Monahan playing role of understudy at World Championship after strong rookie season

By Radoslav Vavrina

Sean Monahan - Calgary Flames

Photo: Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan, shown here scoring a shootout goal against the Los Angeles Kings’ Jonathan Quick, was second in goals for the Flames in 2013-14, behind Mike Cammalleri (courtesy of Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Fatigue is something you can expect in any hockey player at the close of a hockey season. In an Olympic year, the wearinenss is even more visible than after any other campaign, resulting in many stars sitting out the IIHF World Championship tournament contested in May of each year.

But, the abesnce of veteran talent allows young guns to shine, as is the case in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where the 2014 IIHF World Championship is being held

Team Canada is no exception to this rule as, aside from experienced players like captain Kevin Bieksa and forward Jason Chimera, young players form the core of the this year's Canadian squad.

Three NHL rookies have made it to Minsk, including Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan, who entered the tournament after a solid freshman campaign in which he scored 22 goals and 34 points in 75 games.

The 19-year-old native of Brampton, ON, has played in all seven games so far at the World Championship, either as the 13th forward or on the fourth line. He has posted two assists, usually teaming up with linemates Mark Scheifele (WPG) and Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA).

"This game, you have a little more room as the ice is wider and that's probably the biggest difference [between NHL hockey and the World Championsip],“ says Monahan, who is competing in his first Men's international event after representing Canada at the junior level.

Formerly a captain of the Ottawa 67's, Monahan is, as expected, assuming the role of a rookie on the national team as there are opportunities to learn around every corner. For instance, captain Bieksa taught Monahan's fellow NHL rookie, Nathan MacKinnon, some basic fighting skills after practice on Monday.

"I'm here to represent my country, but it's also an opportunity to learn a lot here and I think that's going to be really helpful throughout my career,“ said the former Mississauga Rebel and OHL Cup champion.

The Canadians performed quite well in the preliminary round, only losing points in the shootout loss to France in the opening game and in the overtime win over Sweden.

"[The game against Sweden] was big as you want to be confident going to the medal rounds and the win is going to help us do that,“ said Monahan. "Following the game with France, we regrouped and we've been playing well.“

Canada now faces a quarterfinal match against Finland on Thursday.

"We've just got to play the full sixty hard and we'll be good throughout the tournament,“ believes Monahan, who already has some international success with gold medals from World U17 Hockey Challenge and U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.

Back in his new home in Calgary, Monahan and the Flames are coming off of a tough 2013-14 season. But despite the low finish by the Flames, the team's top selection at the 2013 NHL Draft can't be mad at himself. Monahan turned in a solid rookie season, recording a 20-plus goal campaign after being selected sixth overall by the Flames.

"[The rookie season] was a lot of fun, I didn't expect much going into it, but I learnt a lot along the way and I got better as the season went on. It was awesome,“ explains Monahan.

Led by veteran forward Jiří Hudler and defenseman and team captain Mark Giordano, the Flames finished 13th in the Western Conference, with only provincial rivals the Edmonton Oilers ending up with less points.

But the one positive to being a cellar-dwelling club is the opportunity to draft a top prospect at the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia, where the Flames are picking fourth overall. Combine that with what the Flames already have in the system and it's obvious that the future in southern Alberta is looking better than it did at the start of the 2013-14 season.

"As the [2013-14] season went on, we really picked it up and we're going to carry that into the next season. The future looks bright and I think it's going to be great,“ believes Monahan, the cornerstone of the team's future.

Monahan was the player Calgary targeted at the draft last year, even though some might have expected him to be selected a little later than the sixth selection. But the Flames scouting staff can pat itself on the back as they now appear to have a franchise player in the 6'2“ forward.

And it was Hudler, who ended up scoring 54 points on the season, who decided to help the young rookie out in the early stages of the campaign.

"I lived with (Hudler) for the first two months of the season and it was great,“ recalls Monahan. "He's a great player and he's got a lot of experience in the league. He's won a Stanley Cup, so it's great to have him around.“

While Hudler's emergence as a leader played a part in the Flames late-season surge, Monahan is a major piece of the puzzle going forward, and a big reason why Flames' fans can look forward to a brighter future.

Follow Radoslav Vavrina on Twitter via @Pacific4_Rado_V