Bumper crop on way

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

We're six days away from finding out which 28 or so players will come here to fight for a spot on Canada's world junior team.

And Winnipeg's Cam Barker can't wait.

The big defenceman, drafted third overall by the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks earlier this year, is one of six Manitobans being considered for the final selection camp, beginning Dec. 12.

It's an invitation he covets more than almost anything these days.

"Oh, I wanted it so bad last year, too," Barker was saying yesterday from Medicine Hat, where he's Mr. Everything on the blue-line for the Western League's Tigers. "I thought last year I might have had a shot at getting one. But I didn't and I was pretty upset. It drove me this summer to be that much better and work that much harder."

Now, you'd think the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Barker and his 28 points are a sure thing. But consider this: Team Canada will have as many as 13 players returning from last year's silver-medal-winning squad, and five of them played defence.

With a new coach -- Brent Sutter of the Red Deer Rebels -- in charge, nothing is guaranteed.

Sutter wants just 28-30 players in camp, down from the usual 34-36.

And considering the NHL lockout leaves virtually all juniors available this year, some really good ones won't be invited.

Listening to Hockey Canada's head scout, Blair Mackasey, though, Barker's chances of being invited aren't bad at all.

"There's a reason you get drafted No. 3 overall -- it's because you're obviously blessed with a lot of talent," Mackasey said from Mississauga yesterday. "He's got all the tools to play, there's no doubt about that. Probably if this was a non-strike year, he'd probably be the type of player who'd be in the NHL right now."

As for the rest of our local hopefuls, here's Mackasey's take on each.

NIGEL DAWES, F, Kootenay Ice: "Nigel was an important part of our team last year, and an important part of the Dawes-(Mike) Richards-(Anthony) Stewart line, and I wouldn't expect anything would change this year."

REJEAN BEAUCHEMIN, G, Prince Albert Raiders: "Like all the goaltenders we've been looking at, his play has been a little up and down, as has their team. The thing that's been good about Rejean is he's played well against the better teams in the league, which is important."

DUSTIN BOYD, F, Moose Jaw Warriors: "Dustin brings a lot of energy to the mix. He goes hard every night. He's not playing on a great team, so that makes it a little more difficult for him to put up the numbers other players might have."

ERIC FEHR, F, Brandon Wheat Kings: "Eric's a goal-scorer. He's one of the leading scorers in the league. He's put up great numbers this year."

TRAVIS ZAJAK, F, UND: "He came to our camp this summer ... and certainly acquitted himself well for a player coming from a Tier 2 background. He's had a good start to the year at North Dakota."

That's quite a crop of Manitoba talent. But someone's going to be crushed like a canola seed next week.

"Do I assume all six will be there? Probably not," Mackasey said. "It's just a matter of deciding what we want."

Barker, for one, will do pretty much anything they want.

"I'd be the water boy on that team," he said. "I really don't care."

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HOMEGROWN TALENT

Hoping for invites to world junior camp:

G REJEAN BEAUCHEMIN: 8-13-3 record, 2.84 GAA for Prince Albert

D CAM BARKER: 5 goals, 23 assists for Medicine Hat

F DUSTIN BOYD: 8 goals, 16 assists for Moose Jaw

F NIGEL DAWES: 17 goals, 9 assists for Kootenay

F ERIC FEHR (Winkler): 22 goals, 13 assists for Brandon

F TRAVIS ZAJAC: 9 goals, 4 assists for Univ. of North Dakota


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