Redemption. It is certainly time for that, as Team Canada looks to reposition themselves atop the hockey world at the 2020 World Junior Championships. After a disappointing exit from last year’s WJC, losing to Finland in the Quarterfinals, this year’s group will be a modest mix of returning players and a large crop of budding young stars who are getting their first crack at the World Junior stage.
Canada might even get the assistance from a few formidable NHL rookies who are eligible to join the team if released by their respective pro clubs.
As the potential No.1 overall pick in the upcoming 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Alexis
The question mark surrounding the 18-year-old is whether or not he’ll be at one hundred percent when the tournament kicks off on Boxing Day. Lafreniere sat out the last two practices for ‘maintenance’ and it is suspected he is dealing with a nagging ankle injury, but it isn’t thought to be an issue moving forward.
It would be surprising if London Knights forward, Connor McMichael, doesn’t make this team. McMichael (Scarborough, ON.) is leading the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 25 goals, 34 assists, 59 points in 27 games played. He has the ability to impact games both 5-on-5 and on the power play and could match up very well against the opposition’s middle six. His head coach in London, Dale Hunter, also happens to be Canada’s head coach, so it seems like a fortuitous, albeit well-deserved opportunity for McMichael.
Dylan Cozens (Whitehorse, YT.) has established himself as one of the top Junior players in the country, currently playing with the Lethbridge Hurricanes (Western Hockey League). He is second in scoring in the WHL with 20 goals, 26 assists, 46 points in 30 games this season. The right-winger brings a balance of size and speed to the lineup and will likely slot in on the top line for Canada.
If Nolan Foote (Kelowna, B.C.) ends up making this team he will be the third member of the ‘Foote-clan’ to represent Canada at the international level. His father, Adam, won an Olympic gold medal in 2002 and a World Cup gold in 2003-04, while his brother Callan won gold with Team Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championships. As the captain of the Kelowna Rockets this season, Foote has 15 goals, 18 assists, 33 points in 25 games and can provide leadership, grit and high-end finish to the offensive attack.
It is a safe assumption that the captain of the Niagra Ice Dogs (OHL), Akil Thomas, will make this squad. Thomas (Toronto, O.N.) has great production numbers this season with 15 goals, 29 assists, 44 points in 27 games. With 13 power-play assists this season (tied for 2nd in the OHL), he has the ability to quarterback a first or second power-play unit, as well. With the surplus of space on international ice, having a puck-moving playmaker like Thomas is a big key to special teams’ success in a short tournament.
Expect to see Flint Firebirds forward, Ty Dellandrea (Toronto, ON.) filling a center spot in the top six. The Dallas Stars first-round draft pick has previous international experience playing with Team Canada at the U-18’s in 2017-18. With Liam Foudy (Toronto, ON.) and Aiden Dudas (Parry Sound, ON.) potentially providing depth on the wing, there still leaves some questions as to who rounds out the bottom-six forward group.
Quinton Byfield (Newmarket, ON.) has had a great season so far, sitting second in OHL scoring with 22 goals, 35 assists, 57 points in 30 games for the Sudbury Wolves. The 17-year-old CHL rookie of the year is draft-eligible in 2020 and is expected to be a high pick, with some projections suggesting he may even be selected first overall. With a strong camp under his belt, he would be a good fit, adding size and mobility up-front for Canada.
Perhaps a long-shot, but Cole Perfetti (Whitby, ON.) knows how to get the job done when representing his country. He scored twice on breakaway’s and added three shootout goals, including the game-winner, in the Semifinals against Sweden at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. As a 17-year-old he will need to have an impressive camp to crack the lineup, but his shootout savvy might come in handy in international play.
Defence: Standing On Guard
Team Canada boasts an experienced group on the blue line this year. Ty Smith (Lloydminster, Alta.) and Jared McIsaac (Truro, N.S.) are both returning players who will play a leadership role and certainly will have some added motivation to succeed this time around. The lack of playing time for McIsaac this season is a bit of a concern, however. Only recently coming off an injury, the 19-year-old has played just three games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season. If he is healthy, he’ll be a big piece on the blue line, as a career ‘plus’ player with tremendous offensive upside.
