It was a just a year ago that Mark Scheifele declared he wanted to centre Canada’s top forward line at the world junior hockey championship.
He didn’t get his way. That distinction went to Ryan Strome with Scheifele playing the middle on Canada’s second line.
Scheifele looks like he may get a chance to play on the top unit this year, but as a converted right-winger.
Canadian team head coach Steve Spott had Scheifele on the right side of Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau from the start of this week’s selection camp in Calgary.
“I’m willing to play any position, whatever it is,” Scheifele says. “Obviously being on the No. 1 line right now with Huberdeau and Nugent-Hopkins, I just want to stay on that, obviously make the team.”
That he’ll make the team isn’t in question. The 19-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., would have played for the Winnipeg Jets this season if not for the NHL lockout.
Nugent-Hopkins, Scheifele and Huberdeau were among a dozen players who didn’t play in Wednesday’s 4-1 exhibition loss to the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
Defencemen Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly and Scott Harrington and forwards Strome, Philip Danault, Boone Jenner, Charles Hudon and Brett Ritchie also sat out, meaning they are safe bets to be on 23-player Canadian team announced Thursday night. Defender Xavier Ouellet was a scratch because of an ankle injury.
Spott released defencemen Derrick Pouliot and Adam Pelech and forwards Sean Monahan, Tyler Graovac and Francis Beauvillier following the game.
That dropped the number of players at selection camp to four goalies, 10 defenceman and 18 forwards. Another nine will be sent home Thursday following another exhibition game against university players. The 2013 world junior championship opens Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia.
Canadian defenceman Frank Corrado of the Sudbury Wolves scored for the second time in as many days Wednesday. He’d scored the winner in the previous night’s intrasquad game.
Malcolm Subban had a tough start in Canada’s net as he gave up three goals on Alberta’s first seven shots, but settled down and made 11 saves. Jordan Binnington then turned away seven of eight in his half of the game.
Laurent Brossoit and Jake Paterson tended Alberta’s nets. Brossoit stopped 18 of 19 shots before giving way to Paterson, who stopped the 12 he faced.
Torrie Dyck led Alberta with a pair of goals. Kruise Reddick and Johnny Lazo also scored. The afternoon contest didn’t draw as many as Tuesday night’s intrasquad game, which was standing-room only.
“With the kids who weren’t in the lineup tonight, those are guys we’ve got a very, very deep book on and very familiar with,” Spott said following the game. “The guys we played tonight are guys we’ve got to give a legitimate opportunity to make this hockey club.
“There are some players in my mind here this evening that didn’t take advantage of a very good opportunity. I know there’s very good players in the stands, but there’s jobs to be had here. I said from Day 1 ‘don’t have any regrets’ and I think some players may have some after tonight.”
Scheifele says his right-wing experience to this point was limited to a few practices with the Jets last season. But Spott began preparing the six-foot-three, 187-pound forward for the switch with the call to invite him to selection camp.
“When you look at players like (Mario) Lemieux and Sidney (Crosby), who have done in the past, played centre and played on the wing, Mark has to understand a player of his ability has to be versatile,” Spot said. “He understands that.
“It’s a challenge for him, but ultimately I think he can rise to that challenge. We want him to. It’s going to have to work because if not, we have to get him back in the middle and look for a second option.”
With the help of his Barrie Colts head coach Dale Hawerchuk, a former Jet himself, Scheifele worked on chipping the puck up the boards and getting the puck to the centre on the fly prior to his arrival in Calgary.
“You’ve got to battle more along the walls especially,” Scheifele said. “It’s a good thing to add to your resume. If you can play right-wing, it gives coaches at the next level a different opportunity.
“I want to be the best player I can at that position and do whatever it takes to help that line.”
Huberdeau played on the left side of Strome during the 2012 world junior championship and had strong chemistry with right-winger Mark Stone, who led Canada in assists. Scheifele had a slow start to the tournament in Alberta, but helped Canada win the bronze-medal game with a goal and an assist.
Nugent-Hopkins feels there is chemistry already forming between himself, Huberdeau and Scheifele, even though they are a new trio.
“The big thing for us is using our speed and talking out there for sure,” Nugent-Hopkins said.