WJC Preview: Who to Watch, Team Canada
The Day is nearly here, the Pre-Tournament Games are done, and its time for the World Juniors. In October I did early looks and predictions on what the rosters might look like, but I think its time to update them now, as teams are being set, and the tournament is ready to go. If you want to see any of my previous articles you can find a complete listing of my them here.
Over the Next two days I will give you are preview of Each Team in the Tournament, highlighting the key players to watch, their strengths and weaknesses, and what to look forward to in the Tournament. Yesterday, we looked at Pool A, which features defending champ Sweden, the impressive Finns, the always dangerous Czech Republic, a team that is no stranger to upsets in Switzerland, and an underrated team from Latvia.
So lets move on to Pool B, where we have already looked at Russia, Germany and Slovakia. We also took look at the United States, and now we move on to Team Canada.
Team Canada won 5 straight gold medals from 2005 to 2009. Now after three years with two silvers and a bronze, this squad is headed to Ufa knowing that anything less than a gold medal will be considered a failure by the Canadian Media and public. The squad is powerful with a number of players who would be in the NHL if not for the lockout.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins: Team Canada’s captain played last season for the Edmonton Oilers, and put up 52 points in 62 games and finished 2nd in voting for the Calder Trophy. The talented pivot is currently playing in the AHL for the Oklahoma City Barons where he has been scoring at over a point per game pace.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be Canada’s first line centre and is expected to be Canada’s top scorer. He could very well compete for tournament MVP. Hopkins is an excellent skater and stickhandler. He really knows how to control the play with the puck on his stick, with his great puck control and he can create opportunities and passing lanes by using his ability to vary speeds on his feet, and his quick stops and starts. He also has a very good wrist shot and release, and soft hands in close as seen with his 18 goals in the NHL last season.
Jonathan Huberdeau: Huberdeau was one of Canada’s best forwards in last year’s tournament and the same is expected this year. I believe that be would be playing for the Panthers if not for the lockout as Huberdeau has nearly done it all in Junior Hockey. The one thing missing from the resume though, is a Gold Medal.
The 2011 third overall pick is a dynamic offensive threat from the wing. Listed by many as capable of playing centre as well, Huberdeau has used almost exclusively at Left Wing for Saint John for most of the last three years and will play in that spot on Canada’s top line.
Offensively, Huberdeau brings everything you could ask for from a player. He has incredible hockey sense and instinct to play the game. Huberdeau reads the play well at both ends of the rink and almost always makes the smart play. He exploits holes in the opponent’s defence and finds openings to create offence for himself or others. An excellent stick handler, Huberdeau is able to both protect the puck and to beat opponents one on one with his soft hands. He can mesmerize goalies and defenders with his arsenal of quick moves and dangles, and his quickness helps him score goals in tight. He also has the ability to let go an NHL ready wrist shot with great accuracy and a quick release. The defence is naturally drawn to him and his talent, and if they are not careful, he has the excellent vision and play making abilities, to spot open teammates and to make a crisp tape to tape pass leaving them with an open net to shoot at. Marry these skills with Huberdeau’s great speed, agility, and balance on his skates, and you have a dynamic offensive force.
Mark Scheifele: A natural centre, Scheifele will play Right Wing on Canada’s top line. Scheifele could also be in the NHL this year, as he made the Jets last year in training camp, and even played in 7 regular season games, before being sent back to the Barrie Colts and the OHL and playing for Team Canada at last years tournament where he was a point per game player.
Big and talented Scheifele combines excellent size, long reach, soft hands, and quick stickhandling to protect the puck and buy time to make plays. Scheifele has great vision, and tremendous passing ability. Scheifele is a good shooter, who has an accurate wrister with a very good release. He could stand to shoot more often, especially playing with two other playmakers, as that will be the main question with this line. Who is the trigger man?
Scheifele’s skating is a major strength in his game. He has shown improved speed and acceleration this season, and would now be classified as good in both areas. His biggest strength though is his excellent balance, and powerful stride. This allows Scheifele to protect the puck in the cycle game, and drive the puck through traffic and to the front of the net.
Scheifele is a willing backchecker who understands defensive concepts, and has solid positioning in his own end. He is involved physically and in puck battles, but he needs to add more upper body strength to be truly effective in this area. He has shown a willingness to sacrifice though, to block shots and to put his body on the line to win games.
