With the World Junior Championships coming up later this month and each country releasing the rosters for their training camps, a few organizations have had to make some tough decisions with their young NHL players. On Thursday night, the Anaheim Ducks announced that the team will loan rookie forward Devante Smith-Pelly to Hockey Canada for the upcoming camp and tournament. Likewise, it’s been reported that the Tampa Bay Lightning will release forward Brett Connolly to Hockey Canada as well.
Eric Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports that Connolly will head to Calgary for Team Canada’s camp on Saturday. The decision to release the 19-year-old rookie was made before Martin St. Louis went down with his injury; the team didn’t change their mind when they learned St. Louis would miss time. Connolly was part of Canada’s silver medal winning team at least year’s WJC and he’ll look to improve on that if he makes this year’s team.
Lightning head coach Guy Boucher talked about the opportunity for Connolly: “…it’s going to be a great moment for him to live that pressure and be one of the top guys. And that’s an incredible experience for him for the future because he’s going to be able to take more pressure and the toughest moments. That’s what you get out of (playing for) Team Canada.”
On the other coast, the Ducks announced 19-year-old Devante Smith-Pelly will get his first opportunity to make Team Canada at the WJC. He was one of the last cuts last season, but took his game to another level in the OHL playoffs last season and made the Ducks’ roster out of training camp.
“This is a great opportunity for Devante to continue his development,” said Executive Vice President/General Manager Bob Murray. “Being a candidate for Team Canada in such a prestigious tournament is a great honor. He’s improving each day as an NHL player and we hope he can continue his progress after playing for his country. We fully expect him to play a prominent role in the upcoming tournament for Canada.”
On the other hand, Florida Panthers look like they’ll have different plans for defenseman Erik Gudbranson. The third-overall pick in the 2010 draft has been playing win the surprising Panthers all season and will probably not be released for the few weeks of the tournament. Instead, he’ll stay up at the NHL level and help the Florida Panthers compete for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
It’s always a tough decision for general managers when they weigh the experience a prospect will gain when at the WJC against the injury risk while playing for another team. Each team is in a different situation—each player is also in a different situation for that matter.
On Thursday, both the Lightning and the Ducks decided it would be most beneficial for their promising young players to get a taste of the pressure of the WJC.