Leafs at the World Juniors: Dion Phaneuf, 2004 & 2005

Dion Phaneuf’s World Junior tournament offered many Canadians their first chance at watching the future Toronto Maple Leafs captain. While Phaneuf has been a polarizing figure for much of his career, especially in Toronto, he was once one of the game’s brightest young stars, alongside such names as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.

The Stats:

2004: Phaneuf potted two goals and added two assists in six games, and was the highest scoring defenceman on the team.

2005: Phaneuf was at a point per game pace, potting one goal alongside five assists in his six games.

Both years saw Phaneuf named to the tournament all-star team, and was named the tournament’s top defenceman in 2005. Phaneuf was and still is the only Canadian defenceman in history to be named to the all-star team more than once.

Phaneuf was known then as he was know for his physical play, including this hit in 2005 which Pierre McGuire infamously labeled the “Double Dion”. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Phaneuf was one of the most electric players to ever play at the tournament.

The Results:

2004: Canada fell 3-2 to the United States in the gold medal game, which featured fellow Leaf David Booth, among others.

2005: Canada won its first gold medal since 1998, starting a string of five straight gold medals. The team won all six games in dominating fashion, outscoring their opponents 41-7. 

Key Teammates:

2004: Sidney Crosby, Brent Seabrook, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Burns, Anthony Stewart, and Mike Richards all suited up alongside Phaneuf.

A 16-year old Sidney Crosby recieved most of the hype, and performed admirably with two goals and three assists. 

But on a lineup packed with future NHL household names, guess who was the the team’s leading scorer? None other than Nigel Dawes, who played in just 212 NHL games before heading to the KHL, posting six goals and five assists in the tournament. Future Leaf Tim Brent was on the team as well, scoring a goal and adding two assists.

2005: Crosby, Seabrook, Carter, Getzlaf, Richards, and Stewart returned to the team, while Corey Perry, Shea Weber, Patrice Bergeron, and Andrew Ladd also cracked the lineup.

Bolstered by the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Canada’s roster from the tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota is arguably the best World Junior lineup ever to take the ice. Eight players from this team also went on to win gold medals at either the 2010 or 2014 Olympics, with five on both teams. Clarke MacArthur was the only other future Leaf on this roster. 

The scouts’ take:

Praise for Dion really couldn’t have been higher, and it escalated heavily due to his two performances on the international stage. Drafted 9th overall in 2003, Phaneuf was ranked as the  #1 player in the CHL, above Sidney Crosby, by Prospects Magazine in March 2004. Phaneuf’s final two years in junior saw him put up 99 points in 117 games, before he made the transition to the NHL in 2005-06, finishing third in Calder voting behind Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

An interesting tidbit leading up to Calgary’s drafting of Phaneuf would be the brotherly connection that existed with Phaneuf’s junior coach Brent Sutter, and then-Flames coach Darryl Sutter. Never one for a dull quote, Darryl described the teenage Phaneuf as, “a great kid, full of piss and vinegar,” in an interview with the Calgary Herald following the draft. While Phaneuf now has faced his fair share of criticism in his NHL career, it’s hard to say many negative things about his junior career. 

Tommorrow, I’ll take a look at Phil Kessel’s 2005 and 2006 World Junior campaigns, where he made a name for himself as the brightest American forward prospect at the time.