Bowen Byram (Cranbrook, B.C.) has U-17 and U-18 experience on Team Canada to draw from heading into this tournament. The Colorado Avalanche’s fourth overall draft pick (2019) brings elite-level speed and skill to the backend. Notably, the previous Avs’ draft-pick to play on Team Canada’s blue line was Cale Makar, who was named to the WJC All-Tournament Team in 2018. Makar played his Junior hockey with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, similar to a current Canada hopeful at this year’s camp, Jacob Bernard-Docker (Canmore, Alta.).
Bernard-Docker played his junior hockey with the Okotoks Oilers (AJHL) and currently attends the University of North Dakota (NCAA), where he has been a reliable and effective defenseman, playing in all situations for the Fighting Hawks. In his sophomore season, he is tied for third in team scoring with 3 goals, 11 assists, 14 points in 17 games.
Goaltenders: Commanding the Crease
At this point, there is still no definitive No.1 goalie for Canada. Three of the four goaltenders invited to Canada’s selection camp will head to the Czech Republic, while one will miss out. Olivier Rodrigue (Chicoutimi, PQ.) is a safe bet to make the team this year and has a good chance to be the opening game starter against the United States on Dec. 26. The 19-year-old, Edmonton Oilers draft pick is having a stellar season with the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) posting a 15-6-0 record with 2.79 goals-against average (GAA) and .907 save percentage (SV%).
Nico Daws (Burlington, ON.) was perhaps considered an underdog heading into the season, but has looked more like a front-runner so far with his play this season with the Guelph Storm. Without a doubt the top goaltender in the OHL, Daws has set himself apart posting a (13-3-4) record, with a league-best 2.06 GAA and .913 SV%. Could he challenge for the starting role with Team Canada once the tournament begins? Well, he’s made a strong case to at least be in the conversation.
Hunter Jones (Brantford, ON.) is a big-bodied goaltender, measuring in at 6-foot-4, 198 pounds. The Minnesota Wild draft pick (2019) has played extremely well for the Peterborough Petes this season, sporting a (19-3-1) record with a 2.53 GAA and a .918 SV%. which has him sitting third overall in those categories. Finally, Joel Hofer (Winnipeg, MB.) has been a pleasant surprise for the Portland Winterhawks (WHL). Leading all WHL goaltenders with a 1.81 GAA, Hofer has strung together 20 wins (20-4-1) including four shutouts this season.
With one game left against U-Sports All-Stars (Dec. 12), the decision will have to come soon, but it is a good problem to have with four quality netminders competing for a spot.
NHL Rookies: Strong and Free?
Canada got a boost recently when it was announced that Detroit Red Wings prospect, Joe Veleno, will join the team in the Czech Republic. Currently playing with the Grand Rapids Griffins (American Hockey League), Veleno has just 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points in 25 games and is also a startling minus-20 this season. In any case, he recorded 104 points in 2018-19 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) and his recent pro experience will lend itself well playing in the WJC.
Barrett Hayton (Peterborough, ON.) has 14 NHL games under his belt with the Arizona Coyotes this season, scoring 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points. Despite playing limited games with the Coyotes, it doesn’t seem likely he will be released by the big club. Kirby Dach (Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.) is having a decent rookie campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks this season, with 5 goals, 5 assists, 10 points in 25 games but with regular playing time in the NHL this season, it also seems unlikely that he will be made available for the tournament either.
Noah Dobson (Summerside, PE) has 2 assists and is plus-3 in eight games with the New York Islanders this season. He has been in and out of the NHL lineup and could benefit from some added competition, however, there is still no word on him joining Canada in the Czech Republic.
The Bottom Line
The second preparation game for Canada against the U-Sports All-Star’s will be played on Thursday (Dec. 12) and it is expected final cuts to be made shortly after that. The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships will begin on December 26,
THW Projected Team Canada Roster:
Goalies: Olivier Rodrigue, Hunter Jones, Nico Daws
Defensemen: Ty Smith, Jared McIsaac, Bowen Byram, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Braden Schneider, Kevin Bahl, Thomas Harley
Forwards: (LW) Alexis Lafreniere, (LW) Nolan Foote, (LW) Liam Foudy, (LW) Quinton Byfield – (C) Joe Veleno, (C) Connor McMichael, (C) Ty Dellandrea, (C) Benoit-Olivier Groulx – (RW) Dylan Cozens, (RW) Aiden Dudas, (RW) Akil Thomas, (RW) Cole Perfetti – Extra Forward: (C) Peyton Krebs