Fri Nov 11 12:51pm EST
Relax, Canada. Based on Thursday, it appears the country's world junior team won't be starved for scoring unless it chooses to deprive itself of it.
It's become a rite during the run-up to the world junior to run through who's not available — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sean Couturier this season, Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner last year, and so on. It's a valid point, but one wonders if it's a crutch. While Subway Super Series results are hardly an ultimate proof, the way the NHL's No. 5 overall pick from last June, Ryan Strome, seized the day in the third period of Team OHL's 10-7 win in Ottawa on Thursday was hard to miss. Strome, his regular Niagara IceDogs right wing Freddie Hamilton and their left wing, Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner, were the best unit in a game full of skill, combining for 11 points.
Strome, whose three-point night included the go-ahead goal and the eventual winner during the OHL's six-goal third period. It made it easier to forget about two of his namesakes, No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and 19-year-old Ryan Johansen, who had a great world junior last year, sticking in the NHL.
"Every year, they lose a few good players, this year, maybe a few more," Strome said afterward. "But it opens up opportunity for other guys, who are really excited about having that opportunity when they might not have before the season. At the end of the day, they're going to pick the best players, regardless of where you play or when you were drafted.
"It's huge," Strome, said when asked if the night held extra significance since the IceDogs have been slow to get untracked after entering the OHL season with sky-high expectations. "It was big for all of us from the IceDogs. We [Hamilton and defenceman Dougie Hamilton] each had a few points and Vizzer [IceDogs goalie Mark Visentin] made some big saves. Hopefully we can take this back to Niagara and get on a roll."
The Super Series' profile is a very small fraction of the world junior championship's. So it almost escaped notice Thursday tilt was the first significant international hockey event in Ottawa since the world junior, when current NHLers John Tavares, Jordan Eberle and P.K. Subban led Canada to its most recent gold medal at the tourney. While it's not a hard and fast comparsion, Ottawa 67's defenceman Cody Ceci said Strome bore a passing resemblance to the former OHL star.
"Strome is a really smart player and always to seems to find the open ice," Ceci said. "He's a right-place, right-time kind of a guy. He's lot like John Tavares that way."
That was evident on each of Strome's goals. The first was a softie let in by Russia goalie Pavel Suchkov, who was so far off his line that he probably let Strome see about half of the net. Still, the play was set up by some fast puck movement that gave Strome time to wind up from the top of the faceoff circle. His second goal came after Spooner and Freddie Hamilton hassled defenceman Andrey Pedan into a turnover at the Russia blueline. A quick give-and-go later between Strome and Dougie Hamilton, the puck was in the net.
"We could probably have two teams and still compete, there's so much talent in Canada," Spooner said. "It's a really tough team to make and a tough team to pick."
Strome could have easily been describing his two wings when he said draft status has nothing to do with suitability for Team Canada, since neither is a first-rounder. Spooner, whose trade value to the rebuilding Kingston Frontenacs probably increased after his three-assist game, is a Boston Bruins second-round pick. He set up plays all night. Freddie Hamilton slipped to the fifth round in 2010 before the San Jose Sharks took him, but he was a primo finisher on Thursday with a hat trick, just as he's been since becoming Strome's linemate last season.
"We were excited going into it, obviously being linemates with Ryan Strome in Niagara and playing with Ryan Spooner," Freddie Hamilton, 19, said. "We're friends, really good friends, we've played together before. Just to get those two linemates made it a lot of fun."
Dougie Hamilton, who'll captain Team OHL in Game 4 on Monday, had two assists and a glass-rattling rubout of top NHL draft prospect Nail Yakupov in the third period.
Meantime, for Strome, he's hopeful his extended stay with the Islanders will serve him well in the four-day pressure-cooker that is Canada's final selection camp. No doubt some fans in St. Catharines grumbled when the IceDogs' best player was delayed getting back while the Islanders kept him around as a healthy scratch for an extra week. But it might pay off yet.
"There's so many things you can take out of those camps," Strome said. "I feel like I'm a way better player. I learned so many things on and off the ice. I got a taste of a competitive training camp and what it's like to try to crack a roster."
And for those who watch junior hockey before Dec. 26, he might have offered a taste of what's to come.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).