On Monday, Hockey Canada announced a 34-man roster for their upcoming World Junior Selection Camp, which will be held December 10-14 in Victoria, BC. Los Angeles prospects Matthew Villalta (goalie), Markus Phillips (defense), Gabe Vilardi (forward) and Jaret Anderson-Dolan (forward) were named to the camp, which will be used to construct a 23-man roster that will compete at the upcoming World Junior Championship, held December 26 through January 5 in Victoria and Vancouver, B.C.
MATTHEW VILLALTA’s inclusion was no surprise; he, like the other three Kings prospects, had been named to Canada’s summer evaluation camp, and he and Windsor’s Michael DiPietro (2017 / 3rd / VAN) were the two goaltenders who attended the summer camp to gain admittance to the official selection camp. 2017 Toronto fourth rounder Ian Scott, who ::looks at notes:: is 22-1-0 with a 1.61 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, winners of 19 in a row, is the third goalie competing for two goalie spots.
Villalta (3rd/2017) suffered a freak injury when a linesman skated into him while he was stretching at the outset of warm-ups prior to a game on November 4. The collision resulted in a deep skate cut around Villalta’s ankle that wasn’t expected to sideline him for an extended period of time. He missed three weeks and since then hasn’t been at his best with an .881 save percentage over five games since his activation, and enters play this week with a 12-3-3 record, a 3.05 goals-against average, a .904 save percentage and one shutout. Villalta is still getting back into his rhythm and hasn’t been quite himself since returning to play. Goaltending Development guru Dusty Imoo will travel back to the Soo – where he was working when Villalta was lacerated – to work with him for several days prior to camp.
GABRIEL VILARDI (1st/2017), like the others on this list, is vying to crack Canada’s roster for the first time. Injured during last year’s tournament and at the time of the summer development camp, this will be Vilardi’s first opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf since his Team Canada debut in the 2016 U-17 Challenge in which he totaled four goals and seven points in six games for Team White.
As hinted at in recent interviews and in a Rosen Report on FOX Sports West last week, the Kings had already made the decision that they’d release Vilardi for world juniors, provided that he’s of full health. That’s the most important part – Vilardi (back) needs to check off a number of boxes during and after his conditioning assignment to the AHL, which, as reported, could be extended for an additional two games in Tucson this weekend via a successful league petition. (That petition has been received and granted, as noted earlier today by Curtis Zupke.) Again, the Kings want to ensure that Vilardi is fully healthy before he departs for Victoria, but in earlier conversations, the team did note the seamless transition in the schedule from his Ontario assignment (which is scheduled to run through Saturday) to the day players will report for selection camp (Monday).
MARKUS PHILLIPS (4th/2017) isn’t amounting to the same production from his last two Ontario Hockey League seasons, but has shown good growth in his overall game and entered into both games in the OHL-based portion of the CIBC Canada/Russia Super Series, an evaluative tournament that helps both countries build their world junior teams. He has one goal and nine points in 29 games with Owen Sound after combining for 23 goals and 82 points over 134 games over his two prior OHL seasons, though I’m told he’s shown good development by focusing on his defense this year. More on that in a moment. A former Canada Red captain at the 2017 World U-17 Challenge, Phillips was also named to Canada’s U-18 team, where he totaled two assists in seven games in 2016, and the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament later that summer. A late addition to Canada’s summer showcase camp, Phillips is one of 12 defenseman who will take part in selection camp and is not among those with an inside shot to make the team.
A team scout noted that Phillips has rounded out nicely, especially away from the puck. The use of his skating is better, he’s been more physical and harder to play against. He accepted more defensive responsibility with Owen Sound and has been playing big minutes against the OHL’s top scorers and most skilled players.
JARET ANDERSON-DOLAN (2nd/2017) underwent surgery in early November to repair a broken bone in his wrist, suffered on October 27 during his second game back with WHL-Spokane, one in which he scored twice for the Chiefs. As of two weeks ago, it was doubtful that he’d be eligible to participate in the camp. Should he not heal in time to play for Canada, it would be an untimely and disappointing blow for a player who’d etched out a standout performance at the showcase camp in Kamloops and whose participation in world juniors was shaping up as an exciting consolation prize after an encouraging five-game, one-assist stint with Los Angeles as a 19-year-old at the start of the season.
If there’s a player whose absence is notable from the group, it’s forward Akil Thomas, who has battled a shoulder injury to post 11 goals and 34 points in 22 games for OHL-Niagara. Unlike the 19-year-olds above, however, Thomas is 18 and will have a prime opportunity to earn a spot on Canada’s team one year from now.
Canada’s final roster is expected to be named December 14. They will play exhibition games from December 19-23 before opening the tournament on December 26 against Denmark. The Canadians and Danes will be joined in Group A by the Czech Republic, Russia and Switzerland, while the United States, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan fill out Group B. More to come on World Juniors over the coming days.
–Lead photo via Bakersfield Condors