Mason McDonald (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
The Calgary Flames pick has been pushed onto the front page thanks to the suspension of fellow netminder Mackenzie Blackwood. How will McDonald handle the pressure in Helsinki? Hear from him and learn about the other prospects making noise in our weekly round-up.
Canada is off to Finland now in preparation for the world juniors and a couple big names will not be making the trip. Yes, there are always surprising cuts and this year was no exception with Islanders pick Michael Dal Colle and top 2016 defense prospect Jakob Chychrun getting axed early. Having seen the team's exhibition game on Saturday, I can understand what happened. Dal Colle was given plenty of ice time but never really seemed to get in gear. He's an offensive player but didn't look too dangerous. Cold at the wrong time, I suppose. Chychrun, being the youngest potential blueliner, had to stand out and in my mind, the key to his roster spot was in physicality: Canada has plenty of puckmovers already. The big kid didn't rattle many cages on Saturday however, and perhaps that's why he will return to Sarnia. But hey, it's a really tough team to make - and a lot of great players never got to play for Team Canada in the past. Let's take a look at some other names in the news right now:
Mason McDonald, G – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL): with Mackenzie Blackwood suspended for the first two games of the tournament, Canada's world junior goaltending situation has been thrown into flux. McDonald wasn't happy with his play in Saturday's 5-4 shootout loss to the CIS All-Stars and then late add Samuel Montembeault (Florida) posted a shutout on Sunday, complicating the mix. But McDonald can't worry about Blackwood's suspension.
"I'm not really worried about that right now," he said. "I'm just trying to take the pressure and put it in positive vibes. Worry about what I have to do with my game."
Statistically, it hasn't been a great season for the Calgary Flames prospect. His Islanders have struggled and the wins have been here and there.
"It's just been alright," McDonald said. "It could be better. I want to battle more, help my team more and I can be better than I was in the first half."
But McDonald isn't green. He has represented Canada several times in the past and won bronze with the national squad at the world under-18s in 2014. That tournament, like this year's world juniors, was in Finland. Bigger ice? No problem.
"I'm familiar," he said. "I've played on it a bunch. Chicoutimi has it in our league and I played on it at the under-18s in the past."
With Canada taking on Team USA in the first game of the tournament this year, McDonald will have to be sharp early on. If he establishes himself in the crease, he may never have to leave it, even when Blackwood's suspension ends.
In the Pipeline
Adrian Kempe, LW (Los Angeles): Powerful and talented, Kempe has been making his mark with the AHL's Ontario Reign, ranking second on the team with 16 points in 19 games. He'll be key for Sweden at the world juniors and will want revenge for falling short of a medal last year.
Anthony Beauvillier, C (NY Islanders): Beauvillier put a big stamp on his Canadian WJC camp by netting a hat trick on the Sunday, but his value goes beyond points. The smaller center can play in all situations and has great leadership qualities. But also, he scores a lot of points for Shawinigan in the Quebec League – 41 through 21 games, for example.
John Quenneville, C (New Jersey): Though the WHL Brandon center can certainly put up points (he has 33 in 25 games with the Wheat Kings), Quenneville is also a details guy who can help a team in many situations. He was a physical presence up front for Canada against the CIS All-Stars.
Christian Jaros, D (Ottawa): The hard-hitting Slovakian national helped his squad to bronze last year in Toronto and he'll be at it again in Helsinki. Jaros has been playing pro hockey in Sweden, getting good minutes for Asploven of the Allsvenskan after being loaned out by the SHL's Lulea franchise.
2016 Draft Stars
Julien Gauthier, LW – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL): He absolutely stole the show for Canada on Saturday and perhaps nudged Dal Colle off the roster in the process. Gauthier is a big, strong kid with nifty hands and a great touch around the net, as his 29 goals in 30 games with the Foreurs can attest.
Luke Green, D – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): It’s not often you see a defenseman get a hat trick, but Green made it happen on the weekend against Halifax. The top pick in the 2014 QMJHL draft is a swift-skating blueliner with great escapability and situational awareness.
Tage Thompson, RW – UConn Huskies (Hockey East): A true freshman in a tough conference, Thompson has great size, skill and range. He shoots the puck well and has been producing for the Huskies with 12 points in 16 games, good for second on the squad. Needs to work on his motor a bit more.
Riley Tufte, LW – Blaine Bengals (Minn. HS): It's hard not to compare Tufte to Nick Bjugstad. Both are skyscrapers (Tufte is 6-foot-5) with skill who have worn the Blaine high school sweater. Tufte is there now and is obliterating the competition with 21 points in six games, including wins over premier schools Edina and Centennial. He's a Minnesota-Duluth commit.
2017 Draft Star
Brannon McManus, LW – Omaha Lancers (USHL): Smart and skilled, the 5-foot-9 McManus will join the U.S. NTDP for the Four Nations tournament this week. Back with Omaha, he's been one of the USHL's top rookies with 19 points in 24 games. He's a Minnesota commit.