The second edition of the World Junior Spotlight turns our attention to Minnesota Wild prospect Tyler Graovac. The 2011 seventh round draft pick of the Wild has been invited to Team Canada’s selection camp that will run from December 10-15 in Calgary, Alberta and if the NHL lockout provides any positives, it’s that Canada will be the beneficiary.
Graovac could be on the outside looking in when it comes to the selection camp but that doesn’t mean he can’t play his way on to the team, or at least give the coaching staff something to think about and make their decision incredibly difficult.
The top forward line is all but in place with current NHL youngster Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leading the charge, providing his shoulder is strong enough to play. Mark Scheifle of the Winnipeg Jets is also eligible this year as is Jonathan Huberdeau who belongs to the Florida Panthers.
Bob McKenzie of TSN.ca then lists Ryan Strome of the Islanders, Charles Hudon of the Canadiens and Blues prospect Ty Rattie as locks for the second line. Strome, Scheifle and Huberdeau are the only returning forward players from last year’s Canada team that took the bronze medal.
Suddenly the top two lines appear to be filled with high-scoring, NHL talent and this is where Graovac has a chance.
It’s unlikely he’ll bump any of the aforementioned six players off the top two lines. But with other offensively gifted forwards not making the top six either, it’s unlikely they’ll fill the third or fourth line roles typically reserved for character and checking/defensive minded forwards.
But given Graovac is a centerman, the odds continue to stack up against him based on the other faceoff men that will be in camp.
McKenzie goes on to list Boone Jenner of the Blue Jackets as a favorite to be the third line centre with Philip Danault of the Blackhawks being the “logical” choice for the fourth line. He then goes to state that the real battle for the positions on Team Canada will be on the wings, listing another eight players who naturally play either left or right wing, something that could hurt Graovac.
But it’s hard to ignore what Graovac has done so far this year as part of the Ottawa 67s. He currently has 18 goals and 9 assists, good for 27 points in 23 games. Impressive numbers, especially the goals, but again he is behind six stud forwards who are all but a lock on this team. Barring an injury, Graovac will need to tear up the camp and force the coaching staff to either cut him or keep him.
When looking at his plus/minus on the season, it’s difficult to make a case as a defensive specialist as he sits at a minus-15 on the season. You could make the argument that he plays for the last place 67s who have a goals for and against differential of a minus-40, something would surely play into his rating.
The best chance that Graovac had to make the team was if the lockout ends in time and the Scheifle’s and Nugent-Hopkins return to the NHL, leaving the forward spots wide open. With the NHL nowhere close to returning after last night’s debacle, Graovac’s chances now rest on his ability to play his way on to the team.
There is always the extra forward spot that he could slide into, something he would jump at if given the opportunity. But time will tell and we’ll know more somewhere between the 10th and 15th when cuts start to happen.