Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

World junior championship: Connor McDavid’s line tweaked ahead of Canada-Slovakia game

Ah, the world junior championship, where observers pass judgement on teenaged hockey players whom they wouldn't pay $20 to watch in a Canadian Hockey League game. That's being applied to playmaking prodigy Connor McDavid after his series of unfortunate events for Team Canada on Saturday, namely, two hooking penalties that presaged Czech Republic goals during an upset 5-4 shootout loss.

The truth is always in the middle — McDavid got overeager trying to turn pucks over twice and got sin-binned, which led to goals against. That does a not a bit-spitting make, it's just someone two weeks shy of turning 17 years old betraying his inexperience relative to most players in an under-20 tournament. Nevertheless, some line-shuffling by coach Brent Sutter during practice on Sunday in Malmo, Sweden indicates that McDavid might move down Canada's depth chart.

[Canada-Slovakia Chatravaganza: Monday, 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT]

From Daniel Nugent-Bowman (@DNBSports):

Taylor Leier moved to a foursome with Bo Horvat, Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid and rotated with the 16-year-old wunderkind during drills.

... "It’s one game and you guys make a bigger deal of it than it is," Canadian head coach Brent Sutter said. "He played 13 minutes last night. Maybe he didn’t have the game that he would have liked to have had, but that being said he’s a very important of this team.

“If it wasn’t Connor McDavid, if it was somebody else, you guys wouldn’t even be talking about it. It’s irrelevant as far as we’re concerned.”

[McDavid] insists he has to be better.

“It’s the world stage. I know everyone’s looking at me as just a 16-year-old,” he said. “I know after last night some people are saying maybe I am too young for this.

“I just want to come back and have the team have a good performance.” (Postmedia)

I think Sutter might have been a little disingenuous. It's news if any player who might get 100 points in the OHL is shunted down the lineup.

One way to thin-slice the just a 16-year-old and maybe I am too young for this comments is that it might be McDavid's way of motivating himself for the games ahead. Athletes will seize on any slight real or imagined to get that I'll-show-you jauntiness, the optimal point between fear and arrogance that's part of performing in a pressure environment.

It could all be a mind game on the part of Sutter.

The reality is (a) McDavid's skill and high hockey IQ is too valuable to put on a shelf; and (b) the penalties seemed like a byproduct of being a younger player desperate to get the puck. That has not been an issue in the Ontario league for McDavid, who has only six PIMs all season with the Erie Otters. It can be for some young players who expect to have the puck; for instance, it was one nit scouts picked with McDavid's former minor hockey linemate and touted 2014 NHL draft prospect Sam Bennett, who has 57 PIMs in 33 games for Kingston even though he hasn't incurred a single fighting major.

It's just part of the fine-tuning. Meantime, it shouldn't be overlooked that another 2015 draft-eligible talent, Team USA's Jack Eichel, is having a good tournament.

From Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun):

Eichel, a 6-foot-1, 191-pound forward, has been turning heads for months and has been sharp at the world junior championship, scoring two goals and adding an assist in two U.S. victories, tying him for the team scoring lead.

The Massachusetts native is making it appear that McDavid, the sixth 16-year-old to play for Canada in the world junior, will have a challenger in 2015.

“He is a great player and I just try to compete,” Eichel said on Saturday after the U.S. beat Slovakia 6-3. “It would be an honour to get drafted in general and to be considered in the same sentence of a player his calibre, it’s a good compliment. I just have to keep working and get better every day.” (Toronto Sun)

The important context is that the 17-year-old Eichel, with his late-1996 birthdate, might have a slight edge in physical maturity. Team USA has also asked the Boston University recruit, whose major junior rights belong to the Saint John Sea Dogs, to play a straight-ahead game while centring the second line between Tampa Bay Lightning high second-rounder Adam Erne and Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Ryan Hartman. McDavid is/was playing on the second line, but his line with the 18-year-olds Horvat and Reinhart are being asked to deliver some advanced puck movement.

One suspects McDavid will be fine. It does add another layer ahead of Tuesday's game vs. the U.S. — and Eichel.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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