OTTAWA - 67’s captain Cody Ceci won’t be losing much sleep this weekend as Hockey Canada’s world junior decision day looms with camp invites announced Monday.
The Senators’ first-round pick was one of the final cuts from selection camp last December, and faces a whole new set of challenges this time around as the NHL lockout has created a seismic shift in the supply-demand dynamic.
Even with an injury to top defensive prospect Ryan Murray, Hockey Canada scouts can still choose from a deep group led by the likes of Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly, Scott Harrington and Ryan Murphy.
In TSN analyst Bob McKenzie’s WJC preview published last week, Ceci’s was the 14th name mentioned among blueliners, with camp invites expected to be extended to about a dozen defencemen competing for seven available spots.
Asked if the imminent announcement weighs on him, Ceci, 18, acknowledged “a little bit.
“I’d like to get invited, but I’m not going to let it take away from my focus this weekend (with his team continuing a tough road swing in Saginaw and Windsor). “If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t then I’ll work hard and look forward to whatever happens next year,” said Ceci.
Ceci brushed off TSN’s analysis, saying, “I haven’t been paying much attention to that.”
After all, with 28 points in 27 games heading into Friday night, Ceci ranks second among all WJC-eligible blueliners, and third among CHL defencemen, behind only Hamilton (36 points) and overager Brenden Kichton of the Spokane Chiefs (29).
“If I get invited I want to make sure I have a strong camp and control what I can control and not let any (external factors) bother me,” he said. “They’re looking for me to play an offensive role, but they also need a strong two-way game, and that’s what I’ve been working on.”
Ceci has given Hockey Canada plenty of looks at his developing game. He competed in the August Canada-Russia Challenge on international-size ice in Ufa, Russia, where this year’s tournament will be held, and skated for Team OHL in the recent Subway Super Series.
“It was a good experience with a lot of great players, and it just showed me what I was up against and the defencemen I’m fighting with for a spot,” Ceci said. “It gives me a little bit of an advantage that I’ve already been over there.”
Despite the turmoil Ceci’s 67’s have faced this season, the Senators believe their top 2012 pick (15th overall) will emerge from it a better person, and a stronger player.
“It’s good to be challenged,” said director of player development Randy Lee, who has kept close tabs on Ceci at practices and games.
“He has to be the leader in that room, he has to be an extension of the coach, and he has to be part of the solution. He has to set the example by being the hardest worker in practice, stay positive in the room, and in the long term, it’s going to be beneficial. It really challenges your character, and it’s how you respond to that challenge (that matters).”
As for Monday’s decision day?
“I don’t lose much sleep over it,” said Ceci. “I’ve done everything I can and now it’s up to them.”
The Senators are also excited about a pair of prospects who could find themselves squaring off against each other at the WJC with Canada’s Matt Puempel of the Kitchener Rangers and Texas-born Stefan Noesen of the Plymouth Whalers.
But health remains a major question mark as both suffered injuries last week, with Puempel suffering a grade one shoulder sprain this week and Noesen missing a chance to strut his stuff in Plymouth’s only visit to Scotiabank Place last Sunday after suffering a high ankle sprain the night before.
Noesen did return to the lineup Friday night against the visiting 67's after missing four games.
“(Noesen) really wanted to play in front of Paul (MacLean) and our management team, but it would have set him back,” said Randy Lee, who arranged a sit-down session between prospect and prospective coach during Sunday’s game.
“Stefan is a really confident guy, but he was listening to everything (MacLean) had to say, and it just reinforced everything that I and (Plymouth coach) Mike Vellucci have been telling him,” said Lee. “It was nice to just sit back and watch that. His eyes were wide open.”
As for Puempel, there is no timetable for his return, though if he’s ready, he could have an inside track with Kitchener coach Steve Spott manning the Team Canada bench.
“Steve has been overjoyed with the way (Puempel) has progressed and matured,” said Lee.
“He had an awkward year (in Peterborough last season) with (a concussion) and a suspension, but when he went down to Binghamton at the end of the season, it showed him how big a jump he has to make and it just pushed him to do the things required to take his game to the next level. (Spott) knew he was a goal-scorer, but he’s been more impressed with his all-around game.”
With the only two goals in a 2-1 win over Syracuse, D Tyler Eckford took over the B-Sens scoring lead with 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists). His 10 points is tied with Brendan Gallagher of the Hamilton Bulldogs for the lowest point total among AHL team scoring leaders ... LW Cole Schneider scored his first two professional goals in a 6-1 win over Bridgeport Saturday ... D Eric Gryba returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a hand injury. He put those hands to use with a pair of goals and an assist against Bridgeport. His three points is a single-game season-high for B-Sens individual scorers.