With Canada cancelling its final practice and also announcing all 25 members of the final world junior camp will travel over to Sweden before final cuts are made, there are more questions than answers in the wake of the team’s 3-0 win over a group of Canadian university players from the University of Toronto, Ryerson and York. The CIS team actually got excellent goaltending in the first period, making this game closer than it should have been, but what will the WJC look like? Here are some plot points.
The Scratches: Jonathan Drouin (concussion), Griffin Reinhart, Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey and Bo Horvat did not play Saturday. Drouin and Reinhart are locks, assuming Drouin is healthy, while it seems as if the other three had done enough to make it, with others fighting on-ice to prove their worth.
The Wing Man: Hunter Shinkaruk, the Vancouver Canucks first-rounder, played on a line with Sam Reinhart (2014 draft) and Connor McDavid (2015 draft) and had at least four incredible scoring chances, but couldn’t convert any. So how does this affect his status as a scoring winger? Is it great that he had such chances, or a strike against him that he couldn’t bury such glorious opportunities? McDavid (who scored on the power play) and Reinhart have great chemistry dating back to last year’s world under-18s, where they won gold. Adding Petan (Winnipeg) would create a great scoring line. If Shinkaruk didn’t prove himself, he may be one of the cuts – though, again, Drouin’s health is a huge X-factor.
The best part of the Reinhart-McDavid tandem is that they won’t be the No. 1 line, but they will be super-dangerous, so they’ll miss the competition’s best checkers.
“It’s good to get success early on,” Reinhart said. “It seems like we picked right up from the U18s. He’s an easy player to play with. He creates so much offensively and he’s a good defensive player so it’s nice playing alongside him.”
For the Defense: Matt Dumba, the NHLer with the Minnesota Wild, is obviously the team’s No. 1 blueliner, so it was interesting to see him paired with Colorado pick Chris Bigras. In the summer, Canada’s Ivan Hlinka under-18 team gave bubble players a chance to succeed in the final intersquad game, with Joe Hicketts playing on the top pairing with Aaron Ekblad (a 2014 prospect who is also vying for a WJC spot). So was Bigras getting his chance to make a final impression? I can definitely see Dumba and Morrissey (Winnipeg) as a top pairing when things actually get settled. Bigras brought his game on Saturday, playing calm, poised and basically mistake-free. That may put pressure on Adam Pelech (NY Isles), who played on a third pairing with Ekblad.
Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh) and Damon Severson (New Jersey) were a solid pairing and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them remain together. Griffin Reinhart (NY Isles) will miss the first three games due to a carry-over suspension from last year’s world juniors.
Star of the Show: Other than McDavid, the best player on the afternoon was Columbus prospect Josh Anderson, who scored a goal and imposed his will throughout, using his great size and speed to bully his way around the ice.
“I wanted to be that big power forward,” he said. “You want to be noticed out there and if you get noticed, good things will happen.”
So here comes the next question: How much grit does Canada bring? Taylor Leier (Philadelphia) was also effective using his speed, while Felix Girard Nashville), a gritty faceoff ace, actually played wing on the same line with Scott Laughton (Philly) down the middle. Horvat (Vancouver) seems to be a lock, while Kerby Rychel (Columbus), like Horvat, brings both physicality and high skill.
What About Curtis Lazar? The Ottawa first-rounder played on a line with Charles Hudon (Montreal) and Anthony Mantha (Detroit), but they will almost certainly be centered by Drouin if everything works out for the Tampa Bay first-rounder. McDavid’s got his lineys it would seem and Frederik Gauthier (Toronto) was effective between Rychel and Anderson. Lazar can be both a scoring threat and a penalty-killer/shutdown guy, so he might be a nice swingman for Canada.
Goaltending: Both Zach Fucale (Montreal) and Jake Paterson (Detroit) posted shutouts in half a game’s work each, but were not tested very often. Still, you can only face the shots that come at you and both looked confident in net.