Canada's Lawson Crouse (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
They may technically be the fourth line for Canada's world junior team, but Frederik Gauthier, Nick Ritchie and Lawson Crouse are three burly dudes with a lot of great attributes together.
Not that Canada needed it, but the host nation's fourth line had a big night against Denmark with two goals in an 8-0 quarterfinal romp. Because Canada's so deep, that fourth line is comprised of two top-25 NHL draft picks and the youngest player on the team - who is threatening to go top-10 this summer.
Frederik Gauthier (Toronto) and Nick Ritchie (Anaheim) are the former, while Kingston Frontenacs winger Lawson Crouse is the latter. All three measure in at least 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and as Canada approaches the two most crucial games in its quest for gold, that trio is looking good. “We're three big bodies and we have to use them down low to bring pucks to the net," Gauthier said. "We can create scoring chances or just get some momentum and so far it's been great.”
Crouse and Ritchie both notched their first goals of the tournament in the Denmark win, while Gauthier remains one of the best faceoff men in the bracket. While Canada refuses to look past Slovakia in the semifinal, let's do that for just a second and assume the Canucks meet Sweden or Russia in the gold medal game. Those teams have depth, but can they trot out a fourth unit with the attributes of Canada's unit?
Coach Benoit Groulx's deployment strategy has certainly helped that line's evolution. “It's obviously important that he's playing us and it's a good confidence boost to get this much ice," Crouse said. "That we scored a couple goals showed we can do some offensive stuff instead of playing defense or just getting pucks in deep.”
Crouse has been one of Canada's most pleasant surprises. The fact he made the team's forward corps ahead of some very well-established 19-year-olds speaks to the maturity in his game and his regular role on a team where he could be the 13th forward proves it further.
“The first time I had heard of him was at the world under-18s," Groulx said. "The report on Lawson was that he was a dominant player and then he played well in Kingston and at the (CHL-Russia) Subway Series. He's very consistent. He competes every shift, he knows his position well and I have a lot of faith in him.”
And while Connor McDavid will almost assuredly go first overall in 2015, Crouse is helping his case with these high-profile showings. You can see the confidence in his game growing and the player willing to do whatever it took to help the team in exhibition play is now patiently outlasting defensemen and wiring home burners in front of a packed house in an NHL arena. If that unit continues to pull its weight, Canada has a very good chance of taking home gold on home ice.