After finishing off an incredibly impressive trio of pretournament games where Team Canada outshot their opponents like it was going out of style, the kids have to be itching to get into the games that matter. When they do though, that's when the real pressure hits. Canada is on the verge of matching a dubious streak of five straight years without winning a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships, broken apart by five straight golds.
That pressure of an entire country's expectation that you should win, not that you could win, is crushing and all-consuming. It's a difficult thing for teens to deal with, and in many ways unfair. But that's the life of elite young Canadian hockey players.
|Player||Pos||Draft year||League||Current team|
|Zachary Fucale||G||2013 (36th)||QMJHL||Quebec Remparts|
|Eric Comrie||G||2013 (59th)||WHL||Tri-City Americans|
|Josh Morrissey||D||2013 (13th)||WHL||Kelowna Rockets|
|Darnell Nurse||D||2013 (7th)||OHL||Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds|
|Samuel Morin||D||2013 (11th)||QMJHL||Rimouski Oceanic|
|Shea Theodore||D||2013 (26th)||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds|
|Madison Bowey||D||2013 (53rd)||WHL||Kelowna Rockets|
|Joe Hicketts||D||2014||WHL||Victoria Royals|
|Dillon Heatherington||D||2013 (50th)||WHL||Swift Current Broncos|
|Max Domi||F||2013 (12th)||OHL||London Knights|
|Anthony Duclair||F||2013 (80th)||NHL||New York Rangers|
|Sam Reinhart||F||2014 (2nd)||WHL||Kootenay Ice|
|Connor McDavid||F||2015||OHL||Eerie Otters|
|Nick Ritchie||F||2014 (10th)||OHL||Peterborough Petes|
|Curtis Lazar||F||2013 (17th)||NHL||Ottawa Senators|
|Nic Petan||F||2013 (43rd)||WHL||Portland Winterhawks|
|Nick Paul||F||2013 (101st)||OHL||North Bay Battalion|
|Robby Fabbri||F||2014 (21st)||OHL||Guelph Storm|
|Lawson Crouse||F||2015||OHL||Kingston Frontenacs|
|Frederik Gauthier||F||2013 (21st)||QMJHL||Rimouski Oceanic|
|Jake Virtanen||F||2014 (6th)||WHL||Calgary Hitmen|
|Brayden Point||F||2014 (79th)||WHL||Moose Jaw Warriors|
Coach: Benoit Groulx
Draft eligible players
There's two on the team, but one of them is the guy everyone is going to be watching in this tournament. Connor McDavid is returning from a broken hand that kept him out of action for weeks, but the phenom is still 7th in the Ontario Hockey League in points, in spite of playing just 18 games. His points pace in the OHL is comparable to, and perhaps even more impressive than what Sidney Crosby did at the same age. That doesn't mean McDavid is bound for greatness, but he is an incredible talent that is sure to capture the hearts and minds of millions of Canadians as the tournament goes on.
Also playing for Canada is 2015 draft eligible Lawson Crouse, who is expected to go high in the first round according to scouts, but not many casual observers can really see why. Crouse ranks 17th among draft eligibles in points per game in the OHL alone, meaning that even if you're generous, he can't be higher than about 45th across the Canadian Hockey League, and is likely far behind a few players in the US National Development Program, and in Europe. It was confusing enough to see him make the team, but many people are scratching their heads over Michael Dal Colle's exclusion in his favour.
Canada has perhaps the biggest trump card in the World Junior tournament when it comes to their top offensive guys. Benoit Groulx seems to like to put Petan on the third line to spread out the offense, but with McDavid and Reinhart representing the top tier of junior talent, and two NHLers in Duclair and Lazar, Canada is dynamic at the top end beyond what any other team can muster.
While McDavid is still getting up to full speed following his injury, the line if Duclair, Domi, and Reinhart looks poised to be the most dangerous of the tournament. They attack with a speed and tenacity that most junior aged defensemen just cannot cope with.
If this deep edition of Team Canada has a weakness, it's the fourth line. Jake Virtanen looks to be a more than capable player at this level, but Frederik Gauthier was a drag on the team last year, and it seems like he's filling the same role this year. He looks lost when the game gets too quick, and his offensive game is... Nothing special. While the scouts may be right about Lawson Crouse eventually, 17 year olds are usually overwhelmed in this tournament, and a 17 year old that hasn't been exceptional is likely to be overrun by teams full of 19 year olds.
Goaltending is also a constant worry for Canada, and presumed starter and Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale has had a less than stellar season for the Halifax Mooseheads, way down at 12th in the QMJHL in save percentage. Fucale was solid but not spectacular last year for Canada at the World Juniors behind an incredibly porous defense, but he'll have to be better than that if Canada hopes to take home gold.
Canada's defense is largely unknown at this tournament, with only Josh Morrissey returning from last year's roster. With that said, the talent on the blueline is very good. Darnell Nurse has the ability to be among the top defensemen in the entire tournament, as does Morrissey. Samuel Morin is highly regarded in certain circles, and if he has a tournament that justifies his draft pedigree, Team Canada is looking good.
Canada also boasts an interesting trio of puck movers in Shea Theodore, Madison Bowey, and Joe Hicketts. It's a group that doesn't bring a ton of experience to the tournament, but has the talent to be very good, especially if they're well coached, which seems to be the case three games of pretournament action in.