December 05, 2017

Canada no longer dominates the WJC like they used to 

Dylan Strome and Tyson Jost suffer as the Americans celebrate last season’s WJC gold in Montréal. Photo: Bildbyrån/Joel Marklund

In the 2000s, Canada had an incredible run of dominance at the World Junior Championships. 

They had a streak of five gold medals in a row between 2005 and 2009, featuring spectacular moments like Jordan Eberle’s last-second tying goal against Russia in 2009, Jonathan Toews’ shootout magic against the United States in 2007, and Matt Halischuk’s surprising overtime goal against Sweden to win gold in 2008. 

Between 2000 and 2010, Canada medaled in every single tournament, winning gold five times, silver three times, and bronze twice. But since the turn of the decade, Canada’s run of dominance has dried up. 

Last year, Canada dropped a heartbreaking gold medal game in Montreal to their bitter rivals from below the 49th parallel. Canada blew two different two-goals leads and ended up losing in a shootout to the Americans, who have dominated the rivalry over the past couple years. With the United States beating Canada in a World Junior Summer Showcase game back in August, the Americans have now beaten Canada in five-consecutive full-squad U20 games dating back to a Boxing Day victory at the 2016 tournament in Helsinki. 

That tournament in Helsinki was a nightmare for the Canadians. Canada went 1-1-2 in the group stage, losing games to both Sweden and the United States before getting dropped in the quarterfinal by Finland, who went on to win the tournament in front of their home fans. Canada’s sixth-place finish in Helsinki was the country’s worst result since 1998 when the team finished eighth. That was the year the team suffered its infamous, embarrassing loss to a Kazakstan team in which players were apparently wearing skates that didn’t match in the placement game. 

The 2016 sixth-place finish is certainly the low point for Team Canada recently, but the 2010s have been nowhere near as kind to them as the previous decade. After their aforementioned streak in the 2000s in which they medalled in every single tournament, Canada has won just four medals, one gold, two silvers, and one bronze, in the last seven tournaments. 

Connor McDavid celebrates in 2015. Photo: Bildbyrån/Joel Marklund

This year in Buffalo, Canada will look for its first gold medal win since 2015, when the team featured a generational talent in Connor McDavid and a loaded roster of first-round picks like Sam Reinhart, Max Domi, Josh Morrissey, and Darnell Nurse. 

The team rolling into Buffalo will be built around a decent yet unspectacular core of returning players. Carter Hart is set to play in goal again, Jake Bean, Kale Clague, and Dante Fabbro are poised to man the blueline, while only Taylor Raddysh and Dillon Dubé appear to be the team’s only returning forwards. Of course, there are a also handful of Canadians from last year’s squad currently on NHL rosters who could add some major firepower to the roster.

Nolan Patrick, 2017’s second-overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers, certainly won’t be back at the tournament this winter. Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third overall pick from the 2016 draft, has had a strong rookie season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. While general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has advocated for the use the tournament has in a player’s development, it seems unlikely the Jackets will let Dubois go for a few weeks in the middle of a contending season. Victor Mete is enjoying a breakout season with the Montreal Canadiens and, like with Dubois, it seems unlikely the team will let him go. 

The Colorado Avalanche have both Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard as possibilities for Canada’s roster. Jost turned pro this season from the NCAA and has only played nine games this year for Colorado due largely to a couple of knee injuries. Girard, a defenceman drafted by the Nashville Predators involved in the blockbuster Matt Duchene trade, has played in 11 games with the Avalanche. Given that Colorado isn’t on any kind of playoff push this season, it seems sensible to send both players to the tournament.

Samuel Girard. Photo: Getty Images/Matthew Stockman

The list is rounded out by Michael McLeod and Gabe Vilardi. McLeod had off-season surgery on his knee and has only played eight games with the Mississauga Steelheads. Vilardi has yet to play this season as he underwent surgery to fix multiple ailments he played through at last year’s Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires. McLeod is a strong bet to be on the team, while Vilardi will almost certainly be forced to sit out. 

Canada also has a strong crop of players who weren’t on last year’s team to choose from. 2017 top NHL draft picks like Cale Makar, Owen Tippett, Michael Rasmussen, Nick Suzuki, and Cal Foote seem poised to crack the roster for the first time, giving Canada a strong blend of talent. 

We won’t know yet who will ultimately make Canada’s roster for a couple of weeks, but there’s definitely the framework for a competitive team that should again challenge for a gold medal. As we’ve seen the past few years, Canada is no longer a surefire bet to take home gold at this tournament. Still, what we also know from the past few years of mediocrity, anything short of a gold for the Canadians will be viewed as a failure.   

