The World Junior Championships face off in 6 days. For hockey fans, this is a time to enjoy hockey organized and officiated by someone other than the NHL cartel, to see flowing hockey and watch players playing for pride and joy.
For most fans of NHL teams, most Canadiens fans included, it's also a time to get a quick look at some of the prospects that up until now (whatever your best intentions were to go see junior games) you've only read about in a scouting report.
It is both a chance to evaluate the prospects and the scouting department, as other teams prospects (passed by in the draft) emerge as well.
This year the Montreal Canadiens were looking primed for a very good representation at the championships. Up until last week, they had three forwards poised to play for Team Canada (the team it means most to make). Unfortunately for those keen on seeing Bournival and Brendan Gallagher, they were cut at the last moment. As a result, Habs fans will have to make do with watching 2009 first rounder Louis Leblanc on Team Canada and 2009 third rounder Joonas Nattinen on Team Finland (both centres).
By all accounts, Louis is set to have a possible scoring breakout and could well be the star for Team Canada. Nattinen, on the other hand, seems to be along for the ride. Even so, it should be a good week's worth of amateur scouting for us all. Hopefully there will be pleasant surprises.
As I said, it will also be a chance to observe many other drafted players from other NHL franchises as they power their teams to wins and cause the mistakes that lead to losses.
In all there are 93 juniors on the rosters as they stand right now (some include players who may yet be cut). So, Montreal's twosome is below the NHL average for sending players to Buffalo.
The teams that will be required to send the most representatives for scouting and schmoozing with their prospects are Florida, Minnesota, Detroit and Washington. Each team has 6 prospects spread over a few different teams.
So what does this say about Montreal scouting? Well hard to say really. Getting players onto Team Canada is the hardest thing to do, and Montreal almost had three. Had those two not been cut, we'd also be talking about a top tier team.
Yet, it's still difficult to compare Montreal's scouting of a first rounder and Nattinen to Detroit's haul of six players while winning the NHL and relying on late rounders yet again to make up ground. And Florida just did it in style as they posted two to team Canada and three to the next strongest American squad. Washington and Minnesota relied on Euros for their good showing, yet Minny has Granlund who may end up being the star of the show, and Washington has some underrated Russians on board.
If it's quality rather than quantity that spells success, then lots of Timmins reputation is riding on Leblanc's shoulders. , as there's no guarantee he'll be the player for Canada or among the top at the tournament.
The Timmins Watch
For fun, I looked through the rosters of the junior teams and looked at players the Habs could have drafted.
There are a boatload of players that were chosen before the Canadiens had a pick, and so nothing to do with Timmins (17 in all).
The following group are those who were passed over in favour of Louis Leblanc. Based on play thus far, we can't really call these mis-picks. there are 16 in that group at this tournament.
Where it starts to get interesting is the group that could have been had instead of London Knights "stalwart" Jarred Tinordi. Remember, the Canadiens traded up a pick to get Tinordi and could have potentially had a couple from this group of 28 players:
Obviously it's too early to write off Tinordi altogether, and big D's have the habit of being slow developers (yet worth waiting for). Still, there are a quite a few exciting names here, and a tournament of hockey might start to raise questions about that June day trade and pick.
The American defenders alone, all selected to vie for the medal ahead of Jarred, will be interesting to keep an eye on.
The lists get shorter and less interesting as we go. But as we get a chance to see Nattinen, it might be interesting also to watch the 18 players drafted behind him in 2009.
Many of those players were also selected behind Mac Bennett (also not a National team calibre player yet), Alexander Avtsin, and Dustin Walsh (whose currently 6th in scoring at that powerhouse which is Dartmouth).
Finally, while no one would ever confuse Michael Cichy as a candidate for the National Team, it worth keeping an eye on two players who were taken after him in the 7th round of the 2009 draft: Carolina defender Tommi Kivisto (Finland) and yet another Detroit Swedish defensive find (possibly), Adam Almqvist.
There's the undrafted by the score, but no scouts thought those would be worth more than Petteri Simila, so it's hard to fault anyone for missing them.
So as you're all watching Louis Lebalnc skate circles around Americans and wondering where on earth Tinordi is. Have a look around and notice the wealth in talent at this tournament.