Crunch time looms for the 31 players left at the selection camp for Canada's world junior championship team.
But it is looking very much like goaltender Jake Allen of the Montreal Juniors, defenceman Marco Scandella of the Val d'Or Foreurs, forward Brandon McMillan of the Kelowna Rockets and five of the six players returning from last year's world juniors will make the team.
Those players were left out of the lineup for the final exhibition game of the camp on Tuesday night against a team of CIS university players, which suggests team bosses only want another look at the rest of the group.
Four players - including highly touted 17-year-old Tyler Seguin - were cut on Tuesday and another nine cuts are expected on Wednesday to get the roster down to the 22 who will play at the world juniors Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Regina and Saskatoon.
The cuts will likely include right-winger Scott Glennie of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who suffered a concussion early in the third period of an intrasquad game on Monday night. Glennie hit his head on the boards after a check from Tyler Cuma of the Ottawa 67s. The Winnipeg native and eighth overall pick of the Dallas Stars came back and tried to play, but was taken to hospital later for tests.
"He's going to be out for a little while," said head coach Willie Desjardins. "We're going to get it evaluated to make a decision on where he's at."
The only returning player not excused from the exhibition game was defenceman Colten Teubert of the Regina Pats. Rearguards Ryan Ellis of the Windsor Spitfires and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues and forwards Patrice Cormier of the Rimouski Oceanic, Stefan Della Rovere of the Barrie Colts and Jordan Eberle of the Pats all got the night off.
McMillan, a stocky five-foot-11 left winger, wore the smile of one who had the team all-but made.
"I was pretty confident," he said. "I know I have the abilities to play on this team.
"I've gone to the Memorial Cup. I've won the world under-18s. I've got a lot of experience other guys don't have, so I came to camp with that kind of attitude."
McMillan's Rockets lost in the Memorial Cup final in May to the Spitfires, who are likely to have four players on Canada's team - Ellis plus a complete forward line of left-winger Taylor Hall, centre Adam Henrique and right-winger Greg Nemisz.
McMillan is a strong defensive player, but he can also burn defences with his legs, as he did in scoring the opening goal of Tuesday's intrasquad game.
"I'm not an overly offensive guy, so I've got to be very good in the defensive zone, and when I chip in offensively, I can do it by using my speed," he said.
Left wing may be the team's strongest position, with Gabriel Bourque of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar a good bet to make it along with McMillan, Hall and Della Rovere.
The stocky five-foot-nine Bourque has been solid from the start of camp, but he impressed team scout Al Murray long before that.
"He brings a tremendous amount of passion every shift he plays," said Murray. "I don't ever remember going to watch Gabriel play that he hasn't put in a top end performance.
"He's a skill player who plays physical and has a lot of speed. With the type of team our coaches want to put together, he fits in perfectly."
Bourque, a fifth-round pick of the Nashville Predators, skated with different linemates in two intrasquad games, but the possibility exists that he could be on an all-Quebec line with two Oceanic players - rugged centre Cormier and finisher Jordan Caron.
"I've never played with them but I'd like that," he said. "Cormier's the same as me - he hits and plays hard. And Caron puts the puck in the net. That could be a good line."
If Eberle, Caron and Nemisz make it on right wing, it will be a battle for the fourth spot between high-scoring Brandon Kozun of the Calgary Hitmen and converted centre Louis Leblanc of Harvard University.
The five-foot-seven 156-pound Kozun leads the Western Hockey League with 63 points - three more than Eberle. He has yet to find the mark in camp, but believes it will come.
"I've been a little snake-bit," he sad. "I've created a lot of offence, but the puck doesn't seem to go in.
"A lot of people look at the stat sheets, but if you watch the game you notice I am creating offence out there. It's a matter of time before they start going in."
Kozun was born in Los Angeles and holds dual citizenship - his mother's Canadian and his father's American - and could likely have had an easier time making the U.S. squad, but elected to take his chances in the more talent-rich Canadian system.
"It comes from the fact that I've lived in Canada the last 12 years and I kind of feel I'm at home in Canada," the L.A. Kings draft pick said.
Leblanc was felt to be behind the rest because the U.S. university season starts later than Canadian major junior. He's played nine games at Harvard, while most juniors have played about 30 this season.
The Montreal Canadiens first-rounder has played well, but hasn't particularly stood out at camp. Still, his evident skill may yet earn him a roster spot.
"I'd like to get on the scoresheet, get a few more hits, bring more energy," said Leblanc, who disputes the notion that university hockey has held him back.
"Am I doing better or worse than some guys who have played 30 games?" he asked. "I'm not going to answer that question.
"Maybe, maybe not. I'm happy with my season at Harvard."
Centre is a tighter battle. After Cormier and Henrique, Schenn is a strong bet, while Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nazem Kadri's speed and skill from the London Knights can't be overlooked. There is also big centre Luke Adam of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, who scored in both intrasquad games, and Cody Eakin, who has 26 goals for the Swift Current Broncos.
There are 13 spots for forwards, seven on defence, where Jared Cowen of the Spokane Chiefs is a strong candidate, and two goaltenders.
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