The Canadians are ready for the real thing.
Hitting double digits for the second time in the tournament, Canada hammered Switzerland 10-0 on Wednesday night to improve to 3-0 at the 2021 world junior championship.
Eight different scorers found the back of the net for Canada, including Quinton Byfield and Jakob Pelletier, who had two apiece.
After running the table against the lesser nations in Group A, Canada will meet a legitimate challenger for a medal for the first time on New Year’s Eve when it takes on Finland.
Byfield has his breakthrough
Well, it’s been a long time coming for Quinton Byfield, who should be smiling after a standout performance versus the Swiss. The returning 18-year-old forward finally broke through in his 10th game at the world juniors, fully demonstrating the talent that made him the No. 2 overall selection of the Los Angeles Kings in 2020.
Byfield racked up a game-high six points Wednesday night, including his first two goals ever at the event. The youngest player for Canada for a second consecutive winter, Byfield managed only two total points across nine games before finally busting through.
Byfield kick-started the offence for the Canadians, assisting on three of the first four goals scored in another slow-to-start performance from the team. His goals came by the time the game was largely out of reach, but did well to showcase his scoring prowess, with one coming on a net-front tip on the power play and the other on a one-touch finish in transition.
Quinton Byfield (LAK) gets his 2nd goal and 5th point of the night. pic.twitter.com/U2gFqEsx7p
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 30, 2020
But was most impressive was his ability to put the puck in spaces that would provide his teammates with quality looks. His assists on goals from Phil Tomasino and Jakob Pelletier showed particularly sharp awareness and attacking sense. This one for Tomasino came early:
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) December 29, 2020
It’ll be interesting to see if Byfield’s performance influences coach Andre Tourigny, who doesn’t seem to have landed on a real dominant combination in a top six that hasn’t to this point included Byfield.
If for nothing else, it will silence many of the nay-sayers who were particularly vocal when Byfield failed to contribute offensively in the first two games after playing a small role last tournament.
Finding the right mix
Winning by double digits twice to begin the tournament, it seems a little strange to criticize what we’ve seen from the forwards for Canada, but it still very much seems like a work in progress for Tourigny up front.
His biggest concern should be the performance of his top six, which has had trouble out of the blocks in all three games and seems to still be looking to find the right combination. With the exception of Dylan Cozens, who has shone in all three starts despite changing lines and linemates, the best and most consistent performances have come from further down the lineup, and of course on defence and in goal.
Yes, it’s important to nurture the development of each line, pairing, and combination in pursuit of world junior gold, but putting the players that are performing in the best position to succeed seems like the first logical step toward finding roster optimization.
That means we should see Byfield and Tomasino take on an increased role moving forward.
With the exception of maybe Trevor Zegras, who has been unbelievable for the United States, Tomasino has done more with his ice time than maybe anyone. He hadn’t logged 20 minutes in the tournament before he scored his fourth goal in his first shift versus the Swiss. And yet, he’s still fighting for ice time under Tourigny, who originally had him as the 14th forward.
It’s not going to be so easy for the Canadians from this point on, as the challenge will only get more difficult with each game. Putting Cozens, Byfield and Tomasino in the best positions to build on their performances could be the key to raising the level of five-on-five efficiency from the top six, and therefore unlocking the full potential of this forward mix.
Levi continues to roll
If the Canadians have it their way, the conversation around goaltending will remain minimal. It’s looking increasingly likely that Devon Levi will take it all the way through, with the exception of that third-period breather versus the Germans.
The seventh-round selection of the Florida Panthers was rock solid again, making 15 saves for his second shutout and fourth win for Canada when including its shutout of Russia in exhibition play.
With only heavy lifting ahead, Levi will get the nod on New Year’s Eve versus Finland and, barring something completely unforeseen, to begin the knockout phase.
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