As the medal round approaches, goal-scoring will be at a premium. And as important as Taylor Raddysh has been so far for Canada, his best work may still be ahead of him.
The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect scored four goals in a 10-2 romp over Latvia, tying a Canadian world junior record shared by Mario Lemieux, Simon Gagne and Brayden Schenn. Raddysh has been one of the team's top offensive players in the tourney and his size (6-foot-2, 203 pounds) and release have been overwhelming.
"He's a wizard in front of the net," said linemate Matt Barzal. "Always seems to be banging in pucks or getting his stick on pucks, but his vision is very underrated. Even through the neutral zone and in the corners, he always seems to find me. He's super-easy to play with and I'm glad we've found chemistry. Hopefully the hot stick doesn't wear out."
Raddysh was no lock for this year's squad, despite the fact the Erie Otters right winger is one of the top scorers in the OHL. He's a 1998 birthday on a squad built around 1997s and he doesn't have blazing speed. But Raddysh has been impossible to ignore thanks to his offensive contributions. The best part, according to Otters teammate and Canadian captain Dylan Strome, is that Raddysh is finally getting rewarded for his early good work in the tournament, when he was starting plays and winning battles on the power play without getting scoresheet credit.
And the youngster wouldn't be on the team if he couldn't play both ways, something he credits his OHL bosses with helping him develop.
"Whether it was Sherry Bassin, Dave Brown or Kris Knoblauch, they've really helped make me a complete player," Raddysh said. "I was more of an offensive player when I came in and they've made me more of a two-way guy."
Strome has been in Erie for Raddysh's whole career and has been impressed right from the start.
"Even when he was 16, he threw his weight around and wasn't afraid of anyone," Strome said. "He gained a lot of respect from the guys when he didn't stand down at all. Goes to the net hard, works hard - he's an honest player and it's great to see him rewarded."
Drafted 58th overall by Tampa Bay in 2016, Raddysh has definitely exceeded expectations this season, with 23 goals and 61 points in 28 games. That puts him second in the league to Erie buddy Alex DeBrincat and keep in mind, Raddysh will most likely be back with the Otters next season. Tampa Bay is way too stacked up front for him to join as a teen and having more time to work on his speed will only make him more dangerous.
Raddysh will also be eligible to play for Canada again at the world juniors when the holiday classic moves on to Buffalo. Of course, the current mission is to win gold on home ice in Montreal and with one big round-robin game against Team USA left, Canada is in a good position for the medal round. Should the Canucks need a golden goal, there will be plenty of options, but they can't do much better than having the puck on Raddysh's stick.
"I hope we don't have to be in a tight situation like that," Raddysh said. "But if we do, I want to be one of the guys to help the team win. I just have to keep playing my game."