Ryan Strome: Ryan Strome brings high end offensive game to Team Canada’s second line. The talented Ice Dogs centre has been driving the Ice Dogs offence for three years now. After two years he when he scored at a pace of nearly 1.6 points per game, he’s taken it up another notch this year leading the entire CHL in scoring 62 points in just 32 games last year. He was also an offensive catalyst for Canada’s Bronze Medal winning 2012 World Junior Championship squad, scoring 9 points in 6 games.
Strome has all the offensive talent you would look for in a young player. He is a terrific skater. He has good top end speed, good acceleration, and his great ability to change speeds, and terrific agility help him to beat defenders. He is also a terrific stickhandler, with great puck protection, and silky smooth hands and moves (click here to see the goal that made Strome a youtube sensation). Add to that the creativity and confidence to try anything and he is extremely dangerous off the rush. Strome has the vision and creativity to be an outstanding playmaker as he is able to feather passes through the smallest of openings, and set up teammates with quality scoring chances. As a sniper, he is NHL ready, having a fantastic wrist shot and release, an excellent slapshot, and a great one timer. His overtime goal won the summer Super Series against Russia for the Canadian team.
There are also two 2013 draft eligible forwards on this year’s squad. High profile players we’ll review, but we must remember to temper our expectations with regards to these players, as seen in my earlier article, here.
Jonathan Drouin, Left Wing: Drouin will start the tournament at left wing on Canada’s second line with Ryan Strome. He’s a dynamic skater and creative offensively as both a playmaker and a finisher. The only thing that holds Drouin back at times is his size and some questions defensively. While he’s listed at 5’11″ there is a ton of questions about the accuracy of that listing. You can’t deny the talent though, and the drafts fastest rising talent will look to put up an impressive tournament by creating scoring opportunities with Strome.
Nathan MacKinnon, Centre/Right Wing: My pick as the Best player in this draft class right. A native of Cole Harbour, he’s been compared to Sidney Crosby; but the truth is that while he’s not as good as Crosby, he does plays the same style and is Sid-lite. He’s still a future franchise centre, just not the generational talent of Crosby. He’s very strong on the puck, a great playmaker or goal scorer, and a tremendously agile and quick skater. His albility to make lateral cuts gives defenders nightmares, and his quick, soft hands in tight and excellent wrist shot give goaltenders nightmares. He is extremely versatile, and could be used at both centre and wing by the Canadian club. Expect to see him start the tournament in a bottom line role. I expect MacKinnon to show flashes of brilliance, but he doesn’t have the experience, nor will he get the ice time on this deep and talented squad, to truly dominate.
Defence: The Canadian Defence should be a real strength of the squad even with the injury to Ryan Murray taking him out of the tournament. This is a squad that is filled with talented defenders and is the best squad in the tourney on paper. Consider that there is so much talent on this squad that they were able to cut top 10 picks like Matt Dumba and Derrick Pouliot, while leaving other high picks like Slater Koekkoek and Cody Ceci on the outside looking in for selection camp.
Dougie Hamilton, Defence: Hamilton is a huge physical specimen at 6’4″ and 195 lbs. Hamilton has put up extremely impressive offensive stats, leading the OHL in scoring by a defenceman, last season despite only playing 50 games due to missing time with a suspension, and playing for Team Canada at last years tournament. He’s started strong again this season with 41 points in 32 games.
Hamilton is a gifted skater for his height, and has good mobility, agility and acceleration. He is also a strong stickhandler who protects the puck well. He combines these skills to help skate the puck out of danger in his own end and elude forecheckers. He also is very adept at joining the rush and creating offence from the back end. Hamilton has a hard and accurate slap shot and one timer which he used to great effect on the Canada powerplay last year. His vision and passing skills are also elite, and already NHL ready. He should again be a key to Canada’s powerplay.
Defensively Dougie Hamilton used to be the type of player that relied on his positioning and good instincts solely in the defensive zone. While those are very good, and very useful in defending, Hamilton was criticized by many for lacking physicality despite his size. This is no longer the case, as Hamilton upped his physical game over the last year and a half . While no one will confuse him with Scott Stevens, and he’s still not the biggest hitter around, Hamilton has show the ability to lay the body and added an effective physical dimension to his game. Hamilton’s game is now extremely well rounded and he truly can do it all. Expect him to be Canada’s number 1 defenceman, and to be a real key for the squad in the tournament. Another player who would likely be in the NHL if not for the lockout.
