I have no doubts that Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat will eventually be the Tag Team Champions of the world, so the picture above comes without pause. I tried to somehow pun their names into a Franklin & Bash photo, but that didn’t work either. Instead, that’s "Bo Dallas" in his wrestling underwear. Sorry.
Anyway, Gaunce and Horvat will be getting a big chance to impress in early August, as both have been named to Team Canada’s World Junior Development Camp roster. Horvat was named before the draft (the London Knights pimped it here) and Gaunce’s addition was announced per a team press release in late June. Hunter Shinkaruk will also be attending. These items have been a bit under the radar but with the camp starting soon it’s worth talking about.
On August 4, 38 players will travel to Quebec for a two-day mini-camp. From there, all but four (the creme de la creme of the Junior program – Drouin, MacKinnon, Reinhart, Rielly) will travel to Lake Placid for three exhibition games. The camp wraps up on August 10 and is the first chance for returning coach Brent Sutter and the brass to look at all of their options in advance of the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmo, Sweden.
Shinkaruk, Gaunce and Horvat, the Vancouver Canucks representatives, will be in tough with a deep crop of forwards but the hope is that they’ll impress and make the squad. 22 forwards will be in camp with just 13 positions likely available, and again it’s worth noting that these are Canada’s best young forwards, so competition is stiff. The size Gaunce and Horvat can bring to a skill-heavy camp could set them apart from the group, especially if they can display an ability to man the wing for spells. Shinkaruk, meanwhile, is smaller but comes with a strong pedigree and a stronger scoring touch than the other two have shown.
Gaunce is a big body down the middle who has averaged a point a game for two straight seasons in the OHL, while Horvat is a bit shorter, one year Gaunce’s junior and with just one season of impressive scoring. Both players have high upsides and could be on the fast track for the NHL if the Canucks’ third line centre job isn’t won by someone currently on the active roster.
Sutter, re-installed as the coach after leading Canada to Gold in 2005 and 2006, likes some size up front. It’s likely Sutter will look to embed his style of play in the roster and Horvat and Gaunce can fit that mold. Horvat has good finishing skills but has the body type to to also play in front of the net. Gaunce is a more certain fit on the team, an NHL-ready body who is responsible in his own end and has actually played the wing for spells before.
Shinkaruk had 177 points in 130 WHL games the past two years and, while he may be on a slower track to the NHL, he has the talent to be a strong addition to the Canada squad. At 5’10" and 180lbs, his frame is the potential issue, though scouts say he plays hard despite it. High-end offensive skill is always at a premium, and it’s tough to see such a prolific scorer not having a role at least as a power play specialist.
For Canuck fans, it’s an opportunity to see the team’s last three first round draft picks against elite competition. For Gaunce, it’s a chance to prove he’s NHL-ready, while Horvat will be looking to make the Canucks look bright for dealing Cory Schneider for him. One concern with Horvat is that the WOWY numbers show he may struggle without elite linemates – although this tournament isn’t really a chance for him to disprove that, displaying versatility or playing down a line successfully could ease concerns that he can make the team before he’s top-six ready. Shinkaruk will be looking to show that his numbers, strong even at an age-adjusted level, are not a mirage, and that his size won’t impede him as the competition level improves.
The mini-camp and three exhbition games are likely to be scouting hotbeds without much else going on at this time of year, so the Army can expect some second-hand reports of how Shinkaruk, Horvat and Gaunce look among Canada’s young elite over the next two weeks.