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World Championship

Worlds: New group of defensemen emerging for Canada

Next generation helping to dominate tournament in Russia

by Carol Schram / Correspondent

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Five games into the 2016 IIHF World Championship, a group of young defensemen is playing a prominent role in Canada's success.

After Cam Talbot of the Edmonton Oilers made 18 saves in a 5-0 win against Slovakia on Saturday for his second shutout, Canada has allowed four goals, thanks in large part to the best defense in the tournament.

"You can tell that we don't give up a lot of Grade A scoring chances," Talbot said after the game. "When we do, we're there to clean up the rebounds when I give them up. It's been a lot of fun to play behind these guys."

Such stout defense has been the standard for Canada in the past two Olympic Games, but in St. Petersburg there is no Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty leading the way. Six of Canada's eight defensemen were selected in the 2012 NHL Draft and are between 21 and 23 years old. The group's veteran presence is 26-year-old Chris Tanev of the Vancouver Canucks, who went undrafted and is making his first appearance for Canada.

Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, 25, was added to the roster following the win against Slovakia, after the Predators were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the Western Conference Second Round on Thursday 

"They're mobile," captain Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks said of the key characteristic of Canada's defense. "They can skate. They can move the puck and they can play in their own zone. They're all big and strong."

For the most part, they're also very familiar with each other.

"I know a few of the D-men from Under-18s and previous Hockey Canada tournaments," said defenseman Cody Ceci of the Ottawa Senators. "We're all in that same level, same number of years played, same experience level, so it definitely helps out that way. We're all pretty comfortable with each other."

On the 2011 U-18 team, Ceci's fellow defensemen with Canada included Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Ryan Murray (Columbus Blue Jackets), teammates again this month. They're three of five first-round draft picks from 2012 who comprise Canada's blue line, along with Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild and Michael Matheson of the Florida Panthers. Ben Hutton (Vancouver) is the sixth team member from the 2012 draft class, but he was chosen in the fifth round.

Ellis is a first-round pick, drafted at No. 11 by the Predators in 2009. He's a little older than the core group, but patrolled the blue line with Rielly on Canada's 2014 World Championship team in Minsk, Belarus.

"It's nice that we're all young," Hutton said. "A few of the others have [played together before], but I wasn't a part of those teams.

"They accepted me into the group," he said. "I'm not an outcast anymore."

One teammate Hutton knows is Matheson, who leads Canada defensemen with two goals and five points in five games. Before reaching the NHL, the two faced each other for three years in college, where Hutton played for Maine and Matheson for Boston College.

Matheson has played in eight NHL games, five during the Panthers' first-round loss to the New York Islanders this postseason.

"I knew the talent that he had and the player he could be so I wasn't surprised," Hutton said of Matheson being added to Canada's roster. "I knew what kind of player he was: fast skater, can shoot the puck.

"Some of the players asked me, 'Did you play against him? Do you know him?' I told them, 'Don't worry boys, he'll be good. He's got us.'

Matheson said, "I was definitely pretty surprised [to get the call], but it's a huge honor to be able to come to this tournament and play for Team Canada. With the season that I had, I was mostly in the minors. You definitely don't expect to get a call like that, but it's a huge honor to be here."

With such a young defense, Canada coach Bill Peters has been relying on Tanev to guide his less experienced teammates.

"You can see the young guys leaning on him," Peters said of Tanev, a defensive defenseman who has one assist in five games. "I think he's been a stabilizing force for us and someone that we might be able to use in even more situations than we have up to this point in the tournament."

Through the first five games, the defense's mistakes have been kept to a minimum, prompting some to wonder if this is the emergence of Canada's next generation of elite players on the blue line.

Hutton hopes so.

"That'd be nice to be a part of that," he said. "We're just out there having fun, playing our game."

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