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World Juniors 2015: Canada team preview

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Team Canada enters the 2015 World Juniors with the possibility of tying a dubious record, a five year gold drought is on the horizon if they can't find a way this year. The team is stacked with skilled players, but can they get what they need to not underperform like they have of late?

Steve Russell

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.

Roster

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.

Strengths

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.

Weaknesses

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.

X-Factor

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.