McDavid, Matthews among players to watch at hockey worlds

Canada enters the 2016 IIHF world championship hoping to defend its title with a very different team as the tournament gets an infusion of youth with the likes of Connor McDavid and top prospect Auston Matthews.

Here are five storylines to watch in Russia:

Prospects take centre stage

Leafs and Jets fans may want to take particular note of this pair: Matthews and Patrik Laine are the presumptive No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the upcoming NHL entry draft, and they'll both be providing hockey fans a preview of their capabilities.

Matthews chose to play in the Swiss League during his draft year, so most North Americans haven't been able to see what the 18-year-old centre can do. Canadians will get a good look at him when his American squad faces Canada in the opening preliminary-round match on Friday. 

Laine is another top prospect turning heads, and we're not just talking about his strange interview prior to the 2016 draft lottery. 

The 18-year-old Finnish winger is described in several scouting reports as a power forward with a big shot, but he also has the skill to make him a dynamic scorer. Finland will face Canada on the closing day of the preliminary round and hopefully Laine will show off moves like the ones he did in his team's tuneup against the United States. 

McDavid returns to international play

Connor McDavid's rookie NHL season was shortened to only 45 games due to injury, but he still managed to collect 48 points and get the nod as a Calder Trophy finalist. The 19-year-old centre was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.

Let's just say it shouldn't reflect on McDavid that his presence on the Oilers didn't translate to immediate success, as his team finished 29th in the 2015-16 season. He already scored in Canada's 3-0 exhibition victory against the Czech Republic and there's a lot of potential for him playing on a team that includes world juniors teammate Max Domi, Corey Perry and Matt Duchene to name a few.

As previously mentioned, McDavid goes head-to-head with Matthews on Friday. 

Canada has something to prove

The early knock on Canada's roster is its obvious youth, but three players from last year's undefeated championship team are returning. Duchene, Taylor Hall and Ryan O'Reilly are all back to defend their title.

Perry, who was named Canada's captain on Thursday, was a late addition to the squad after the Anaheim Ducks made an early playoff exit, and he brings plenty of experience. He'll be vying to join the "Triple Gold Club" of players who have won the Olympics, the world championship and the Stanley Cup.

Sam Reinhart, Domi and McDavid are also trying to boost their hockey resumé​s. The young trio's last brush with international hockey came in 2015 when they won the world junior title.  

World Cup roster's missing pieces

Perry is one of several players also trying to make a case for themselves on Canada's World Cup team. The seven vacant spots on the 23-man roster will be finalized by June 1, leaving the worlds as the final venue for players to prove their worth.

Other candidates that are looking to stand out will be Brad Marchand, Brendan Gallagher and Matt Duchene. Despite winning gold at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Duchene and Perry were passed up in favour of Tyler Seguin and Steven Stamkos on the initial 16-man World Cup roster named in March. 

Green blue-line, goaltending to be tested

Canada has no shortage of firepower up front, but the real test will come for its young defence and unseasoned goaltending. Cam Talbot and Calvin Pickard lack the international experience we have come to expect of Canada's netminders, combining for a total of zero IIHF events.

Add that to the fact that 26-year old Chris Tanev is the veteran presence among the team's defencemen. Blue-liners like Morgan Reilly, Cody Ceci and Matt Dumba will have to step up in the absence of more established players like P.K. Subban and Mark Giordano.

Team Canada preliminary-round schedule:

  • Friday, May 6, 9:15 a.m. ET vs. United States
  • Sunday, May 8, 5:15 a.m. ET vs. Hungary
  • Monday, May 9, 9:15 a.m. ET vs. Belarus
  • Thursday, May 12, 1:15 p.m. ET vs. Germany
  • Saturday, May 14, 1:15 p.m. ET vs. Slovakia
  • Monday, May 16, 9:15 a.m. ET vs. France
  • Tuesday, May 17, 1:15 p.m. ET vs. Finland

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