Canada's world junior hopes could rest on 'The Big Dog'
Taylor Raddysh is 1 of 7 returning players from last year's squad
There's no shortage of motivation for Taylor Raddysh and his teammates heading into this year's IIHF world junior hockey championships.
In a hockey-mad nation where the expectation is almost always championship or bust, last year's silver medal didn't sit well with team Canada or its fans as the United States delivered a heartbreaking 5-4 shootout loss in the gold-medal game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Raddysh admits the defeat lingered and it wasn't easy coming to terms with it.
"It was hard to get past. Just to know we were that close to being gold medallists and the way it happened — we were one shootout goal away," Raddysh recalls.
While redemption may be on the Canadians' minds, the focus in selection camp was all about having an edge on their opponents — being better than them in every facet of the game.
If the Canucks want another shot at gold, the Erie Otters star says they need to be ready for all situations so that if a game comes down to a shootout once again, they'll be prepared.
"[We're] just trying to make our team the best we can. We're highly-skilled and we just gotta continue to get better everyday," Raddysh says. "There's always going to be a little bit of revenge [but] you want to beat every team no matter what."
Bright future for Lightning
The 19-year-old forward is one of four Tampa Bay Lightning prospects on this year's squad.
Raddysh knows that it's one thing to share this experience with your junior teammates let alone your potential future NHL teammates for years to come and from that, there's a mutual bond.
They've been through the rigours of their first professional training camp together and while they play in different cities during the year, Raddysh says they still check-in with one another via social media.
One of those players is Anthony Cirelli, who was acquired by the Otters just after last year's world juniors.
Cirelli is your definition of a true underdog story going from OHL walk-on for the Oshawa Generals to Memorial Cup hero and third-round NHL selection.
After a productive world juniors, Cirelli is averaging almost a point per game this season for the Syracuse Crunch (the Lightning's AHL affiliate) and was recently named AHL player of the week.
A year from now, Raddysh knows he could very well be in his shoes.
"Just seeing how hard he worked — especially after [playing with him] last year — seeing the little things that he does — you just can't give up on anything. It definitely motivates me to be better and to transform my game," Raddysh says.
'The Big Dog'
Standing six-foot-two and at 209 pounds, there's a reason why the right-winger is nicknamed "The Big Dog."
Raddysh is your prototypical power forward — he's got the strength to hold his own on the puck and plays with a physical edge.
In last year's tournament, Raddysh had six points in seven games, including a Canadian record-tying four goals in one round-robin game against Latvia.
But Raddysh knows his skating needs to improve if he's going to reach the next level. He continually works on his first three steps, which with proper body positioning, are vital to acceleration.
The 58th-overall pick in 2016 also takes pride in the development of a two-way game. In Raddysh's first OHL season, he had a -8 rating and since then is a +96.
"I'm more known as an offensive guy and this year my defensive game has grown a lot. I've been penalty killing — [getting] top minutes there. Maybe one day [I'll] just [be] known as a two-way player," Raddysh says.
Raddysh has emerged from the shadows of former Otters teammates Connor McDavid, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and brother Darren to lead this year's team as they all once did.
Raddysh knew he had to take it upon himself to establish the proper attitude in the locker room that would carry on long after his departure.
"Knowing that we lost a lot of guys from the team we had last year, I knew that coming into the year we weren't going to have the strongest team. But I felt like it was my turn to lead, teach the young guys, and keep the winning tradition of the organization moving," Raddysh says.
As his junior career nears its end, Raddysh is excited at the possibility of joining the big club. Ever since being drafted by the Lightning, he says he's been treated well and it's easy for Raddysh to see why their prospects have succeeded with such a positive environment surrounding them.
Tampa Bay vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman has been one of those voices always willing to share his wisdom.
"He's always a guy you want to listen to as much as you can … he's helped me out as a player, with my off-ice attitude. Whatever he gives me, I just learn and that's something worth adding," Raddysh says.