Canucks fans were eager to watch Team USA at the World Junior tournament for one reason: Quinn Hughes. The Canucks’ first-round pick from the 2018 draft was one of the biggest draws of the tournament going in and for good reason: he’s been far better than his two points in four games would suggest.
It’s another Canucks prospect that has been the most pleasant surprise, however. Tyler Madden has shown exactly why Judd Brackett and the Canucks’ scouting staff were so high on him when they drafted him in the third round in 2018. Against Finland, Madden was one of Team USA’s best players, scoring two goals, including the eventual game-winner.
Madden’s been surprisingly essential for Team USA, far from the depth player that might have been expected going in. He’s played significant minutes, including time on both the penalty kill and power play. Madden led all USA forwards in ice time against Finland, playing 19:29, bringing him up to an average of 18:14, behind only Josh Norris among USA forwards in the tournament.
There was a lot riding on the final game of the preliminary round for USA and Finland: the winner avoided Canada in the quarterfinals, getting the easier matchup of Czechia. In the end, it wasn’t particularly close: Team USA won in convincing fashion, taking second in Group B with a 4-1 victory.
After Jason Robertson opened the scoring for Team USA, Madden made it 2-0 after some hard work to keep the play alive in the offensive zone. He hooked the puck to Josh Norris at the boards and he returned the give-and-go to Madden at the back door with a superb pass. Madden loaded up a wrist shot and overpowered Finnish goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
Madden’s shot actually hit Luukkonen in the glove, but he had enough juice on it for the puck to still deflect off Luukkonen’s pad, off the post, and in. That goal stood up as the game-winner when Finland scored late in the third period.
Ryan Poehling scored an ugly goal from a bad angle to make it 3-0, giving Poehling five goals and eight points to lead the tournament in scoring. After Madden scored again in the third period, he moved into a tie for second on Team USA in goalscoring.
Madden drew the penalty that led to his goal by keeping his feet moving in the offensive zone, catching Panthers prospect Aleksi Heponiemi flat-footed. Heponiemi took a step to his right and dropped a shoulder into Madden, getting an interference penalty in the process.
On the ensuing power play, Madden played a key role in keeping the puck moving in the offensive zone, then jumped on a loose puck in a scrum in the crease, poking it under Luukkonen.
The goal went under review, likely checking to see if the puck was kicked in or if Josh Norris’s stick pushed Luukkonen’s pad enough to be deemed goalie interference, but it held as a good goal.
Madden finished the game with a whopping eight shots on goal, including seven in the third period as he endeavoured to finish off the hat trick. While he didn’t get the third goal, he was named the player of the game for Team USA, making him the second Canucks prospect of the day to earn a nod as his team’s best player.
For his part, Quinn Hughes was once again a one-man breakout for Team USA, moving the puck out of the defensive zone with ease either with his skating or his passing. It’s been delightful to watch him move the puck out of his end of the ice in this tournament, though it’s been less delightful seeing his fantastic plays die on the sticks of his teammates.
Hughes played 22:38 against Finland, second only to Mikey Anderson on Team USA. He’s averaging a team-leading 22:24 in the tournament.
The most intriguing development from the World Juniors this year might be the burgeoning chemistry between Hughes and Madden. When they’ve been on the ice together, they seem to think the game in a similar way and frequently find each other with the puck. That’s great to see; though there’s obviously no guarantee that Madden becomes an impact NHL player like what is expected of Hughes, his ability to keep pace with Hughes is a good sign.