HELSINKI - It hasn't been easy to find someone to keep up with Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner, but the speedy Brendan Perlini might be the man to bring stability to Canada's top line at the world junior hockey championship.
Perlini, the latest winger to join Canada's high-flying scoring line, practised with Marner and Strome on Sunday afternoon. The hope is that he'll help unlock the top trio's offensive potential Monday against Denmark.
"Every time you play with new players you're always trying to find their tendencies and things like that," said Perlini after the hour-long practice at Helsinki Ice Hall. "For me, I like to play with a lot of speed so it's always trying to get guys to understand where I might like the puck or where they like it.
"I think we gelled pretty good and we'll find out in the next game."
Strome and Marner, the third and fourth overall picks in last summer's NHL draft respectively, are Canada's most skilled players at the world juniors but finding the right fit for the third member of their line has been difficult for head coach Dave Lowry.
Heading into the tournament returning veteran Lawson Crouse was on the wing with Marner, but in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the United States Crouse didn't take a single shift with Strome or Marner as Lowry opted to use John Quenneville with them instead. Later, they were joined by Anthony Beauvillier and, in the third period, Perlini.
It seems that final matchup ??? with Strome centring Marner and Perlini ??? was the best fit as Canada prepared to face Denmark.
"He's a big body that skates well, gets in on the forecheck and he's not afraid to shoot the puck," said Lowry of the six-foot-two, 212-pound Perlini. "He gets himself into the areas to get opportunities. He was reluctant (to shoot) a couple of times last night (against the U.S.) but we've talked about it and he's made sure his mindset will be shot first."
A reluctance to shoot against the Americans was costly for Canada and the addition of Perlini is designed to help Strome and Marner become more selfish with the puck.
"I'm kind of a shot-first type of guy," said Perlini. "That's one thing is when I'm not shooting, to me, I'm not really playing my game.
"Just got to try and focus on shooting and going to the net."
Perlini's big body and shoot-first mentality suit his new linemates well.
"I like the way he plays," said Strome. "He's fast, he can shoot the puck and I think that's what we're going to need. I think that's why the coaches want to put him on our line.
"I've seen his release and it's pretty incredible. Hopefully we can get him the puck and get him good opportunities in good spots and he can put it home."
All three forwards are in the Ontario Hockey League. Marner is third in OHL points with 22 goals and 36 assists for the London Knights, Strome is fifth in the league with 16 goals and 37 assists for the Erie Otters and Perlini has 13 goals and nine assists with the Niagara IceDogs.
"(Perlini) fits in really well," said Marner. "He's a fast-moving guy, he's a big guy, he's really good with the puck, that's what I've noticed the past couple of years playing against him.
"He complements us really well."
Asked if the rotating cast of left-wingers frustrated him, Strome said he could work with any of his teammates because the goal is to win.
"That's the way it goes, I guess," said Strome. "We're trying to find that happy medium until something really clicks. I thought us and (Quenneville) worked well and then us and (Perlini) worked well in the last period of the last game.
"I guess we'll keep switching it up. We're hitting every team with a different wave."
Forward Julien Gauthier did not practise on Sunday as he struggled with illness. Coach Lowry said that he expected Gauthier would be ready for Monday's game against Denmark.
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