Each year, the World Junior A Challenge features some future stars who either haven’t made their respective countries World Junior teams or simply haven’t been given a chance due to age. Players such as Kyle Turris, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov, David Pastrnak and more have participated in recent years, with three tournament alumni going in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
This year, six teams will participate for a chance at gold. For Canada, they have a chance at two medals thanks to having both Canada East and Canada West enrolled in the annual event. Canada East is made up of players from the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Central Canada Hockey League and Maritime Hockey League. Here is a list of five players to keep an eye on when the tournament begins this weekend in Kindersley, Sask.
5. Alex Tonge (Kingston Voyageurs): Tonge was be selected by his hometown Kingston Frontenacs in the 10th round, 190th overall during the 2011 OHL Draft, but it’s been his time with the OJHL’s Voyageurs where he has truly made a name for himself. The Voyageurs leading scorer in 2013-14, Tonge finished sixth overall in league scoring with 72 points in 53 games played. Following the season, Tonge confirmed his commitment to Robert Morris University Colonials beginning with the 2015-16 Atlantic Hockey season this past May. Tonge led the Vees in scoring once again with 15 goals and 23 points in 15 post-season contests, but Kingston would end up losing to Aurora in the semi-finals. Joined by his brother Colin, Alex has helped Kingston hit 40 points in the ultra-competitive East Division, scoring 42 points in 22 games this year. The 19-year-old should bring scoring and experience as one of the older players on the Canada East roster, and will likely get a good amount of ice time during the event.
4. Zac Tierney (Cornwall Colts, CCHL): Tierney, an 18-year-old from London, ON., is currently in his second season as a Junior A defenseman, but he already looks like a seasoned veteran. He put up 41 points in 55 games as a rookie for the Ottawa Jr. Senators last year before finding himself with the Cornwall Colts for the current year. The speedy power-play specialist is having quite the season as a CCHL sophomore, posting 28 points in 32 games this year as a top pairing defenseman for the Colts. A potential late round option for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Tierney was a 2012 draft pick of the Peterborough Petes but chose the college route instead. Back in April, the defenseman chose Ferris State of the NCAA for the 2015-2016 season, and with this year being his final chance at winning gold at the World Junior A Challenge, expect Tierney to give it all he’s got in the pursuit of victory.
3. Ryan Kirkup (Whitby Fury, OJHL): Kirkup may be the only player on this list that isn’t on the NHL’s watch list for the 2015 draft, but he’s the only one with OHL experience to date. The 19-year-old has 46 games of experience with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and while he only mustered three points during that time, his offense has really picked up since going full-time with the Whitby Fury last season. Part of his 45 point performance last year was due to playing with OJHL Player of the Year winner Taylor Best, who led the league in scoring with 90 points in 48 games. This year, however, Kirkup hasn’t needed any help, having scored 44 points in just the first 31 games of the season. Not bad for one of the OJHL’s top scorers, who had five points in six games at the recent Central Canada Cup Challenge with the OJHL Nieuwendyk team. The former Markham Major has a nice balance of top end speed and skill, and can also be used on the penalty kill if needed. A player who is good in most situations? Sign me up!
2. Dawson Theede (Cobourg Cougars, OJHL): Theede is a very intriguing player. Uncommitted, Theede is the only OJHLer from the NHL’s November watch list that made Canada East this year, with North York’s Will Reilly and Oakville’s Jackson Bales both sitting out this tournament. The Whitby, Ontario native spent the past two seasons with the Whitby Wildcats Midget team, recording 23 points in 28 league games last year. Not a major goal scorer by any means, Theede is a big body (6’3″, 209 lbs) that gets to the net and pushes opponents around, creating scoring chances for his teammates in the process. In 30 games this year, Theede has just 11 points to go along with his 54 PIM, but he’s been a integral reason why the Cougars are currently first in the very tough OJHL East Division this season. His all around game needs work, but there have been rumblings of OHL and NCAA interest for the 2015-2016 season. Theede could be a late round option for NHL teams looking for a project player, but for now, Theede’s focus shifts to the WJAC’s, where he’ll likely be used in a checking role to help break open scoring chances and try to steal the gold.
1. Adrian Clark (Carleton Place Canadians, CCHL): Adrian was just one of two CCHL prospects listed on the NHL’s CSS watch list for November, and for good reason. He could simply be one of the best Junior A goaltenders in his age group right now. The 17-year-old has already committed to Dartmouth College for the 2016-2017 season, making the announcement just a month into his first CCHL season. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise, though. Clark was a rock between the pipes for the stacked ’97 born Oakville Rangers Minor Midget AAA team a few years back, posting a 20-1-1 record to go along with a 0.933 SP and 0.95 GAA. To top off that incredible performance that year, he 15-2-3 in tournament play, which included a gold at the 2013 OHL Cup to finish off the season. After spending last year with the Vaughan Kings Midget team, Clark moved on to the CCHL, where he had a 13-5-0 record in the first 18 games alone. It was expected that 2013-2014 CCHL Top Goaltender Guillaume Therien would steal most of the starts, but so far it’s been a split venture between the two goalies. Regardless of who the Canadians put in net, both goalies give them a chance to win, so expect to hear more about Clark in the future.
The tournament will be held Dec. 14-20 at the West Central Events Centre in Kindersley, Saskatchewan. Canada East will play in Group A, joined by Switzerland and the United States, while Canada West, Denmark and Russia will make up Group B.
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