Nathan MacKinnon has put himself in position to be invited to Canada’s final world junior selection camp in December, according to the team’s head scout, Kevin Prendergast. But two other Halifax Mooseheads, Zach Fucale and Jonathan Drouin, are described as “long shots.”
Prendergast got a good look at all three after watching them lead Canada’s under-18 team to gold at the Ivan Hlinka memorial tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic earlier this month.
MacKinnon, a soon-to-be 17-year-old centre who wasn’t invited to last year’s world junior camp, led the Ivan Hlinka in scoring with five goals and six assists in five games.
“He’s bigger, he’s stronger, and that’s the big thing,” Prendergast said. “The skating always stood out — that’s the first thing you notice about him — but I think his overall awareness is much better. At this point, he’s in a great position to be a part of the camp in December.”
MacKinnon, who is ranked No. 1 for the 2013 NHL draft by Red Line Report, piled up 44 goals and 62 assists for 106 points in 75 regular season and playoff games as a QMJHL rookie.
Prendergast said MacKinnon struggled at times during the Ivan Hlinka and that there’s a learning curve to play at the international level, where “one mistake can cost you a gold medal.”
But MacKinnon shined the brightest in the gold-medal game, scoring a hat trick in a 4-0 win over Finland.
“The cream comes to the top and in the gold-medal game, he was our best player,” Prendergast said. “Nathan’s got all the attributes to warrant an opportunity to be there in December, now it’s just up to him to continue on up until December.”
Fucale, a 17-year-old goaltender who shared Mooseheads co-MVP honours with MacKinnon last season, started four of five games for Canada and won them all while posting a 23-save shutout in the gold-medal game. Prendergast raved about Fucale’s fundamentals, maturity and ability to handle pressure.
“Of all the kids I’ve met in hockey over the past 20 years, he’s one of the kids who stands out because he’s got a great personality for being a goaltender,” Prendergast said.
But it won’t necessarily translate into an invitation in December, even though Prendergast describes battle for goaltending jobs “wide open.”
“I’m not ruling him out by any means, but there’s a good crop of goaltenders that’s one or two years older than him,” he said.
Drouin, a 17-year-old left-winger, had five assists in five games.
“One thing he’s got is great hockey sense,” Prendergast said. “You can’t teach that. He’s got great patience with the puck and he knows what to do with it when he’s got it. At this point, to play in a 20-year-old tournament, he’s got to get a lot stronger.”
MacKinnon, Fucale and Drouin have been held out of QMJHL pre-season action since rejoining the Mooseheads but are practising with the team at Cole Harbour Place this week.
The IIHF world junior championship begins Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia.