The Top Dogs
The world juniors rarely decide the NHL draft that comes six months later. It's usually a contributing factor, one of many.
Maybe in 2009 John Tavares sealed the deal while playing for Canada against his closest rival for No. 1, Victor Hedman of Sweden. Both are still youngsters, but the evidence so far suggests Tavares was the best in that one-sided gold medal game and remains the better of the two young players today.
Today's Canada-U.S. round robin clash, meanwhile, contained an intriguing game within a game, as it involved the three players most see as viable candidates to go No. 1 next June, now that it appears an NHL season will happen and a regular draft will occur.
Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks was out there patrolling the American blueline in a 2-1 loss, while Halifax Mooseheads teammates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathon Drouin were skating on the same line for Team Canada in the win.
None of the three, it's fair to say, delivered a performance so large that NHL scouts will change their minds about anything, and don't forget, there's still a chance players like Alexander Barkov, Valeri Iichushkin and Elias Lindholm could barge their way into the elite group.
But for now, it's Jones, MacKinnon and Drouin.
Jones is a big, rangy right-handed shooting defenceman who might be the safest pick of the three in that he'll play and play big in the NHL for a long, long time. He was one the ice for both Canadian goals, and directly responsible for missing coverage on Ryan Strome on the second. But as the game wore on his presence was felt more and more. He looks like he can easily play upwards of 25 minutes a game, and while not overtly physical much of the time, his size and skating abiity allow him to be noticeable on every shift. That one-timer from the left circle should be an NHL weapon for years to come.
For MacKinnon, this event has so far been a bit of a disappointment in that he hasn't been put in a role to shine. With Boone Jenner and J.C. Lipon both serving suspensions today, he did graduate to the second line at times beside Strome and Drouin, but again, he didn't make much of an impression.
This, however, is one of those instances in which scouts won't necessarily downgrade him just because, so far, he's not having a big tournament. It's a competition usually dominated by 19-year-olds, and you're seeing players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mark Schiefele get all the important minutes for Canada. We've yet to see MacKinnon get much if any power play time, and only occasionally have we seen his trademark wheels.
Drouin, meanwhile, has shot up the rankings in recent weeks, and on Team Canada, has been the No. 2 left winger behind Huberdeau. He is shifty with great hands, a very different type of forward than MacKinnon, and he certainly hasn't looked out of place on the big ice. One senses an ability to intelligently read the defence when he attacks, and his puck skills are off the charts.
Today didn't change a thing. But it will add to the conversation, a conversation that will gain momentum heading towards June. All three, by the way, will be in Halifax in just over two weeks for the CHL Top Prospects Game.