How a World Juniors opportunity with Canada will help Shane Wright, Brandt Clarke and Dylan Guenther

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Talk about a stacked group.

Over the past two days, the Canadian U-20 National Team has added Seattle Kraken forward Shane Wright, Arizona Coyotes winger Dylan Guenther and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Brandt Clarke to their roster before selection camp this weekend in Moncton. For a group that already included Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Logan Stankoven and Olen Zellweger, the rich are getting even richer now.

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It’s a huge boost for the Canadians, who are looking to play back to back at home after winning gold in Edmonton over the summer. We’ve returned to the traditional World Junior schedule, which means legitimate NHL players are back in the frame.

Dallas’ Wyatt Johnston won’t make it there, and it seems unlikely that Anaheim’s Mason McTavish or Columbus’ Cole Sillinger will either. But for the three who will be sent to Eastern Canada over the next few weeks, the timing makes sense.

For Wright, the decision to go back was obvious. The Seattle Kraken did well with the group they have, and there was no room for Wright consistently. His conditioning stint with the Coachella Valley Firebirds was a success and he scored in his comeback against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, but that didn’t change the game plan. It was clear after about five games into the season that sending Wright to WJC was the way to go, and he will almost certainly be the center of Canada’s first line.

He will be joined by his 2021 U-18 World Championship teammate in Guenther, who has spent the entire season with the Coyotes thus far. He was a healthy scratch early in his tenure with the Coyotes, and aside from a handful of games in which he eclipsed the 15-minute mark, he’s mostly been a depth option for Arizona during his first professional season. He’s been great for Canada before and was one of the most dominant players in all of junior hockey last year. Add to that his 21 games of NHL experience and it will be a huge opportunity for Guenther, who is expected to return to the Coyotes once the tournament is over.

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Clarke was a little surprised to kick the Kings out of training camp, but it became clear based on his early use that the team considered his time working with the coaching staff to be more valuable than beat the OHL. He had two assists in nine games with the Kings before earning a five-game conditioning stint in the AHL, where he eventually scored his first professional hockey goal. His relationship with Hockey Canada is a little more interesting: he was excellent at the World U-17 Challenge in 2019 and was one of the most important players on the 2021 U-18 squad, but does not was not invited to WJC camp last year nor did he play on the summer team. Given his NHL background, there was no excuse the team could hide behind now — and, really, given his pre-camp play last year, Clarke should have been there, too.

I’ve written about Canada’s immense depth before, with names like Connor Bedard, Logan Stankoven and Adam Fantilli already written about. With the trio of NHL players, the gold medal favorites have further strengthened their group, and the pre-tournament momentum is skyrocketing.

I’ve also written about the importance of ice time for young players, like Vancouver’s Vasily Podkolzin and Minnesota’s Marco Rossi. Both were considered top prospects for their respective teams, but both struggled early in their NHL careers. That extra responsibility and ice time can go a long way for a young player, and even though the WJC is a week and a half long, I still think those attributes can apply to Wright, Guenther and Clarke.

Wright and Guenther are set to find themselves on the front row, reuniting the pair after a successful U-18 performance nearly two years ago. They clicked immediately, even though Wright didn’t play competitive hockey until the spring. Wright has proven in the AHL that he can play against quality competition, and Guenther has been an active NHL player since day one this year. This experience should give them an advantage when they face mainly junior competition in Halifax.

It’s all about playing time. It’s one thing to get nightly reps against quality competitors, like Guenther. But for Wright and Clarke, who spent more time watching than playing, the plot was clearly lost. Good, successful environments are so important for players in the early stages of development, and winning World Junior Championship gold is one of the greatest accomplishments for any U-20 player. For Clarke and Guenther, this is their last chance. For Wright, this SHOULD be his last opportunity.

A big part of a young player’s development is mental. If a top prospect has spent his entire life being a top player and suddenly finds himself at the bottom of the food chain, that’s tough and understandable. When the results don’t click, it can get to you. Look how much better Wright looked on his comeback earlier this week – he scored and had two more high-risk chances, chances he wasn’t getting early.

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This is a hard reset for all three prospects and a chance to enter the second half with some adrenaline. Representing your country on the national stage on home soil is a huge honor, and winning gold is a dream come true. They will also have the chance to become teenagers again surrounded by other teenagers, which will allow them to remain free and have fun.

Teams will have to decide how to handle their best young stars after the fact, but it was the right decision by everyone involved.

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