The world junior hockey championship begins on Saturday with Canada facing the United States in the preliminary round. Here are five Canadian players to keep an eye on for the duration of the tournament:
MASON MCDONALD, GOALTENDER ? Hockey Canada's original plan for the world juniors was to carry two goaltenders, with Mackenzie Blackwood being the presumptive starter and McDonald keeping him sharp as a skilled backup. That all changed when Blackwood was suspended for eight games by the Ontario Hockey League on Dec. 8. Now Blackwood can't dress for Canada's first two games of the world juniors, putting McDonald between the pipes and last-minute addition Samuel Montembeault on the bench. McDonald, at least against the United States and Denmark, will have all eyes on him.
BRAYDEN POINT, CENTRE ? Point is arguably the best player in the Western Hockey League and a veteran of Canada's 2014 gold-medal junior team. However, he injured his shoulder on Nov. 17, forcing him to miss several games for the Moose Jaw Warriors and wear a non-contact jersey for Canada's selection camp. He played in Canada's pre-competition games but also missed some practices to rest his injury. If he's on the ice he's one of Canada's most dynamic playmakers. If he's injured, Canada will need to scramble to find a distributor of Point's ability.
JAKE VIRTANEN, RIGHT-WING ??? Virtanen rode his success with last year's world junior champions on to the Vancouver Canucks roster, officially making the NHL team on Nov. 1 as a 19-year-old rookie. Since that impressive start to the season he's struggled with one goal and four assists in 19 games. He went scoreless in two games while on a conditioning assignment with the American Hockey League's Utica Comets before joining Canada's junior team. He could be a leader in the Canadian locker-room but also has the opportunity to turn around his season in the NHL.
ANTHONY BEAUVILLIER, LEFT-WING ??? One of the youngest players on Canada's roster this year, Beauvillier impressed at selection camp in early December, scoring four times in two games against Canadian university all-stars, including a hat trick. His strong play continued in to pre-competition exhibition games. He could be a breakout star of the tournament if his hand stays hot.
DYLAN STROME,CENTRE ??? All the attention has been showered on outspoken winger Mitch Marner ahead of the world junior championship, but Strome will be the centre for Canada's top line at the tournament. The third-overall pick of the 2015 NHL draft, Strome is Canada's most talented player in Helsinki, Finland. How he and long-time friend Marner react to the pressure of the event could decide if Canada will repeat as world champions.
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