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OHL stars turning heads for Canada on world stage

 

The world got to see Taylor Raddysh (Erie Otters) score four goals in a single game last year while Michael McLeod (Mississauga Steelheads) provided his usual steady presence up front, and now six other OHL competitors are making their World Junior debuts in Buffalo, showing the world what they’re made of.

Canada prepares for tonight’s Gold Medal game against Sweden after defeating the Czech Republic 7-2 in Thursday’s Semi-Final action. The six new OHL faces have brought a variety of skills to head coach Dominique Ducharme’s (Drummondville Voltigeurs) lineup, being employed in various roles up and down the depth chart.

Leaving their dominant OHL club on a franchise-record 17-game winning streak, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds stars Boris Katchouk and Conor Timmins have both played prominent roles on the National Junior Team.

A second round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016, Katchouk has six points (3-3–6) in as many games, seeing time on a line alongside fellow Lightning prospect Raddysh and Western Conference opponent Robert Thomas (London Knights).

Katchouk wore the ‘C’ for Team OHL during the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series back in November.

“You can’t teach guys to have a motor like he (Boris) does,” said Soo Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis who drafted Katchouk in the second round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. “It’s something he’s always had and when you combine his skill level with the intensity he shows game-in and game-out, he’s a really valuable part of a team.”

Katchouk’s teammate Conor Timmins was also a second round NHL selection, going 32nd overall to the Colorado Avalanche this past summer. The 19-year-old leads all players at the World Juniors with a plus-minus rating of plus-12.

“When Conor is on the ice, more often than not we’re playing in the offensive zone or the neutral zone,” added Raftis. “He’s a very smart defender and he knows how to get himself to the open spaces and soft areas to produce offence without sacrificing his position on the defensive side of the puck.”

Despite the absence of Katchouk and Timmins, the Hounds stretched their lengthy winning streak to 23 games before dropping a shootout decision to the Mississauga Steelheads on Thursday.

Another West Division team missing a key piece of the puzzle has been the Sarnia Sting whose captain Jordan Kyrou leads Canada in scoring with seven points (3-6–9) in six games.

The Sting have suffered five straight losses without the St. Louis Blues draftee in the lineup, but Sarnia GM Nick Sinclair is happy to see Kyrou having a big impact for his country.

“His game really took off in December last year when he learned he wouldn’t be a part Team Canada,” Sinclair reflected. “I think it had a real impact on him and you saw that he took his game to another level.

“In the past 12 months he’s proven that he is an elite calibre CHL player and was very close to not coming back to our league this season after a strong Training Camp in St. Louis.”

Kyrou left for World Junior camp as the OHL’s leading scorer with 58 points (19-39–58) in 30 games. He’s since been passed by Morgan Frost (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) and Aaron Luchuk (Barrie Colts) and currently sits third in league scoring.

Another highly touted St. Louis Blues prospect, first round pick Robert Thomas is seeing time in all situations for Team Canada. He’s joined in the lineup by teammate Alex Formenton and former London blueliner Victor Mete as the Knights have supplied the World Juniors with an abundance of talent when also including U.S. forward Max Jones.

A well-rounded and versatile playmaking centreman, Thomas has drawn high praise from Knights general manager Rob Simpson for his contributions so far this season.

“The hockey sense has always been there for Robby,” said Simpson of Thomas who was voted captain by his teammates back in September. “I think that is what has enabled him to pick up the finer defensive details of the game so quickly. He’s always been an offensive producer, but the speed at which he’s picked up on the roles and responsibilities of a centreman on both sides of the puck has been big for our team.”

While Thomas has six points (1-5–6) for Canada, winning 61.5% of his faceoffs, Formenton has a goal and and two assists in his six games.

Considered one of the OHL’s fastest skaters, Formenton, an Ottawa Senators prospect, has been somewhat of a late bloomer developmentally. Selected in the 11th round of the 2015 OHL Priority Selection, he sprouted from 5-foot-7 as a 15-year-old to 6-foot-1.5 by time he was 17. He’s never represented Canada internationally before, but Formenton’s continued development and strong showing for Team OHL in the CIBC Canada Russia Series put him on the radar.

“When he went to Ottawa and played in games, he saw how the professionals go about their day-to-day,” said Simpson. “I think that was an added level of experience that was good for his game and for his preparation. We’re seeing even more playmaking out of him this season and his defensive understanding has made such great progress that we’re really seeing him become that complete player everyone thought he could be.”

Taken eight slots after Formenton this past summer, Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonah Gadjovich (Owen Sound Attack) is also representing Canada for the first time.

A hard-working and physical 6-foot-2, 201Ib. power winger, Gadjovich lit the lamp 46 times for the Attack last season, getting the attention of Hockey Canada who invited him to their Summer Showcase Development Camp. It’s there where the Whitby, Ont. native made a lasting impression.

“I think Jonah really put the spotlight on himself there,” said Attack general manager Dale DeGray who is also a member of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence management group. “He’s such a competitor and so well prepared for everything that he sets his mind to that he doesn’t allow himself to come up short.

“He’s shown that from the first minute he stepped on the ice in Owen Sound and he just keeps pushing the bar higher.”

Gadjovich has three points (2-1–3) and 17 shots on goal, seeing time alongside Arizona Coyotes prospect Tyler Steenbergen (Swift Current Broncos) and Ottawa Senators pick Drake Batherson (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles).

Canada gears up for a new challenge tonight, facing a Swedish team that defeated the United States 4-2 on Thursday and has yet to trail in the tournament.

Tonight’s Gold Medal action gets underway from Buffalo at 8:00pm ET and can be seen live across the country on TSN.

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