The 2016 IIHF World Juniors were a disaster for Team Canada after they were knocked out of the medal round via a 6-5 Quarterfinal loss to Team Finland. It was an ignominious follow-up to Canada’s 2015 gold medal, but par for the course in recent years, as Canada has failed to medal at the World Juniors in three of the last four tournaments.
This year, as the tournament returns to Montreal and Toronto, expectations are high. And the focal point of those expectations is Erie Otters center and Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome, newly named captain for Team Canada.
Silver Lining to a Rough Season
Dylan Strome’s 2016-17 season has not gone exactly according to plan.
Due to an unfortunate provision in the CHL-AHL agreement, Strome’s options this year were to play in the NHL or get sent back to the OHL for another season. The Coyotes opted to take a deliberate approach out of training camp, keeping Strome with the Coyotes through November to get him used to training and practicing with NHL regulars, while getting seven games of NHL action.
He only had one assist in his seven appearances, and appeared to struggle to use his size and reach to his advantage both on and off the puck. As a result, the Coyotes opted to return Strome to Erie before Thanksgiving.
Since his return, Strome has played in seven OHL games. And sure enough, he’s shown there isn’t much left for him to prove at the major-junior level: he has five goals and eleven assists. That’s already good enough for 8th on the Otters in scoring, with fewer than 25% of the games his teammates have played.
Yet the World Juniors should be the perfect showcase for Strome. This time around, he’ll have the spotlight largely to himself.
A Big Stage
International hockey on Canadian soil is always a big deal, if last summer’s World Cup of Hockey and the 2015 World Juniors were any indication. This year’s tournament could be even bigger for Strome.
Last year, Strome was forced to share the spotlight with players like Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, Matthew Tkachuk, and of course, Auston Matthews.
This year however, potential first overall pick Nolan Patrick will miss the tournament due to injury, and other possible top pick Timothy Liljegren will not be there either. While there is plenty of opportunity for young players to grab the spotlight, nobody has control of it yet.
Instead, Strome will lead a contingent of quality players already with NHL clubs, including Pierre-Luc Dubois (Columbus), Tyson Jost (Colorado), Dante Fabbro (Nashville), and assistant captains Mathew Barzal (New York Islanders) and Thomas Chabot (Ottawa).
Of his teammates, Strome may have the most to prove; he is two years removed from his draft season, and the Coyotes have a lot riding on his success. And Team Canada’s recent woes at the World Juniors will only be magnified with a disappointing showing on home ice.
Yet Strome went third overall in 2015 for a reason; he has a ton of talent and physical traits that cannot be learned. Against the highest caliber young players the world has to offer, Strome will get a chance to show everyone - especially Arizona’s brass - that he took the experience in Arizona to heart, and is a better player for it.
Canada’s opening match-up will be against Russia on Boxing Day, December 26th, with a game New Year’s Eve against the United States. All Canada and United States games will be televised on NHL Network in the United States, as well as every medal round game beginning on January 2nd.
Strome has a great opportunity to silence his critics and set up a storybook finish to the 2016-17 season. Be sure to watch Strome’s progress throughout the tournament as the World Juniors get underway.