Heading into the 2016 World Junior Championship tournament, Hockey Canada knew their club was going to have a significantly different look.
Gone were the team’s top four scorers from the previous year (who also finished as the 2015 tournament’s top four) – Sam Reinhart, Nicolas Petan, Connor McDavid, and Max Domi. Also not returning was the tournament’s top goaltender – Canadian netminder Zach Fucale.
After having previously featured the tournament’s marquee player, Connor McDavid, Team Canada saw that honour go to American phenom Auston Matthews this time around. But Canada certainly isn’t short on talent up front in 2016. Forwards Dylan Strome and Mitchell Marner – the third and fourth-overall picks from the 2015 NHL Draft – lead the pack. Behind them are a strong group of promising talents that include Matthew Barzal, Lawson Crouse, and Jake Virtanen.
Despite this plethora of talent up front for Team Canada, it was a different name that got the call to have the illustrious ‘C’ stitched on his sweater – Calgary native Brayden Point.
Point burst onto the prospect scene in 2013-14 when he posted an astounding 91 points in 72 games for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. He followed that up with an exceptional 2014-15 effort, posting 38 goals and 87 points in 60 games for the Warriors.
Despite him having posted 91 points leading up to his draft year, Point fell to the third round before the Tampa Bay Lightning finally called his name at 79th overall. The lacklustre draft position may have led to Point remaining a bit of an obscure name for the average hockey fan – but make no mistake, the 19-year-old is surely an elite talent.
Point’s top-end vision and playmaking skill lead his exceptional skill-set, but his willingness to dig in deep in hard areas of the ice allows him to balance out his consistent attack. He’s taken a significant step forward this season as well – posting an astounding 18 goals and 43 points in only 19 games for the Warriors. The young centreman certainly seems ready to make the jump to the AHL level at the very least, and figures to be a regular NHL-er soon enough.
The Lightning prospect made his name known this past summer at Hockey Canada’s Summer Showcase, where he competed with 39 other Canadian hopefuls in his hometown of Calgary for a spot on the World Junior Championship roster.
Point didn’t simply put forth a noteworthy performance, however – he lit up the orientation camp to the tune of a team-leading eight points in two games (three goals, five assists), doubling Canada’s next highest scorer.
The performance managed to shift the focus away from Marner and Strome, at least temporarily, and was seemingly enough to earn the captaincy for the storied tournament.
Now two games into Canada’s 2016 World Junior Championship run, Point has continued to make an impact.
Canada’s first game saw the club fall 4–2 to rival Team USA, with the game-winning goal regrettably coming off of Canadian defenseman Joe Hicketts’ own stick. While Canada came up short in the opening match, Point did his best to power his team forward, leading the club with four shots on goal while repeatedly flashing his quick hands and elite playmaking capabilities.
Game two saw the Canadian side come up with the dominant offensive performance their nation had been looking for, as they took down Denmark by a score of 6–1. Playing on the top line with Marner and John Quenneville, Point contributed consistent offensive chances all game long. When all was said and done, Point tied for the team lead with two points – which included his assist on this exceptional passing play between himself, Strome and Marner:
The undersized centre’s skill has been abundantly clear through the first two games of the tournament, as Point has thus far been the forward best able to maximize Strome’s and Marner’s elite offensive potential. Point has managed to contribute in other ways as well – like in the face off circle, where he’s been the best of all World Junior Championship skaters so far, winning 19 of his 23 face offs (good for a dominant 82.6 percent).
That skill could be crucial when Canada takes on elite offensive teams like Sweden on December 31, as any chance to get the puck in their own hands and out of their opposition’s will be welcomed wholeheartedly. Canada has one more game to iron out any wrinkles they may have, as they first face a favourable match-up with Switzerland on December 29. Assuming Point, Strome, and Marner can continue to do what they do best – along with the rest of Canada’s promising roster – the red and white should have all the tools needed to defend their 2015 gold medal.
Just as was the case with past World Junior Championship standouts like Max Domi and Jordan Eberle, an exceptional showing for his country could be just what Point needs to showcase his talent on the world stage, and finally cement his name among the mainstream.