Canada-U.S. showdown puts top prospects in spotlight

It will be hard to overlook the head-to-head battle between the likely top two picks in the NHL draft when Canada faces the United States at the world junior championship. Debate has raged for at least two years on whether Canada’s Connor McDavid or American Jack Eichel will go first at the 2015 draft in June.

BROSSARD, Que. — It will be hard to overlook the head-to-head battle between the likely top two picks in the NHL draft when Canada faces the United States at the world junior championship.

Debate has raged for at least two years on whether Canada’s Connor McDavid or American Jack Eichel will go first at the 2015 draft in June.

But before that is settled, the gifted teenagers will face each other in a showdown for first place in their preliminary round group at the Bell Centre on Wednesday afternoon.

While both insist the game is about the teams and not themselves, many fans in the seats and viewers on television will be comparing the play of two of the best junior prospects to emerge in recent years.

“It’s there a little bit,” McDavid said Tuesday of the Connor versus Jack sideshow. “It’s been something that’s been there for a long time now, but at the end of the day, it’s the U.S. against Canada. It’s not me against anybody else.”

Eichel agreed.

“It’s not all about me versus Connor, it’s a huge matchup for the top seed in our bracket,” he said.

Eichel, who turned 18 on Oct. 28, was named captain of the American squad despite his youth, while Canada made McDavid, who turns 18 on Jan. 13, an alternate to captain Curtis Lazar.

It is rare for a so-called “underage” player at the mostly 19-year-old tournament to wear any letter at all, but these two are special talents.

Both are great skaters. Both have sublime hands and playmaking ability. Both pile up points, although neither has had a breakout game at the world juniors yet.

After three games each, McDavid has a goal and two assists, all collected during a 4-0 win over Germany. Eichel has a goal and a helper.

In the Ontario Hockey League, the six-foot-one 187-pound McDavid has 16 goals and 51 points in only 18 games for the Erie Otters. Before the world juniors, he hadn’t played since Nov. 11 after breaking his right hand in a fight.

The six-foot-two 193-pound Eichel has eight goals and 27 points in 16 games for Boston University playing against slightly older competition in the NCAA.

Now they are set to play against each other with a host of NHL scouts and a national TV audience watching every move.

“You always want to be a difference maker, whatever game it is,” said the soft-spoken McDavid. “Obviously it’s a bigger stage, but that doesn’t make a difference.”

Both coaches, Benoit Groulx for Canada and Mark Osiecki for the U.S., praised their young phenoms for not getting too caught up in the hype about themselves and for putting their team’s performance first.

Although McDavid and Eichel have never really met off the ice, they’ve faced each other before at under-17 and under-18 events. They also both played at last year’s world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, although neither was in a leading role at that point in their development.

“It’s exciting, but it’s more exciting just to be at this tournament in general,” said Eichel. “It’s been a lot of fun so far and I’m sure it’ll be a blast.”

Canada and the U.S. have built a rivalry in recent years that will add intensity to the matchup. And regardless of who wins, they could end up meeting again in the knockout stage.

“For us, it’s Canada versus the U.S., not Connor versus Eichel,” said Groulx. “Those are two guys among 44 players who will play against each other.

“I can’t answer for him, but I think a lot of media have been talking about Eichel and McDavid, so I think they’re used to it. But Connor is a team player and he thinks more about us winning than him versus Eichel.”

Canada (3-0-0 for nine points) has outscored its opponents 16-1 so far, while the U.S. (2-0-1 for eight points) has an 11-1 edge. The Americans lost a point by going to overtime and a shootout in its tournament opening 2-1 win over Finland.

Where Canada has an edge is on the power play, which has scored on five of 10 chances. The Americans have one goal in 13 opportunities. Neither team has conceded a power-play goal.

Groulx made a surprise move in announcing that Eric Comrie will get the start in goal. Zach Fucale, a Montreal native, started the first and third games, allowing one goal, while Comrie had a 4-0 shutout against Germany.

While the choice suggests to some a lack of faith in Fucale, Groulx said he considers them equal and said it has not yet been decided which of them is the number one netminder.

He also said that Vancouver Canucks prospect Jake Virtanen will stick with McDavid’s line with Curtis Lazar after playing there in the third period of a 4-1 win over Finland on Monday night. That bumps big Nick Ritchie of the Peterborough Petes to the fourth unit.

“He’s the same type of player as Rich,” McDavid said of Virtanen. “He’s a big body. He flies out there. He’s a real presence and he has a lot of skills.”

The game also features two more players slated as top-10 draft picks: fourth-line forward Lawson Crouse for Canada and defenceman Noah Hanifin of the U.S., who many have ranked just behind McDavid and Eichel.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta is on pace to administer more than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, according to the provincial government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
One million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Alberta

Alberta hit a milestone in the fight against COVID-19 this week. As… Continue reading

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Interior work will start this year on Red Deer hospital project, says infrastructure minister

‘We are committed. This is a top priority,’ says Presad Panda

Even with recent restrictions due to rising COVID-19 variant case levels, about 95 per cent of businesses are open in Alberta, said Premier Jason Kenney. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Consistent pandemic policy has helped Alberta, premier says

Alberta fatality rate lower than Canadian average

People play on the rocks on a calm Lake Ontario near Humber Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadian emissions to make up outsized portion of what climate can bear: study

Canadian emissions to make up outsized portion of what climate can bear: study

In this Monday, Feb. 1, 2021 file photo, emissions from a coal-fired power plant are silhouetted against the setting sun in Independence, Mo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Charlie Riedel
Canadian emissions to make up outsized portion of what climate can bear: study

Canadian emissions to make up outsized portion of what climate can bear: study

People wear face masks as they walk in a park in Montreal, Sunday, April 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Premier Francois Legault softens rules for outdoor mask use following criticism

Premier Francois Legault softens rules for outdoor mask use following criticism

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
‘Operational pressures:’ Calgary schools shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12

‘Operational pressures:’ Calgary schools shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Italian-Canadians to get formal apology for treatment during Second World War

Italian-Canadians to get formal apology for treatment during Second World War

Heartfelt messages are left on a table as people come out to mark International Overdose Awareness Day during a mass group naloxone training seminar at Centennial Square in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday August 31, 2019. nbsp;When British Columbia's provincial health officer declared an emergency into the overdose crisis five years ago, he said it was because those who died deserved more of a response. Since then, Dr. Perry Kendall says roughly 7,000 died unnecessarily. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
7,000 more overdose deaths since B.C. declared public health emergency in 2016

7,000 more overdose deaths since B.C. declared public health emergency in 2016

A vial of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine dose is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Ontario sees vaccine supply issues, Ottawa keeps AstraZeneca on the market

Ontario sees vaccine supply issues, Ottawa keeps AstraZeneca on the market

Storage tanks are shown at the Marathon Petroleum Corp. refinery in Detroit on April 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Paul Sancya
U.S. oil comprised 77 per cent of Canada’s foreign oil imports last year: regulator

U.S. oil comprised 77 per cent of Canada’s foreign oil imports last year: regulator

Most Read