Does Stuart Percy have a Team Canada WJHC shot?

In a Pension Plan Puppets discussion about Leaf performance on the Subway Super Series, somebody commented about a post I wrote over at Yahoo on Team Canada’s defensive prospects for the World Juniors. They were pointing out that I hadn’t even mentioned Stuart Percy as a possibility for the team.

Seeing as Percy is a top defenceman on his team, a team captain and a former first round pick, it’s probably worth bringing up his chances to make the World Junior squad. Right now, I don’t think it’s very likely.

Right now, if Canada have a strength over the world in international junior competitions, it’s probably on defence. Six of the Top 10 selections from the most recent NHL draft were Canadian defencemen. The team is absolutely loaded particularly among left-handed shots.

Canada coach Steve Spott told me the team was planning on bringing 10 defencemen to camp. At this summer’s Canada-Russia challenge, the team had ten defencemen:

  • Mathew Dumba (Red Deer Rebels – MIN ’12)
  • Cody Ceci (Ottawa 67s – OTT ’12)
  • Dougie Hamilton (Niagara Ice Dogs – BOS ’11)
  • Morgan Rielly (Moose Jaw Warriors – TOR ’12)
  • Scott Harrington (London Knights – PIT ’11)
  • Griffin Reinhart (Edmonton Oil Kings – NYI ’12)
  • Xavier Ouellet (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada – DET ’11)
  • Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers – CAR ’11)
  • Ryan Murray (Everett Silvertips – CBJ ’12)
  • Adam Pelech (Erie Otters – NYI ’12)

Now, Ryan Murray may have shoulder surgery which probably writes him off. That’s a big blow to Team Canada, since he was an absolute rock for Team WHL in shutting down Nail Yakupov in Game Five of the Super Series and is probably their best bet in the defensive zone.

Most players on the list can be recalled by their teams to NHL camps, should they start up. That’s actually everybody but Ouellet and Pelech, I’m led to believe. Depending on the timing of an NHL agreement, that could force Canada to turn to its depth defencemen. The guys on this list who I can see getting a legitimate NHL look are Hamilton and Murphy.

So let’s assume the other seven stay healthy, and their teams would rather see them compete at the World Juniors than go to an NHL camp (not a huge stretch—Tampa Bay released Brett Connolly and Anaheim released Devante Smith-Pelley last season). It all depends when this mini-camp and pre-season would be and it could really screw with the junior tournament.

Percy, reportedly, isn’t on the list of defencemen to be recalled. Rielly is. Hamilton and Murphy both going to the NHL would also give Canada mostly left shots in their lineup, something that the team apparently wants to balance. That helps out Percy’s case somewhat since he played on a pairing with left-shooting Scott Harrington. Spott also wants to find the right mix of offence and defence, and with the trend of the 94 draft class to be more offensive (Rielly, Dumba, Reinhart, Derrick Pouliot) this gives him an edge. It depends on how the coaches saw him at the Super Series.

Earning an invite to camp is tough even if you factor in the NHL and injuries. Percy still has to compete against teammate Dylan DeMelo and Slater Koekkoek in the OHL. In the WHL, there’s still Keegan Lowe, one of Edmonton’s top defensemen in their championship year last season, Tyler Wotherspoon, CHL-No. 1 Portland’s top guy, Duncan Siemens and Ryan Pulock, who is the WHL’s leading defensive scorer as a draft-eligible rookie.

If I were putting together a depth chart, assuming no vacancies, it’d look somewhat like this (reserves sorted alphabetically):

Left Shot Right Shot
Ryan Murray Dougie Hamilton
Morgan Rielly Ryan Murphy
Scott Harrington Cody Ceci
Xavier Ouellet Mathew Dumba
Griffin Reinhart Ryan Pulock
Dylan DeMelo  
Slater Koekkoek  
Keegan Lowe  
Adam Pelech  
Stuart Percy  
Derrick Pouliot  
Duncan Siemens  
Tyler Wotherspoon  

There are eight potentially reserve defencemen, all being left shots. The balance is going to have to be upset somewhere along the line (they had a 6-4 split in the Canada-Russia series this summer). If NHL camps coincide with the World Junior selection camp and Murphy and Hamilton aren’t available, then the team will look for a player who can play both sides of the ice. Percy is one of those players. Odds are the team will have to go with a 6-4 or a 7-3, unless the team is comfortable bringing in a high-event rookie to put in Murray’s spot.

Spott also told me that there were maybe 15 defencemen on the short list. I have 17 right here. It’s possible that both the Mississauga guys, or potentially Lowe or Pelech, aren’t on it. That was also before the Murray injury, so it’s probably that the list is down to 14 guys.

The general conclusion is that no, there isn’t an awful lot of space on this team for Percy barring catastrophe. The good news for Leaf fans is that Morgan Rielly, after an impressive Super Series showing and a very strong first quarter of the season is a fair bet.

  • vetinari

    Scott Harrington really hasn’t impressed me since the Canada-Russia Challenge in the summer. I know Canada tends to value guys who’ve played on other Team Canadas in the past but I’m not sure you could convince me that he’s a better option than a number of the guys you’ve identified above.

    You’re absolutely right, though. Percy’s a longshot to make the team and Canada’s depth on defense is the reason why that’s the case.

    • I quite liked Harrington in last year’s playoffs and he’s apparently off to a very good start this time around. He’s not too impressive because he has a real one-way game, but I think he’s a pretty early favourite for captain even.