Cam Lewis – @cooom

June 21, 2018

Grigori Denisenko – The Little Ball of Russian Hate

Picking the best player available is a common strategy during the draft. But what makes a player “the best available”? Is it talent? Attitude? A combination of...
June 19, 2018

EP Premium – a new beginning

When Johan Nilsson registered in his dorm room in Kalmar, Sweden back in 1999, he probably didn’t envision himself serving millions of ho...
June 19, 2018

Vitali Kravtsov – in the footsteps of Yevgeni Kuznetsov

Vitali Kravtsov was born in Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia. Today, the city has it’s own KHL team, but when he grew up, the hockey boom was yet to...
June 14, 2018

Nils Lundkvist – a Swedish surprise a head of the draft

When the 2017/18 season started, he was pretty much an unknown commodity in Swedish hockey. As we approach the 2018 NHL Entry draft in Dallas, Nils Lundkvist co...
May 23, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Detroit’s run of success finally caught up to them

After an unprecedented two-decade-long period of success that saw four Stanley Cup championships and the Hall of Fame careers of players like Steve Yzerman, Nic...
May 10, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: After disappointing season – can the Canadiens reload quickly?

If you were to sum up the 2017-18 season for the Montreal Canadiens you could probably do it in a thousand words. Or, you could do it with just one: disappointm...
May 07, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Svechnikov or Zadina – tough choice awaits the Hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes faithful may soon see the fortunes of their beleaguered franchise shift after the Canes exited the April 28th NHL draft lottery with the...
May 04, 2018

From July to May – Lias Andersson’s long journey continues

How much hockey can you play without getting burned out? If you are to believe Lias Andersson, there’s no upper limit.  And he should know. The 19 year-ol...
April 30, 2018

Swedish Olympian to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs

At 26 years of age, he’s not by any means a prospect anymore. But Pär Lindholm is a late-bloomer who has had two seasons of great progress with Skellefteå...
April 29, 2018

Clock is ticking for Valeri Nichushkin – can he make a triumphant return to the NHL?

When Valeri Nichushkin was drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 10th overall pick in 2013, it was a bit of a surprise. After all, the Russian was picked ahead o...
April 26, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: Senators strong at center, in need of game-changer

The Ottawa Senators made a lot of noise this season. Just not the right kind of noise. Coming off a 2016-17 campaign in which the  franchise reached its third e...
April 26, 2018

Erik Brännström cherishes the opportunity to compete with NHL stars

One by one, the established NHL players have taken over the Swedish World Championship squad. Stars like Oliver Ekman Larsson, John Klingberg and Mika Zibanejad...
April 24, 2018

Adam Boqvist looking forward to his second NHL draft

Unlike most of his peers, Adam Boqvist went to the NHL Entry Draft one summer before it was his draft year. Not because he wanted to learn about the event, take...
April 23, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: The Coyotes are better than they seem

It was another difficult season in the desert as the Coyotes finished with the worst record in the Western Conference. But, under the radar, Arizona had a solid...
April 23, 2018

Elias Pettersson – Swedish hockey’s new golden boy

The expectations were certainly high when Växjö Lakers signed Elias Pettersson to a three-year deal in early April last year. The young forward had just finishe...
April 18, 2018

The Playoff Report – which prospects are excelling in the postseason?

The old trusted adage that you need grit and experience to succeed in the playoffs is proving less and less true every day. Every day reports filter in from var...
April 13, 2018

Swedish prospect Filip Hållander to miss the World Juniors

Team Sweden will already be without first overall pick to be, Rasmus Dahlin, when the U18 World Championships starts in Russia next week. Unfortunately for the...
April 11, 2018

“The Black Ace” – a badge of honor for an NHL prospect

As legend has it, the origins of the term Black Ace can be traced back centuries. 1876, to be specific. That is the year in which famous Old West lawman “Wild B...
April 10, 2018

PROSPECT REPORT: The Sabres need to win the draft lottery

The Buffalo Sabres became the first team ever to finish 31st in the NHL this year.  For their struggles, the Sabres will have the highest odds at the draft lott...
April 09, 2018

Oilers prospects turning heads during Swedish playoffs

Edmonton Oilers’ fans didn’t have a whole lot to cheer about this season. Outside of Connor McDavid‘s second straight Art Ross Trophy, which i...