Morgan Rielly: Taken fifth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rielly is an absolutely elite skater, and might be the best skater in this whole tournament. His speed is off the charts, he uses his edges effectively, he has a great first step and quick acceleration, and his pivots and changes of direction are quick and crisp. His skating is already at a level that would leave many NHLers in his dust.
Rielly loves to carry the puck, and loves to lead his teams rushes from the backend. A frequent sight at Warriors games was Rielly trying an end to end rush this season. He’s great with the puck on his stick, and has good vision and passing ability. He also has both a great wrist and slap shot and he utilizes these along with his great vision, and ability to make crisp tape to tape passes, and should feature as a key quarterback on Canada’s powerplay with Hamilton.
Rielly does sometimes make mistakes and has a habit of sometimes being a gambler, and making a bad giveaway due to his desire to always push the offence. HeHowever Rielly’s puck skills do help him defensively as he’s often able to steal the puck from opposing defenders and quickly move the puck up the ice. Rielly is extremely disciplined and it is well over a full calendar year since he last took a penalty. The ability to remain disciplined and his outstanding skating will be extremely valuable in Ufa.
Xavier Ouellet: With 60 points in 63 games last year Ouellet has already proven to be one of the best offensive defencemen in the CHL. Its been much of the same this year with 25 points in 26 games so far. He also has a very good wrist shot with a quick release. His slapshot is powerful and he has a dangerous one timer. Ouellet is very poised on the powerplay and has excellent vision and creativity, its expected that he will team with Ryan Murphy on Team Canada’s second line.
He is a great skater and is very dangerous off the rush as well. Don’t be fooled though, Ouellet is no one trick pony, as he also is a good defensive defenceman using his solid positioning and good hockey sense to keep opponents at bay. He will be used in a top 4 role for Team Canada and the Detroit prospect is expected to produce at both ends of the rink.
Griffin Reinhart: Reinhart comes from good bloodlines as he is the son of former Calgary Flame Paul Reinhart. At 6’4 and over 200 lbs, he is a physically intimidating presence in the defensive zone. Reinhart is a true shut down defenceman, with excellent positioning in the his own zone, and his big frame and long stick allow him to block shots and cut down passing lanes. He also uses his great size and strength to keep the Oil Kings’ crease clear, and is effective in doing so. He also has offensive skill, with a booming slapshot and excellent wrist shot which he unleashes from the point. Reinhart makes quality passes both as part of his team’s breakout, and in the offensive zone. His excellent offensive instincts and hockey sense, allow Reinhart to quickly exploit gaps in the opponent’s defensive coverage and he often chooses the right moments to pinch in. Reinhart will be on the third pairing for Team Canada which helps to illustrate how good this team is on the blue line.
Malcolm Subban: Recent years have seen goaltending as the Achilles heel for Team Canada at the World Juniors. For whatever reason, the position which has been a Canadian strength for years, has instead become a weakness. That could all change this year.
Malcolm Subban is the best Canadian goalie prospect in several years. He is mature and playoff-tested in the OHL and in the 2011 Ivan Hlinka tournament. Many (including myself) expected Subban to provide Canada with a similar level of netminding that has led the country to numerous World Junior gold medals over the years (just not recently).
He is an incredible athlete and his puck tracking, agility, and lateral movement will be great assets on the bigger ice. Plus he’s already used to the different angles that Olympic-sized ice requires a goaltender to adjust to, as Malcolm plays on this surface in his home rink in Belleville as the starter for the Bulls.
Subban was great for Canada in the summer’s Canada-Russia Challenge Series, winning two games for the team. He’s followed that up with some great play for the Belleville Bulls, and again taking the reigns with a good performance for Team OHL in the Subway Super Series. However he’s really been struggling of late. He was the worst goalie at Canada’s tryout camp, and struggled in Canada’s pre-tournament game against Finland which has opened the door for Jordan Binnington.
Jordan Binnington: Binnington doesn’t have the resume of Subban, but the Blues third round pick in 2011 is the hotter goalie heading into the tournament. He’s been great for Owen Sound this season, with a 930 save percentage, and helping the Attack to be one of the OHL’s best teams so far this season. At 6’2″ Binnington uses his size and ability to cut down angles to take up a ton of space in the net and leave shooters with little to look at. He also has good legs to take away the bottom of the net, and a quick glove hand. This goaltending battle is not over, and with the way he’s played of late Canada could be in good hands if Binnington takes the number 1 job.
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