BROSSARD, QC -- When you're an underage junior player, just being invited to attend the Canadian junior team development camp can be considered a great honor.
But in the case of Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid -- two players projected to be the top pick in the NHL Draft the next two years -- the invitation to this week's camp is not the only achievement they hope to put on their respective résumés.
Both have an excellent shot at making the Canadian team that will compete at the World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden from Dec. 26-Jan.5.
"They're special players in their own right," Canadian coach Brent Sutter said Sunday after the first day of camp. "There's a reason why they're here, they're obviously exceptional players. They're not ranked where they're ranked right now for the next two years by not being that.
"They have as good of a shot as anybody to make this team, and that's the mindset. We're not about age, we're about giving ourselves the best chance to succeed and we'll try to put together the right team to give ourselves that chance."
Reinhart, a 6-foot-1, 177-pound forward who had 35 goals and 50 assists in 72 games with the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League in 2012-13, is the early frontrunner to be the first player chosen at the 2014 NHL Draft. The youngest of three hockey-playing sons of former NHL star Paul Reinhart, Sam is in camp with his older brother Griffin, a defenceman and first-round draft pick (No. 4) of the New York Islanders in 2012.
McDavid, meanwhile, is far and away the top prospect for the class of 2015, a prodigious talent that has had a hype machine following him before he was even a teenager. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound center was granted exceptional player status to allow him to play in the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old in 2012-13, and McDavid went on to score 25 goals and 41 assists in 63 games for the last-place Erie Otters.
The two players were linemates for Canada's gold-medal winning team at the 2013 IIHF U-18 World Championships and they dominated the tournament, with McDavid claiming the directorate's top forward honors with eight goals and six assists in seven games. Reinhart had three goals and four assists.
That chemistry was on display again Sunday. Sutter put Reinhart and McDavid on a line with Max Domi, a first-round pick (No. 12) of the Phoenix Coyotes at the 2013 NHL Draft.
Domi, the elder statesman of the line at just 18, came away very impressed with what he saw.
"I played with Reinhart a bit at U-18s and he's an awesome player obviously, but Connor, I mean, it's crazy to think that he's that much younger than us," Domi said. "It's unbelievable out there. We were teasing him; he was about 12 for 12 on his shots so we were giving it to him out there a bit. But he's way beyond his years for sure."
When seeing McDavid skate around with his teammates, it would be impossible to guess he was three years younger than just about everyone else based on his skating ability and high end puck skills.
The only hint would be by looking at his head and seeing the full cage covering his face, conforming to an IIHF rule for underage players.
"Wearing a cage makes me stick out like a sore thumb, I guess," McDavid said. "It's kind of a constant reminder that I'm younger, but it's kind of funny. The guys are giving me a couple of jabs here and there, but it's fun."
Under normal circumstances, McDavid would be competing right now for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial U-18 tournament in Slovakia – considering he will still be eligible to compete at that age group next year as well – but instead he finds himself among the best U-20 players in Canada.
"Honestly, I was expecting to be on the U-18 (team) and expecting to go to that, but I found out I was going here," McDavid said. "I wished the best to the guys on the U-18 team. A lot of those guys are friends of mine and guys I've played with, but it's exciting to be able to compete for a World Junior spot."
If McDavid manages to make the Canadian junior team – and frankly, it would be a shock if he didn't – he will join an elite group of players to make the jump as a 16-year-old: Wayne Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1989), Jason Spezza (2000), Jay Bouwmeester (2000) and Sidney Crosby (2004).
"I've said before, just playing on the world junior team, age aside, would be unbelievable," McDavid said. "But to be thrown in with names like that, with Crosby and Bouwmeester and Lindros and Gretzky, obviously that would be unbelievable."
Reinhart will be looking to make a little bit of history of his own if he makes the team, but part of it is out of his hands. If both he and his older brother Griffin make the trip to Malmo, it would mark just the third time brothers played for Canada at the same World Junior Championships, joining Randy and Mike Moller in 1982 and Freddie and Dougie Hamilton in 2012.
But Griffin Reinhart has a good chance of at least starting next season with the Islanders. In fact, he will not be playing for Canada at a preparatory tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y., this week along with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Morgan Rielly, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Anytime you get to represent your country it's a special feeling," Sam Reinhart said. "I don't think I've ever been able to represent it with either him or my oldest brother (Max). That would obviously add a little bit of excitement each night."
While most underage players are serious longshots to make the Canadian junior team, Reinhart and McDavid provide some assurance for Sutter and his staff in that they are two players who are guaranteed to be available when the tournament begins, of course barring injury. Of the 35 skaters who are at the development camp for Canada, upwards of 15 of them could be considered to have a legitimate shot at making their respective NHL clubs this fall.
"It's such an unknown," Sutter said. "You're not sure which guys could possibly make a National Hockey League team, and if they do whether an NHL team will want to send them back at Christmas time or not. You don't know those things, and that's stuff you really aren't going to know until December. So that's why it's important to see a whole group, that's why those four guys aren't coming with us, because we want to see what we have with everyone else."
But, at least Sutter knows he has two high-end talents that should be available to him when the time comes to name the Canadian team. And he's pretty excited about that possibility.
"When you've got two special players like that it's unique," he said, "but it's also very neat, too."
Author: Arpon Basu | Managing Editor LNH.com
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