Warriors star joins national under-18 team
Brayden Point was a ringer the last time he stopped on the ice.
Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors is attending Canada's national under-18 hockey camp. Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
The Moose Jaw Warriors star will be far from that next week, but he is expected to a key contributor for Canadian under-18 national team when they head to Finland for the IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championships in Finland.
"I think the expectations for Canada is always a gold medal," said Point from Toronto when the under-18s will hold a four-day training camp before they open the tournament Thursday in Imatra, Finland.
"I'll try my best to produce as much as I can offensively, but there's also some other skilled forwards here who will do the same."
Point was red hot as he finished the Western Hockey League season on a 12-game point streak. It has been three weeks since the WHL season ended, but Point got some extra ice time by playing in a company hockey tournament with his dad and his older brother Riley, himself a former Junior A player in Alberta.
"It was pretty fun. It was me, my dad and my brother on a line, so that was pretty awesome," said Point, whose team won the tournament.
Hockey Canada invited three goalies, six defencemen and 11 forwards to the camp, though it is expected that some of the eight underage players invited won't wind up playing in the tournament. Point was one of those underage players a year ago who went to camp and played in the pre-competition games, but didn't play in the tournament.The team will only feature players who are no longer involved in the CHL playoffs. More players may be added to the roster after their teams are eliminated from the playoffs.
Point had two assists as Canada beat the United States 4-0 in the final of the Under-18 Memorial of Hlinka tournament in Slovakia this past summer. At least seven players from that tournament will look to help Canada defend it's world championship from a year ago.
"It's a pretty big turnover, but there's a few guys I know from the Hlinka and then from (the WHL)," said Point who said he felt good after the team's first practice Saturday. "I think all of the rust is gone and I still feel like I'm in pretty good shape from the season. I feel game-ready."
Point's two linemen from the Memorial of Hlinka tournament — Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson — will both miss the U18 worlds due to injury. Calgary Hitmen left winger Jake Virtanen is also out.
Losing that trio is a blow for Canada. Bennett is ranked first amongst North American skaters on the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau's midterm rankings, while Virtanen is ninth.
Kevin Dineen, fresh of guiding the Canadian women to Olympic gold, is the head coach for the U18s."There's a lot of skill, so it looks pretty good," said Point. "We have some size on the back end. It looks like a big, fast team."
The worlds will kick off a very busy summer for the 18-year-old. He is expected to be one of the 120 players invited to the National Hockey League's Scouting Combine which begins on May 26 in Toronto.
Point is five-foot-nine and 160 pounds and he knows he's unlikely to turn too many heads in the weight room at the combine.
"There's a couple of weeks off between this and the combine, so I'm going to try to squeeze as much combine work as I can, but I don't think that's a make or break for me at this point," said the hard-working Calgary product. "I don't think I'm going to lead in many categories (in the weight room)."
While the NHL draft is in his thoughts, Point isn't worried about how his play in Finland may affect his status on draft day in Philadelphia.
"I'm just trying to enjoy the experience with these guys as much as I can," he said.
Point's Warriors teammate Alexey Sleptsov is one of eight defencemen taking part in the Russian under-18 pre-tournament camp. Sleptsov played for the Russian under-18s at the Hlinka this past summer.
Canada opens the tournament April 17 against Sweden. They are joined in Pool B by Russia, Slovakia and Germany.