It’s rare that we have hockey in August. However, Covid Omicron forced the postponement of the 2022 U20 World Junior Championships after Christmas.
There were only a handful of games played in Edmonton last winter. The only one people remember is the four goal game for consensus 2023 top pick Connor Bedard. He put on a show in a Canada rout of Austria.
Fast forward nine months and Bedard is only part of the story in a rescheduled WJC. The setting is the same with games at Rogers Place in Alberta. The 17-year old phenom has two goals and two assists so far as part of Canadian wins over Latvia and Slovakia.
Team Canada is a lot more complete than Connor Bedard. In an 11-1 blowout victory over Slovakia yesterday, captain Mason McTavish (Ducks) matched Bedard with a four goal game. He added two assists to record six points to improve the tournament favorite to 2-0 in Group A.
McTavish was a third pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Originally from Zurich, Switzerland, the 19-year old center is a future star for the Ducks. He debuted last season by scoring two goals with an assist in nine games.
McTavish is up to eight points (4-4-8) in two games. There’s no reason to think he won’t make the Ducks out of training camp and contend for the Calder in ’22-23. He could form a 1-2 punch with Trevor Zegras at center.
While McTavish and Bedard are front and center, also representing Canada are Rangers prospects Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle. Along with starting goalie Dylan Garand, they boast some promising #FutureBlue on Canada.
In fact, Cuylle and Othmann connected on a goal during Thursday’s win. The play saw Cuylle steal the puck and center across for an Othmann finish that made it 3-0. One day soon, we could see that same connection in the Broadway Blueshirt.
Both forwards had good games. Cuylle scored a goal and added a helper. Othmann had a goal and two assists. In fact, the 2021 first round pick the Rangers selected at number 16, got to play with Bedard and McTavish during the third period. He certainly enjoyed the experience.
During the interview, Othmann pointed out how easy it is to play with such elite players. He also discussed his close relationship with McTavish, who he played with in Switzerland due to the pandemic.
Othmann was asked about Shane Wright. They have exchanged texts during the tournament. The Seattle Kraken first round pick isn’t participating in the rescheduled U20 WJC. However, he told his friend to have fun and enjoy it.
From what he said, it sounded like Othmann wished he could’ve played with Wright one more time. Obviously, with what lies ahead, they’ll most likely be opponents down the road. That’s part of the journey.
Seeing the early success for both Othmann and Cuylle is exciting. Cuylle was the 2020 second round pick the Rangers used in the Lias Andersson trade.
Taken at number 60, he could be a steal. After scoring 43 goals and 80 points for Windsor last season, Cuylle went 15-16-31 for the Spitfires during the playoffs. He’s expected to compete for a roster spot this September.
Both Othmann and Cuylle will be looking to force their way onto the roster. Given their youth, it probably isn’t realistic that the Rangers would keep either up. They can send Cuylle down to Hartford. But Othmann only can be opted back to Flint of the OHL. Part of the puzzling rules that exist. If he were from Europe, he could turn pro.
That rule should be changed. It’s archaic and makes no sense. If a young North American player is ready at 19, why can’t they be assigned to the AHL? The NHL clubs should have better options.
As for Garand, he quietly made 22 saves on 23 shots for Canada. The number one goalie didn’t play against Latvia. They gave Sebastian Cossa the first game. He allowed two goals on 24 shots in a 5-2 victory on Aug. 10.
A fourth round pick taken 103rd in 2020, he could become another gem in net for the Rangers. Ironically, they stole Vezina winner Igor Shestyorkin with pick 118 in Round 4 back in 2014. As has been proven throughout history, you can find goalies late. See Hasek, D. Lundqvist, H. Rinne, P.
Garand is an interesting case. At 20, he’s coming off a superb final season in the WHL. In ’21-22, he went 34-9-1 for the Kamloops Blazers with a 2.16 GAA, .925 save percentage and four shutouts. He was even better during the playoffs posting a 1.92 GAA and .933 save percentage in 17 games.
If you listen to Jess Rubinstein of The Prospect Park, he’s a huge fan of Garand. He believes in him. What if Garand develops into the next big goalie for the Rangers? That would be quite the conversation. Don’t forget most goalies usually take a while to develop. We’ll wait and see.
Jess also noted that Hugo Ollas is another goalie prospect to keep an eye on. He was taken in the seventh round of 2020 at number 197. Ollas had a good freshman year for Merrimack College posting a 10-6-0 record with a 2.24 GAA and .920 save percentage.
The Rangers also have Talyn Boyko in the system. He went number 112 in Round 4 of the 2021 Draft. After struggling with Tri-City, he fared better following a trade to Kelowna. Boyko went 28-12-4 for the Rockets with a 2.79 GAA and .913 save percentage.
