A shakeup in the Calgary Flames front office on Thursday has management of Canada’s world junior championship team wondering if centre Sean Monahan may be available for international duty.
They had already been told Monahan would not be loaned for the Dec. 26-Jan. 3 world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, but that was before Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke fired general manager Jay Feaster.
Scott Salmond, the junior squad’s director of hockey operations, said it won’t hurt to ask again if the gifted forward is available, even if it may be a longshot.
“A no is a no whether it comes from Brian Burke or Jay,” said Salmond. “Out of respect for Brian we’ll go back and ask again. I’m sure Brian was part of the original decision. Whether things change or not will be up to the Calgary Flames, but it’s worth a try.”
The six-foot-two 190-pound Monahan has nine goals and 15 points in 24 games as an NHL rookie.
The junior team is also hoping to bring Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly back for a second world junior tournament, but so far the Leafs have been reluctant to let him go. The NHL club is expected to make a decision by Tuesday.
The juniors have already got rearguard Mathew Dumba from the Minnesota Wild.
Players arrived a few at a time from across Canada on Thursday to begin preparations for a three-day camp at the Mastercard Centre before heading for Sweden for more practice and three pre-tournament games.
What wasn’t known is whether Halifax Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin, projected to be a top points producer, will be able to skate. He suffered a concussion last week after being hit from behind in a game against the Quebec Remparts.
He was to be evaluated by team doctors Thursday night to see if he is ready to resume skating.
Drouin said he feels better, but it’s up to the doctors to say if he can skate.
“I want to get on the ice with the guys as soon as possible, but it’s my health and I’m not going to push it,” said Drouin, the third-overall pick in the NHL draft in June by the Tampa Bay Lightning. “But it’s not me deciding those things. It’s more medical testing to make sure I’m fine in my head.”
Coach Brent Sutter doubts that Drouin will skate this week, but it won’t disrupt the team’s preparations either way.
“We’ll monitor him,” said Sutter. “There’s no rush or panic. We have a few days before we need to be concerned about it.”
Drouin played well at last year’s world juniors, when Canada was shut out of the medals after losing to the United States in the semifinals. And he was a force as Halifax won the Memorial Cup.
He was disappointed that the Lightning didn’t keep him in the NHL after training camp, but since then he has been tearing up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 17 goals and 50 points in only 23 games.
Ryan Jankowski, the junior team’s top scout, said the experience Drouin acquired last season has made him a better player.
“He’s been through a lot,” said Jankowski. “Winning a Memorial Cup and being part of the world juniors was huge for him, but now he’s taking his game to the next level.
“His game has changed. He’s more complete, but he has also raised his offensive game to dominate more than he did last year, if that’s possible.”
Another returning player is Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Griffin Reinhart, who was slapped with a four-game suspension for slashing an American player in last year’s world juniors. He sat out one game in that tournament, but is to miss the first three games this time.
Sutter shot down any notion that the suspension would play any part in the decision on whether to keep the big and gifted rearguard.
“We’re not going to be worried about the suspension he has,” said Sutter. “If we have to carry six defencemen to start the tournament, we’ll do so.
“You look at the youth on our team, it outweighs the three games he still has to serve.”
He said the experience and leadership of players like Reinhart is even more important on a team that has three “underage” players in camp — 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid, as well as possibly the two top picks in the 2014 NHL draft in defenceman Aaron Ekblad and Reinhart’s younger brother Sam.
There are three cuts still to be made — five if Monahan and Rielly join the squad — and it is uncertain if the three youngsters will make it.
Sutter is high on all three, but there is only room for two goalies, seven defencemen and 13 forwards.
McDavid said he’s ready to accept any role, if it means making the team.
“There’s a little pressure I guess, being that I am 16, but I don’t think they would have brought me here if they thought that was going to be a big deal,” he said. “So I just try to put it out of my head and focus on the task at hand.”
Sutter set no timetable for the cuts, which could come at the end of the camp but may come after the first exhibition game in Sweden. They hope to have their 22-man squad set at least for the last two pre-tournament games.
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