There's a guessing game that is one of the minor rituals of opening night in the NHL. This year's version began on Thursday when the final rosters for the league's 30 teams were announced.
This game is of particular interest to junior hockey fanatics who like to start thinking early about the Canadian team's roster for the annual world junior championship that starts the day after Christmas. This year, there will be a little more interest than usual since the tournament will be held in Buffalo, keeping it on this side of the Atlantic Ocean for the second year in a row.
By the time the final NHL cuts were made this week, 13 teenagers made the jump to the NHL, representing Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. To be eligible for the world junior, a player must be 19 or under when it starts, although few of this season's lucky 13 are expected to arrive in Buffalo after Christmas.
It looks as if only four have a decent chance of going to the world junior - forwards Braydon Schenn and Tyler Clifford of the Los Angeles Kings, who are both Canadian, and defencemen Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks and Nick Leddy of the Chicago Blackhawks, who are both American.
Fans can dream all they want of seeing Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, the top two picks in this year's NHL entry draft, suiting up for Canada, but it isn't going to happen. They landed prominent roles on the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins, respectively, and only a collapse would see them sent back to junior hockey or lent out by their teams.
Schenn and Clifford made the Kings in part because the team was hit hard by injuries in the preseason. The same goes for Leddy, a college player who could be sent to the Blackhawks' minor-league team when veteran defenceman Brian Campbell is healthy in a month or so.
By the way, winding up at the world junior would not be a big thrill for any of these players because it would mean their NHL careers did not get off to a blazing start. For those among the 13 who came up through the Canadian major junior ranks, they can play nine NHL games before their teams have to decide to keep them or send them back to their junior teams. If they play a 10th game, which means they are making a big impression on their bosses, they have to stay in the NHL for the entire season.
Once the 10-game Rubicon is crossed, a player has to fall flat on his face for his general manager to lend him to a team in the world junior tournament. NHL owners take a dim view when they are paying an NHL salary to a player and their general managers tell them it would be a good idea to lend a player to someone else for a month.
Historically, players lent to their national junior teams do not do well anyway. There are exceptions, such as defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, who was lent to Canada last Christmas by the St. Louis Blues, although he did not return to the NHL after the tournament.
The problem is that such a player has not played much because his performance was not up to the NHL standard. Thus he arrives at the junior team's training camp in early December in rusty condition and gets in a few exhibition games. Right after that, he is expected to play in an intense, international tournament with the best players in the world in his age group, which rarely works out well.