In terms of the WJC, #FutureBlue is well represented. Seven players are competing. Aside from the Canadian trio of Cuylle, Garand and Othmann, Brett Berard is playing on the third line for Team USA. Jaroslav Chmelar is on Czechia. He scored a goal in a game. Adam Sykora plays for Slovakia. Kalle Vaisanen for Finland.
Sykora certainly was disappointed with the lopsided result for his team yesterday.
It’s been a tough start for Sykora. The 2022 second round pick is without a point in two games and a minus-five. Hopefully, he can help a thin Slovakia minus top pick Juraj Slafkovsky and second pick Simon Nemec turn it around.
While Canada looks like the class of Group A which includes Finland and Czechia, Group B features Team USA and Sweden. Can the Americans repeat? It’ll be a challenge. The Swedes are led by future Wild starter Jesper Wallstedt. He has the look of the next big goalie. He’ll be tough to beat.
Sweden features Simon Edvinsson, Daniel Torgersson, Fabian Lysell, Emil Andrae, Theodor Niederbach and Sabres’ prospect Isak Rosen. They are 2-0 so far with wins over Switzerland and Austria.
For USA, they are undefeated entering this weekend. After defeating Germany 5-1, they blitzed Switzerland 7-1 last night. It was the top line that led the way. The trio of Thomas Bordeleau, Landon Slaggert and Carter Mazur who had an impressive showing.
They combined for eight points. Both Bordeleau (Sharks) and Mazur (Red Wings) each had two goals and an assist. Mazur notched a power play goal and was selected as USA top player. Slaggert (Blackhawks) chipped in with a goal and helper.
Most of the damage came during a dominant second period. Mazur opened the scoring on the power play on a good centering pass from Mackie Samoskevich.
The play wouldn’t have been possible without a great keep from Luke Hughes. The Devils 2021 fourth pick has looked brilliant. After recording a goal and assist against Germany, he set up three more goals on Thursday night.
The Swiss were able to draw even less than three minutes later on a nice breakaway goal from Joel Henry. He was able to go to a forehand, backhand deke to beat USA goalie Kaidan Mbereko five-hole. The 2023 Draft Eligible goalie will be crucial to any repeat chances.
But the game changed a few shifts later. On just a clean face-off win by Bordeleau back to Hughes, he fed captain Brock Faber. He was able to score from the point to put USA ahead for good.
Only 1:53 later, Faber combined with Slaggert to set up the second for Mazur. The American onslaught continued. A few minutes later, Slaggert was able to tip-in a Wyatt Kaiser point shot to make it 4-1. Mazur made the play behind the net by taking the body.
Before the period concluded, Hughes made a breathtaking play to set up a goal for Coronato. At the point, he spun around to get free and fired a wrist shot that Coronato was able to get a piece of for the fourth straight USA goal. A terrific play by a great skating defenseman, who plays a bit like Cale Makar. He’s always moving and shooting the puck.
Team USA added a second power play goal in the third. Samoskevich moved the puck up for Hughes, whose diagonal feed was buried by Bordeleau for a 6-1 lead. Terrific puck movement.
On what was a fairly quiet night where he took a couple of undisciplined minor penalties in the offensive zone, Cooley made a drop for Riley Duran, who beat Swiss replacement Noah Patenaude. He came in for starter Kevin Pasche, who was hung out to dry.
Team USA took care of business. They aren’t overly skilled. But make up for it with their team speed and aggressive forecheck. Hughes is probably the best player. It’s hard to believe he’s a defenseman. But we now see how both Makar and Adam Fox activate by moving all over in the offensive zone. That makes it harder to defend.
If Nemec pans out, the Devils will boast two studs on a revamped blue line for the rest of the decade. Hughes has the look of a player who’ll score 15 to 20 goals. That’s how unique he is. He lit it up in his freshman year at Michigan with 17 goals and 39 points in 41 games. By next Spring following his sophomore campaign, Devils fans could see him next to Jack Hughes.
This weekend, Canada faces Czechia. USA will see Sweden on Sunday night at 10 EST. All the action can be seen on NHL Network. E.J. Hradek and Dave Starman are doing the USA games from the studio. Starman knows a lot about the game and provides good insight. He’s excellent.
In one game earlier today, Sweden blanked Austria 6-0. Slovakia and Latvia are tied at two currently. Sykora has a goal for Slovakia.
Those are the only two games today. USA takes on Austria tomorrow at 2 EST. Canada takes on Czechia. Germany battles Switzerland in a key game.