Rivalry Series: 3 players to watch for Canada

We highlight 3 up-and-coming players to watch who could make an impact for Canada

TIG is taking part in SBNation’s Rivalry Week festivities, and as part of this series, we’re looking at up-and-coming players to watch for Canada. Fellow TIG writer Eleni Demestihas has the U.S. side of the Rivalry Series covered.

To spice things up a bit, we limited our picks to players who are under 22 and have not made a senior team game roster.

Maggie Connors

Forward, Princeton University, Rising Junior

Connors is an incredibly gifted scorer and talented player, and it took her very little time to get acclimated to the college game. Her scoring abilities translated right away; she was second in the country as a freshman with 0.81 goals per game. As a sophomore, she jumped from 43 points to 47 in 33 games.

Of course, there isn’t really a shortage of young offensive talent among Canada’s forward pool, but I think she has the tools to stand out and make the jump to that next level. She’s only halfway through her college career and she’s already proven she can be a go-to player for a top team. She’s also a more creative-minded player, something that Canada could definitely use.

On top of all that, Connors is deceptively fast, which adds a really unique dynamic to her game. That speed makes her an especially big threat in transition and she’s able to help generate a ton of dangerous opportunities that way.

She’s shown more and more over her career that she can be counted on to make big plays in tight situations, beyond just scoring goals (although that’s obviously a bonus, too). I’m thinking back to this last-minute goal against Harvard in January, when Connors made a great play to stay onside and keep the puck in the zone, then scored the game-tying goal a few seconds later.

Alexie Guay, Defender

Defender, Boston College, Rising Sophomore

If we’re looking at Canada’s needs by position, I think it’s clear that there’s room on the blue line for up-and-coming players to carve out a role for themselves. If this past Worlds had happened, we would’ve gotten to see a number of young, talented players suit up on D (which is not very typical for Hockey Canada, in my view). Even with that influx of talent, there isn’t a ton of depth there at the senior level right now, so there’s a major opportunity for some younger players to make an impact in both the short- and long-term.

Enter Alexie Guay, who I think has the exact skillset needed to be an impactful defender in all facets at the senior level. She is an outstanding skater, one of Canada’s best skating defensive prospects in quite some time. She brings excellent mobility and vision, and she isn’t afraid to take some risks, either.

She’ll still need to round out her game more in that last regard, but I think she’s already shown some growth after just one year at BC. This was, especially by their normally lofty standards, a down year for the Eagles, but Guay brought a certain measure of steadiness to the blue line anyway, even as a rookie. She picked up big minutes right away and ranked third among all freshmen defenders nationally with 19 points in 36 games.

Guay is a superstar in the making on the blue line who’s only going to become more of a difference-maker as she gains more experience. Her offensive skills and skating ability could also help fill a major role for Canada on the power play in the future, which is an area of some need.

Ashley Messier

Defender, Cornell University, Incoming Freshman

Messier is a super intriguing player and one freshman in particular who I’m most looking forward to watching, whenever hockey exists again. She’s a bit on the smaller side for a defender, but she’s also an extremely smooth skater with a dynamic offensive toolbox.

She’s had an interesting road to Hockey Canada’s development program. Messier, a Saskatchewan native, is a dual citizen who joined Team USA for the three-game Under-18 Series against Canada in August 2018. She found out she was technically ineligible to play for the U.S. at the 2019 IIHF U18 World Championship that year because she hadn’t played her club hockey in the United States.

Instead, she worked her way into the mix for Canada and was named to the Canadian roster for the 2020 IIHF U18 World Championship the following year. She helped the team capture silver in Bratislava, just a couple months after helping Team Saskatchewan to the same finish at Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Championship—the best ever for the province. Messier was named the tournament’s MVP.

Along with her smooth skating abilities, Messier also has excellent vision and employs a more proactive, possession-based style to her game. She’ll need a bit of time to develop and excel as a two-way D at the next level, but she’s undoubtedly going to the right place for that. Cornell has always seemed to have a direct pipeline to Canada’s national team, and they’ve been stuffing it full of high-quality defenders lately. Big Red defenders made up nearly half of Canada’s D on the proposed 2020 Worlds roster (and Laura Fortino wasn’t even one of them!).