Before boasting about the number of Canadian hopes at the World Junior Championship, we will always have to remember the 2019 tournament.
That year, the Canadian’s first-round pick in 2017, Ryan Poehling, earned MVP honors with five goals and three assists in five games with the American team, en route to the silver medal.
Alexander Romanov, drafted in the second round in 2018, inherited the title of best defenseman, at just 18 years old, by virtue of his eight points in seven games with Russia.
Montreal had five other representatives: defenseman Josh Brook and forward Nick Suzuki with Canada, winger Jesse Ylönen with Finland, center Jacob Olofsson with Sweden and goaltender Cayden Primeau with the United States. There would have been eight if Joni Ikonen had not had to withdraw due to injury.
Five years later, only one, Suzuki, plays an impact role with the Canadian. Romanov was exchanged in time. It made it possible to obtain Kirby Dach and we now see its limits. His offensive production with Russia was a mirage. He is a top 4 caliber defender, but very limited offensively.
Poehling was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2022 for nothing in return. Montreal wanted to free his salary from the payroll. He’s found a niche for himself in Philadelphia this year, even earning a promotion to a third line recently on the eve of his 25th birthday, but isn’t expected to move up the ranks any further.
At 24, goaltender Primeau is still trying to establish himself in the NHL. Ylönen seems doomed to a fourth line, but he has reached the National League at least, unlike Brooks, Ikonen and Olofsson, whose dream is now extinguished.
Since 2010, the Canadian has been able to count on 33 representatives at the World Junior Championship. Among these players, 10, or almost a third, have never played a single game in the NHL and 22 have never been able to establish themselves permanently in the National Hockey League.
Only eight, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, Mikhail Sergachev, Alexander Romanov, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kaiden Guhle, have made an impact in the National Hockey League, although Galchenyuk prematurely wasted a career due to his off-ice behavior, that Lehkonen finally flourished offensively after leaving Montreal and that Romanov remains at best a fourth defenseman.
Quality obviously always trumps quantity. CH had only three representatives in 2021. But two of them, Cole Caufield and Kaiden Guhle, are now important players in Montreal. Jan Mysak is still in the American League.
This is the grace we wish for the Canadian this year, with four participants, goalkeeper Jacob Fowler and defender Lane Hutson with the United States, center Owen Beck with Canada and winger Filip Mesar with Slovakia.
Hutson has the most potential of the lot. He was on the American team last year, will now play in the first pair of defensemen and the first wave on the power play. He had 20 points in 15 games at Boston University, following his 48-point season in 39 games last season. This late second round pick in 2022 should join CH at the end of the season.
Fowler, a 2023 third-round pick, will battle for the No. 1 goalie job with Trey Augustine, a member of last year’s team. Fowler, however, has been superior to him in the NCAA since the start of the season.
Owen Beck, first pick in the second round in 2022, was amazing in his first training camp with the Canadian two years ago. He did well this year as well, without being as dominant, but we should not see him as a possible offensive center. His role may even be modest within the Canadian team, especially with the arrival of Matthew Poitras, on loan from the Bruins.
Small forward Filip Mesar, drafted late in the first round in 2022 with the Flames’ pick obtained for Tyler Toffoli, should be an offensive leader for Slovakia. He already was last year. Mesar is more dominant this year in the junior ranks, with 32 points in 20 games in Kitchener, but he’ll be 20 in a few weeks, let’s not forget. Montreal has several small forwards in its organization, let’s see how far the young man can slip through the hierarchy.
Juraj Slafkovsky would be eligible for the tournament, but we will not snatch him from the Canadian’s first line, where he does very well. We forget how very young he is still, even more so than Mesar, Hutson and Beck!
David Reinbacher will stay with his club in Switzerland since his junior team, Austria, is playing in the secondary tournament with clubs like France, Japan, Hungary and Denmark.