Without Tavares, Canada counting on young talent to shine at hockey worlds

Canada's roster for the world championship took a hit Thursday when John Tavares returned to Toronto with an oblique injury. Now, the focus shifts to the young talent on GM Jason Botterill's roster to bring home gold for the first time since 2016.

Chabot, Marchessault among players to be relied upon in star centre's absence

Defencemen Thomas Chabot, 22, is part of the young Canadian contingent gunning for gold without star centre John Tavares at the world championships in Slovakia. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian team for the 2019 IIHF World Championship took a hit on Thursday when it was revealed John Tavares suffered an oblique injury in preparation for the tournament, which begins in Slovakia on Friday.

Tavares returned home to be examined by the medical staff of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He doesn't have much luck when it comes to representing Canada recently. He was knocked out of the rest of the season after he hurt his left knee in a quarter-final win against Latvia in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

The 28-year-old Tavares was expected to lead Canada in Slovakia. He was coming off a career-high 47-goal season in his first year with the Maple Leafs.

In an ideal world, Canadian general manager Jason Botterill could have tapped Colorado Avalanche young superstar Nathan MacKinnon to replace Tavares. But MacKinnon injured his left shoulder in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday.

With Tavares' absence, Canada has three roster spots available. Recent players eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs such as Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson, Mathew Barzal, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin could be candidates to join Canada.

Last hope for Canada

Sixteen days have come and gone since Canada lost its last dog in the Stanley Cup fight. That's when the Toronto Maple Leafs were knocked out of the first round in Game 7 by the Boston Bruins on Apr. 23. The Winnipeg Jets were eliminated on Apr. 20, one day after the Calgary Flames.

So here we are at the world championship. Sweden has won the past two world titles after Canada was the victor in 2015 and 2016.

WATCH | Canada stunned by Switzerland in semis at 2018 worlds:

Gaetan Haas scored the eventual game winner, and Leonardo Genoni made 43 saves, as Switzerland edged Canada 3-2 to advance to the gold medal game against Sweden. 1:53

Botterill has built a roster loaded with young talent. The youngest player is Nashville Predators 20-year-old defenceman Dante Fabbro and the oldest is 29-year-old Adam Henrique of the Anaheim Ducks.

There are high expectations for 22-year-old Ottawa Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot. He will be expected to lead Canada's power play and puck-moving blue line for coach Alain Vigneault's side.

Another interesting storyline is Vegas Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault. The 28-year-old late bloomer from Cap-Rouge, Que., will be representing Canada for the first time. Marchessault is coming off 30, 27 and 25-goal seasons in the past three years and should benefit with more room to roam on the international ice surface.

If you take a tour around the Canadian dressing room you would bump into players like Anthony Mantha, Sam Reinhart, Dylan Strome and Sean Couturier, all who have developed into dependable players but have definite room to grow.

There also are veterans like Mark Stone and Kyle Turris, who have been around and will be expected to lead.

U.S. favoured

The usual suspects like Russia, Sweden and Finland, along with Canada, are considered the medal contenders. But the United States, with Patrick Kane, Jack and Quinn Hughes, Ryan Suter, Johnny Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat, boasts a loaded lineup and is favoured to win gold.

The Canadians will have few games to round into form before they clash with the U.S. on May 21 on the final day of round-robin play. Canada opens up the 17-day event against Finland on Friday and will meet Great Britain on Sunday.

WATCH | Sweden wins 2nd straight gold at 2018 worlds:

Filip Forsberg scored the decisive goal in the shootout, as Sweden beat Switzerland 3-2 to win the world hockey championship. 0:59

Great Britain, which has a handful of Canadians on their roster — Jackson Whistle (Kelowna, B.C.), Dallas Ehrhardt (Calgary), Brett Perlini (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), Mike Hammond (Victoria) and Brendan Brooks (St. Catharines, Ont.) — is making its first appearance at this tournament in 25 years. Adam Keefe of Brampton, Ont. is an assistant coach with Great Britain. Canadians Bob Hartley, Craig Ramsay and Clayton Beddoes will coach Latvia, Slovakia and Italy, respectively.

The Italian roster also is sprinkled with several Canadians such as Montreal's Angelo Miceli, Marco Rosa of Scarborough, Ont., Sean McMonagie of Oakville, Ont. and Delta, B.C.'s Anthony Bardaro.

So, you see, even though the Flames, Jets and Maple Leafs went out last month, there is something for hockey-loving Canadians to cheer for once again. Even without Tavares.


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