energy roles for a team looking to win a third consecutive gold medal for Canada in Leksand and Mora, Sweden, later this month.
Both will likely get their shot next year. That is, of course, unless the highly touted Esposito is drafted so high in the NHL draft that he's in the big leagues to stay next fall.