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John Garrett: Talkin' World Juniors

by John Garrett / Vancouver Canucks
This time of year the hockey world turns its attention to the World Juniors.

Hockey Canada has done a great job at promoting this as must see TV and a tournament that can’t be missed. The timing is perfect. It starts on Boxing Day and finishes two weeks later. Families are home and there is very little to do. It is a chance to rally round the flag and watch us prove that Canada is hockey and hockey is Canada.

Who cares if it is kids under the age of 20 whose real goal is playing in the NHL? Who cares if there are only two or three teams who have a legitimate chance of winning? Who cares if the best European or Russian juniors are already playing in the CHL? It is us against them and as a fan, I want to be there.

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John Garrett is a former Canuck and currently the colour commentator for Sportsnet Pacific.

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The problem is the only fans who want to be there are Canadian fans. Watch the attendance this year in Finland and compare it to the number of fans who sell out the arenas in Canada or the United States and only if it is a border city in the States. When Buffalo and St. Louis were vying for the 2018 World Juniors it was an automatic that Buffalo would be the chosen city. Canadian hockey fans will fill the seats and the tournament will be a success, but for whom?

The players chosen for this team enjoy the ride because for two weeks they are treated like they are in the NHL, but if you think that any player who is on an NHL roster even if he is seeing spot duty would rather go to this tournament than stay with his NHL team you are delusional. It is a chance to get amazing exposure, but for the majority of these players they have already been drafted. It is two weeks and then what? You have been away from the NHL environment and back to playing against juniors or going from your junior team to play against guys you have been playing against in your regular league.

Bo Horvat has said one of the best things that have ever happened to him was when the Canucks decided to keep him and not send him to the World Juniors last year. Jake Virtanen may benefit from getting a confidence boost, but will he learn much from playing against inferior opponents?

Now this brings me to Jared McCann and why he should not be sent back to junior at any time. The Canucks are in need of using some of their good prospects and McCann fits the bill. Like Horvat last year, McCann is mature both on and off the ice. He can score and is responsible defensively. He will learn how to take faceoffs against NHL competition as he gets to know the opposition and the linesmen. He would not benefit from going back to Sault Ste. Marie where he had 81 points in 57 games.

The scouts I have talked to say most first rounders that are returned to their junior teams put it on cruise control. The gap between the good players and everyone else is so wide that the good players can turn it on when they want to and put up points, but they have nothing to prove.

Sam Reinhart was drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres and sent back to his junior team after nine games. In his draft year Reinhart had 105 points. When he got sent back he had 65. What did he have to prove? His learning curve would have been much better served had he stayed in Buffalo and played against men the entire year. Sean Monahan in Calgary is the perfect example of a draft choice who was ready to go and was given the chance. He had 78 points in 58 games his last year in junior and was taken sixth overall. He was given the chance by the Flames and responded with 22 goals.

There comes a time in every team’s evolution where they have to let their next ones learn under fire. The Canucks are at that point now.

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