It’s the most wonderful time of the year – not only because it’s Christmas, but also because the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship starts boxing day! And if you are reading this and wondering “hmm, I wonder how Canada will do this year” wonder no more! Here it is, the much anticipated RLGT x WJHC 2017 preview. Guest sports-writer Andy Per returns to keep it brief and tell you everything you need to know.
RLGT PREVIEW: 2016 WORLD JUNIOR HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Canada is a very skilled team with speed, which will make them exciting to watch, but they lack a true superstar that can single handedly win them games. These “superstar” players like Connor McDavid (yes he’s still eligible), Travis Konecny, Jacob Chychrun and Mitch Marner are all in the NHL and unable to help Canada this year. Their presence would give Canada an almost guaranteed gold medal, but they are not here so Canada has chosen to bring a more balanced roster to the tournament this year. So without further a due, lets meet the team that will be wearing the white and red on Boxing Day.
Between the Pipes:
Canada enters the tournament with the most stable goal tending duo in recent memory, led by Philadelphia Flyers 2nd round pick Carter Hart. Hart was the first goalie taken in the 2016 draft and left for camp with a 1.85 GAA. He backed his stellar start to the year in Everett with a good showing in camp and in the pre-tournament games. He is backed up by Kamloops Blazers goalie Connor Ingram who is used to facing lots of shots in junior. While Ingram will probably only see action against Slovakia, he is a more than capable backup in case Hart stumbles at any point throughout the tournament. Look for Carter Hart to be a solid safety net for Canada and maybe even steal them a game.
While not overly experienced on defense, Canada boasts 4 first round draft picks and is anchored by 2016 returnee Thomas Chabot. Chabot started the season with Ottawa of the NHL and returns to the team as an alternate captain and the true #1 defenseman. Chabot will see 20+ minutes/game and be counted on to play like an NHL player and play all situations. This year’s defense is not overly big, but they skate well and can move the puck extremely quickly, which will be key against fast teams like Russia and Sweden. Another name to watch on the back end is Jake Bean, the Carolina Hurricanes prospect is an offensive machine and will be counted on to produce points and bring stability to the 2nd pairing.
Canada is led at forward by team captain and returnee Dylan Strome. Strome’s offensive skills and size (6’3”, 194lbs) will be key to Canada. Him and fellow returnee Matt Barzal are the two most offensively talented players on the team and form a great 1-2 punch at center. Both players have the skill to take over and dominate games and will be counted on to produce offense every game. Another player to watch is Taylor Raddysh who was leading the OHL in scoring when he left for camp 2 weeks ago. Raddysh is Strome’s linemate in junior and has a staggering 61 points in 28 games so far this year. Raddysh made the team solely because he’s a goal-scoring machine and he will be counted on to score lots this tournament. Even if he does not see much time with Strome outside of the power play, he is the x-factor in my opinion. With players like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Speers not yet meeting their offensive potential, Raddysh will need to continue to score to give Canada a more balanced and dangerous group of forwards.
This is a no brainer; the United States look destined to an embarrassing finish at this year’s tournament. After already losing Brock Boeser, (arguably the best NCAA player in the country) to wrist surgery, they decided to cut big center Logan Brown and 2 time 50 goal scorer and returning player Alex Debrincat. Sure Debrincat scored 51 goals playing with Connor McDavid, but he also scored 51 last year without McDavid and has already scored 30 goals in 28 games this year in the OHL. And unlike Brown, he was not returning from a serious injury and from all reports, he had a decent camp for the Americans. For a team that only has 2 returning players and mediocore goaltending, cutting Brown and Debrincat is a real head scratcher. Not only were they arguably the two best forwards the states had at camp, but they also would bring much needed experience, leadership and clutch goal scoring for the Americans. I see this year’s version of team USA as a team that will need to win 2-0 or 3-1 and rely heavily on their defensive depth and defensive minded forwards like Colin White. Unfortunately, they play Russia and Canada in the preliminary round, and their questionable decision-making has them set up to miss the medal podium completely.
Player to Watch
Alexander Nylander of team Sweden was loaned by the Buffalo Sabers organization to team Sweden for this tournament and he has the best combination of skill, speed and hockey IQ of any player in the tournament.
He can and will single handedly take over games, much the way Patrik Laine did last year for Finland. The younger brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander has all the tools needed to excel at this tournament and if he can stay healthy is my bet to lead the tournament in scoring playing on a line with Joel Eriksson-Ek. The experience of winning gold last year will only help Nylander, and if there’s one can’t miss player to watch in this tournament, it’s Alex Nylander.
Official RLGT Prediction
For those of you reading and hoping to see a gold medal around the Canadian players necks in 2 weeks, I’ve got some bad news for you. Team Sweden has too much depth and top end talent for any team to handle and they will win the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships. Led by players like Joel Eriksson-Ek, Alex Nylander and defensive stud Gabriel Karlsson, team Sweden has too much skill and can play all 13 forwards and 7 defenseman at any point in the game. This insane depth and balance throughout their roster, combined with an easy preliminary round schedule means they will be full of confidence and undefeated heading into the medal round. Sweden looks like a team that once they get going will be nearly impossible to slow down. That being said, Canada also ices a very good roster and should finish with a silver medal this year, however, the lack of NHL talent being loaned to them will ultimately hurt them, especially when playing teams like Russia and Sweden. Although Canada will steamroll most of the competition, I do not like their chances in the gold medal game playing Sweden.
I’ll be glued to my TV watching as many games as I can, so be sure to follow me on twitter (@andyper16) and interact while watching the games!
GO CANADA, GO!