ANAHEIM — Once the Ducks season ends, rookie center Mason McTavish is probably going to have to make a decision.
Will he play for Canada in the upcoming World Championships?
McTavish is the sort of candidate Canada would almost certainly want to recruit for the 16-team tournament, co-hosted by Riga, Latvia, and Tampere, Finland, May 12-28. He has an impressive international resume for a player of his age (20) and experience, happily answering the call whenever asked. At the Olympics in 2022, he was the youngest member of Canada’s men’s hockey team in Beijing and a key figure in the gold-medal winning effort at the World Junior Championships in Edmonton in August.
But McTavish himself will acknowledge that he just might need a break.
“It’s tough — you always want to represent your country, but I feel like I’ve played a lot of hockey over the last couple of years,” he told the Orange County Register. “Just a break. Not even physically but just mentally.
“It’s definitely hard to say no to your country. It’ll be a tough decision. I’m not really sure yet.”
McTavish has been in the Calder Trophy dialogue for most of the season as one of the better rookies in the NHL. Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken has pretty much led the rookie scoring race from start to finish. After 70 games, Beniers has 20 goals and 50 points, but McTavish is within eight points, recording 42 points (16 goals, 26 assists) in 71 games.
“I’ve been fortunate to play this much and to have the opportunities that I’ve had,” McTavish said.
In a season that hasn’t gone the Ducks’ way, McTavish’s development has been one of the highlights of a season that is going to end in disappointment. But through all the ups and downs, McTavish has taken steps forward in his development.
He started the season on the wing and was centering the fourth line by the 10th game of the season, and quickly became a fixture among the six forwards and the first power-play unit. With Trevor Zegras, the Ducks have two of the better young centermen in the game, and in many ways you could compare where they are this season to where the New Jersey Devils have been in the past.
The Devils have made the playoffs this season as their young core emerges and Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier have taken important steps forward.
When the same thing occurs with Zegras and McTavish, that will bring the Ducks that much closer to turning the corner.
“McTavish and Zegras — their matchups every night, they’re out of this world,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said Saturday. “They are firmly doing their best to keep swimming and not drowning.
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“Our last game (against Winnipeg), they either got (Mark) Scheifele or they got (Pierre-Luc) Dubois or (Adam) Lowry. That’s a handful for them. But it’s excellent for them. They’re understanding it.”
McTavish has only missed one game all season — Jan. 19 at Columbus — making sure a minor back issue didn’t turn into a bigger problem. The physical challenges aren’t the only thing a young player needs to sort out.
“I’d say the mental part is harder,” he said. “All of the travel. It seems like every time I travel I get sick. The dry air, in rooms, the airplane. But not bad sick.
“There’s always so many ups and downs in a year, not getting too down or not getting too up.”
COLORADO AT DUCKS
When: Monday, 7 p.m.
Where: Honda Center
TV: Bally Sports West