The 2018 World Junior Championship ended in storybook fashion for Canadian and Avalanche fans rooting for their two newest and brightest defense prospects Cale Makar and Conor Timmins to win the gold medal. Both were instrumental in the championship run for Team Canada and were recognized on the world stage when the spotlight shone the brightest. Both Makar and Timmins were named by the team as two of their three top players along with Ottawa Senators forward prospect Drake Batherson and the honor was much deserved.
Cale Makar was a running storyline for a majority of the tournament as he saw inconsistent ice time averaging 13:39 minutes per game with a high of 25 minutes and a low of six. Whether the reason for not using Makar be it trust, familiarity, experience or just lack of a defined role or partner, he made the most of the minutes he was given by scoring eight points and three goals, which was good for the scoring lead among all defensemen, third on team Canada and ninth in the tournament overall. Makar flashed as Canada’s most dynamic player and many of his points were in important moments as first or second goal for the team and not just when the pile on started when Canada pulled away with a lead.
Makar was named as one of the two defensemen, along with Rasmus Dahlin, to the tournament all-star team and was also named as player of the game in Canada’s 8-2 quarterfinal victory over Switzerland as he assisted on the opening goal and scored on Canada’s second marker with an incredible effort and shot, which really announced he had arrived on the world stage. After such a performance it’s not a shock that according to reports Makar had been offered a spot on the Canadian Olympic team but apparently turned down the opportunity. In any event, Makar put to rest those questions about what type of talent he possesses with a strong showing and a gold medal in the end.
Conor Timmins steadily rose all through the tournament and saved his best for last in the championship game when he assisted on the gold medal winning goal as seen below with a superb fake shot for a pass to Arizona Coyotes prospect Tyler Steenbergen. Timmins was paired with Montreal Canadiens defensemen Victor Mete for most of the tournament and they were used as the shutdown pair for Canada with Timmins seeing the second most ice time of Canada’s defensemen at over 21 minutes per game. This was a bit of a different role for Timmins as he plays more of an aggressive offensive style with Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL but it was great to see the adaptability in his game especially at this level.
Timmins did contribute quite a bit on the scoresheet as well finishing with five points including one goal, which was good for top 10 in team scoring. Timmins also finished tops in the tournament with a +15 rating and was top 5 in the tournament in scoring from defensemen. Timmins really had a rock solid well-rounded showing and is poised to have a huge second half and hopefully an OHL championship and Memorial Cup berth with Sault Ste. Marie.
The World Junior Championship is also an opportunity to take a look at draft eligible players in games against high level and older competition. There was a lot more interest in this year’s group than in the previous year as it contained up to five possible top ten picks in the upcoming NHL entry draft including Swedish defenseman Dahlin, Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov, American defenseman Quinn Hughes and forward Brady Tkachuk, who all performed well at the tournament. However, no player saw his stock rise more than Czech sniping winger Filip Zadina.
Scoring an astonishing seven goals and eight points total in seven games, Zadina finished seventh overall in scoring and tied for second in goal scoring and team scoring. He made a difference for his team in each game, most notably scoring twice including the tying goal to defeat Finland on the way to a 4-3 shootout victory and a berth into the medal rounds. Zadina was named as one of the three forwards to the tournament all-star team for his efforts. There’s also no slowing Zadina down back with the Halifax Mooseheads as he’s second in scoring in the QMJHL with 48 points including 25 goals in 33 games, good for second in league scoring. How high might Zadina go is going to be a conversation leading up to draft day but it seems he’s solidified as a top 5 pick with the potential for higher.
Despite not medaling, team Czech Republic had a great showing and couple of their under the radar players who had strong tournaments no doubt left a good impression on scouts and could see their names called in the first couple of rounds of the NHL entry draft. One of those is right winger Martin Kaut who plays in the Czech league for Dynamo Pardubice and put up seven points, good for fourth in team scoring. He was always around the puck and making things happen. Jakub Lauko, who plays in the Czech U20 league, is a personal underrated favorite and though he only scored one goal in the tournament he played the role of a responsible and energy bottom six forward and was noticeable throughout. He has a lot of skill and will shine when given a bigger opportunity but it was nice to see he can settle into a role when asked to do so.
It is always a bit sad to see the WJC end but the always intruiging U18 championship is just around the corner in April and will be the main stage for this year’s draft eligibles to to make one final push before the draft in June. There’s always a tournament on the horizon!