I want us to have 13 good [forwards] that play the game the right way and do things the right way. We want to play a certain way, and again, it's irrelevant with age. … It doesn't matter how old you are, it's forming the right team and putting the right team together. What we want to have are tough choices to make. - Canadian head coach Brent Sutter
LAKE PLACID, NY -- Connor McDavid scored a goal and showcased his speed and tenacity on the forecheck. He even impressed his coach, and Brent Sutter isn't the type of person to toss compliments around like souvenir pucks for the kids.
But ask McDavid how he played and the answer is a bit different.
"I'd say like a C-plus," the 16-year-old phenom said following Canada's 7-3 rout of Sweden here at Herb Brooks Arena. "I don't think it was my best game by any means, but certainly wasn't my worst. Lots of stuff I can build off of."
It's hard to see where McDavid, who is at development camp aiming to become the first 16-year-old to make Canada's national junior team since Sidney Crosby in 2004, still needs improvement.
"I can do some more things defensively," McDavid said. "I think I was a minus-1 [Thursday] and that's never a good thing in a 7-3 win. I need to get better in my own zone. I thought I was OK."
Others graded McDavid, in his first taste of elite under-20 game action, a bit higher.
"He played really well," Sutter said. "The kid came in and that first shift when he took the puck and rushed it up the ice, he showed his speed and savvy and the type of player that he is. He was very noticeable in a good way."
Linemate Max Domi said, "He's unbelievable. Anyone can play with him. He's very smart and he's got a lot of speed obviously. He knows where everything is on the ice. He's a lot of fun to play with, and it's not that hard to play with him either. We had a lot of fun out there."
Domi and McDavid combined for some fun early in the second period. Canada was leading 1-0 on Matthew Finn's goal at 7:35 of the first and skating on a power play when Domi got the puck low on the left side of the Sweden zone. Domi, taken by the Phoenix Coyotes with the 12th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft, sent a behind-the-back pass through the slot to McDavid alone on right side of the goal, and he roofed it to make it 2-0 at 4:11.
"He knows where everyone is on the ice," Domi said. "He uses his speed very well. He's beyond his years. He's a great hockey player."
McDavid said it wasn't easy catching up to the game Thursday but said he felt better as it went on.
"The pace is a lot faster, the guys are bigger and stronger," said McDavid, who's 5-foot-11, 175 pounds. "I thought I played all right. I certainly can improve on that."
McDavid has learned he is able to look right at home playing with older competition. He showed it last season as a 15-year-old in the Ontario Hockey League, finishing second among first-year players with 66 points in 63 games for the Erie Otters, then leading all players at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in goals (eight), assists (six) and points (14) en route to winning the best forward and most valuable player awards as Canada won the gold medal.
"Some people might look at my age and say I can't play here," McDavid said. "I've proven in the OHL I can play with the older guys and I've proven at the Under-18 I can play with the older guys. The next step would be proving I can play with these guys."
His teammates know how important McDavid is. When Sweden's Tobias Tornkvist tried to get overly physical with McDavid in the third period with Canada leading 7-3, Domi jumped to McDavid's aid. The result was a pair of minor penalties and a game misconduct for Domi at 13:30.
"It's hockey and we're all expected to stand up for each other," Domi said. "When one guy gets into trouble there's four guys right behind him. That's what happened."
McDavid said it was something he won't forget.
"That was pretty cool," he said of Domi. "Fighting's not his thing. It was unbelievable for him to do that. It was awesome."
"Awesome" would be a good word to describe Canada's overall play Thursday.
"I liked the intensity," Sutter said. "We got up four goals [in the second period] and it's always tough in this game when you get a lead like that. We dropped our guard a little bit, but we regrouped at the end of the second and got right back to how we want to play and I thought we dominated the third."
McDavid's goal was the first of three in a 52-second span that allowed Canada to take a 4-0 lead early in the second. Kerby Rychel scored 15 seconds after McDavid's goal, banging in loose puck in a scrum in front to make it 3-0, and after Sweden swapped goalies, pulling starter Marcus Hogberg, Rychel slipped a shot short side on Jonas Johansson, his replacement, at 5:03.
Sweden finished the period on a three-goal run to get within one after 40 minutes. Carl Dahlstrom converted a nice passing play with Daniel Zaar at 7:12 to put Sweden on the board, and after Damon Severson and Darnell Nurse took back-to-back penalties -- Nurse was whistled for cross-checking then was given a 10-minute misconduct for questioning the call -- Andre Burakovsky scored from in front. Jacob de la Rose one-timed a pass from Filip Sandberg past Canada goalie and fellow Montreal Canadiens prospect Zachary Fucale with 47.2 seconds left in the second to make it 4-3.
That was as close as Sweden would get. Canada ratcheted up its forecheck, which led to two Sweden defensive-zone giveaways that ended up as goals by Frederik Gauthier and Sean Monahan 2:02 apart. Bo Horvat closed the scoring when he redirected an Anthony Mantha shot past Johansson at 7:36.
Two games into Canada's stay in Lake Placid, Sutter said he's seeing a foundation being built.
"The kids know," he said. "It's been very clear as far as the coaches are concerned with how we want to play, how we want to do things. We want to play the Canadian brand. To do that it's going to take hard work. [Thursday] we dealt with a little bit of adversity, but you're going to deal with it at the World Juniors too. It's about how you respond to it. Good teams, teams that are successful, respond to it the right way."
He's certainly liked how McDavid and 17-year-old Sam Reinhart, the two youngest players in camp, have responded. Sutter said prior to the start of the camp he would be shocked if the duo weren't on the team that goes to Malmo, Sweden in December for the 2014 World Junior Championship.
Reinhart is eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft. Having players in their draft year make Canada's WJC team isn't out of the ordinary. However, McDavid won't be NHL draft eligible until 2015, and if he makes the team, would join Crosby, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester and Wayne Gretzky as the only 16-year-olds to play for Canada at the WJC.
Sutter said he isn't concerned with how old McDavid is, only the quality of his play.
"I want us to have 13 good [forwards] that play the game the right way and do things the right way," the coach said. "We want to play a certain way, and again, it's irrelevant with age. … It doesn't matter how old you are, it's forming the right team and putting the right team together. What we want to have are tough choices to make."
So far McDavid has made Sutter's choice a very easy one.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor