Canada coach Steve Spott didn't need long to know Jonathan Drouin would be a big part of the team he was assembling for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.
With his full complement of forwards for the first time in his team's preliminary round finale Monday against Russia, Spott promoted Drouin to the top line and the 2013 NHL Draft prospect continued to perform at a high level.
Drouin scored a back-breaking goal as Canada topped Russia 4-1 to clinch the top spot in Group B and earn a bye into the tournament semifinals on Thursday. They'll face the winner of the quarterfinal match between the United States and the Czech Republic, which will be played Wednesday.
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|Wed Jan. 2
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|Thurs Jan. 3
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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins assisted on Canada's first three goals, giving him a tournament-high 11 points. Dougie Hamilton, Mark Scheifele and Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for Canada, and goalie Malcolm Subban made 21 saves, including a penalty-shot save late in the third period.
"Jonathan Drouin played great with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele," Spott told TSN. "We were just trying to find different ways to create offense and chemistry. Now that we've got our full lineup together, it gave us an opportunity to do that."
Drouin said he was a bit surprised to see his name on the lineup sheet next to Nugent-Hopkins and Scheifele, and said it got him even more excited for the game. However, he focused on not changing the style of play that earned him the promotion in the first place.
"I think maybe [bring] a little energy, speed," Drouin told TSN. "They're great players and I had to play the same game I played on the second line. I think I did a pretty good job. It was easy to play with them. They're great players; I just had to find open spaces."
Drouin did that on his goal at 6:31 of the second period, finding open space below the goal line in the Russia end. Nugent-Hopkins sent a soft shot on net that Scheifele tipped off the outside of the net. Drouin had the puck land on his stick, and he circled behind the net, coming out the other side and stuffing it inside the post before Andrei Makarov could jam his skate into place.
Despite a stellar season, Drouin has been overshadowed a bit by his teammate with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Nathan MacKinnon. Drouin is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of QMJHL skaters for the 2013 NHL Draft, just behind MacKinnon. But on this Canadian junior team, Drouin, who has two goals and two assists, has been the top player.
"Drouin played very well," Spott said. "I'll meet with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and see his thoughts but I think everyone was pleased with the effort from the forwards."
That effort included a better showing on the power play, as a pair of extra-man goals started the offense for Canada.
The game was scoreless when top 2013 NHL Draft prospect Valeri Nichushkin -- NHL Central Scouting placed him No. 1 among Russian skaters in its preliminary ranking of prospects for this year's NHL Draft -- was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit from behind at 11:44 of the first period for hitting Canada defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon into the boards behind Canada's net.
Canada capitalized with a pair of goals. First, Nugent-Hopkins slid a puck to the point to Hamilton, and the big defenseman blasted a shot past Makarov at 14:04.
Scheifele made it 2-0 at 15:58 with a bit of soccer skill to go with his hockey touch. Scheifele jumped on the rebound of a Huberdeau shot, kicked it through traffic and beat Makarov from a sharp angle to score his fourth of the WJC, tying him for the tournament lead.
"That five-minute major was very important," Spott said. "We don't score on that we're not having the same interview. The fact that we capitalized on that five-minute power play was crucial."
Ryan Murphy, who quarterbacked the power play, told TSN that placing the accent on the skill was the key to finding success on the man-advantage unit.
"I think we all met as a group and wanted to use our creativity," he said. "That's what a power play is supposed to be. The first few games we were too hung up on structure and set plays and we got away from our creativity."
Nikita Kucherov scored the lone Russia goal off a Scheifele turnover in the Canada end. The Winnipeg Jets prospect tried stickhandling out of his zone, but lost the puck. It rolled to Kucherov alone in the high slot, and his one-timer got past Subban at 17:36.
"I had to play the same game I played on the second line. I think I did a pretty good job. It was easy to play with them. They're great players; I just had to find open spaces."
-- Canada forward Jonathan Drouin
After Drouin's goal put Canada ahead after 40 minutes, Huberdeau closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 27.3 seconds left.
Russia had a chance at another goal in the game's final seconds when Vladimir Tkachev was pulled down by Canada defenseman Ryan Murphy and was awarded a penalty shot, but Subban got a piece of his shot with his right pad to re-direct it wide of the net.
It was one of the only chances Russia had in the third, as Canada held Russia to just four shots in the final 20 minutes.
"Goaltending out, we've done a nice job," Spott said. "Collectively, as a group, we've played well. We've tracked back hard. We haven't given up odd-man rushes. Any time you can keep a world-class team like Russia to [four] shots in the third period you're proud of your group."
Part of that credit was given to the checking line of Boone Jenner, Brett Ritchie and Philip Danault. In his first game of the tournament after being suspended for the first three, Jenner had four shots and won nine of 16 faceoffs. He was awarded the best player of the game cape.
"My adrenaline was going since I woke up this morning," he told TSN. "We knew the building would be electric and I wanted to feed off that energy. I was raring to go. It was good to get back on the ice."
"You have guys like Boone Jenner and Phil Danault grinding down low and keeping the puck down low for 30, 40 seconds," Murphy said, "coming down to the last few minutes to play, it was good to know they battled hard for us and helped us get that win."
Now Canada gets a little time off before its semifinal match Thursday. The focus, however, doesn't change.
"It's just getting better every day," Murphy said. "This is an elite group of guys, but so is everyone else in this tournament. It's getting better every day, keeping our focus as a group and keeping a work ethic. When you have a skilled group like this, it's keeping that work ethic most important."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK