On Friday afternoon, Team Canada made its final round of cuts and announced its final roster for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships. Early on in the week, the team made cuts to players who were unfit to play as well as their first-round cuts, which included young phenom, Shane Wright.
After a difficult situation that forced Team Canada to put camp on pause due to positive cases of COVID-19, they’re primed and ready to defend their title as champions. They won’t have Alexis Lafreniere at their disposal this time around, but the team is poised to be competitive and be a front-runner for the tournament once again. Canada has six returning players from its last gold medal team and boasts 20 first-round picks.
Related: THW World Juniors Coverage
While most of the players are itching to play a game, as some of their leagues have yet to resume, you can expect a great burst of energy from this team, as players are waiting to get back to playing competitive hockey. The names on this Canadian roster definitely matches the skill of past teams as they look to repeat as champions. Without further ado, here is the roster for Team Canada.
Devon Levi (Northeastern University), Dylan Garand (Kamloops Blazers), Taylor Gauthier (Prince George Cougars)
There is no shortage of international experience in the crease for Team Canada, as all three have represented the country in the past. Gauthier represented Canada at the 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, winning a gold medal, and Garand won a silver medal at the tournament the following year. Levi represented Canada East at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge, winning a silver medal while also winning tournament MVP honours.
All three have the potential to backstop the team to a gold medal, like Joel Hofer did as he took over for Nico Daws last year. While Levi is an underrated name on this list, the battle will ultimately come down to Gauthier and Garand.
Gauthier has gone undrafted in two NHL drafts, but that hasn’t shaken his confidence. The Cougars haven’t been competitive in recent years, and Gauthier has been extremely busy, making 1,495 saves in 2018-19 and 1,537 this past season. His .917 save percentage (SV%) is his highest in three seasons, and he’s hoping to showcase to teams that he’s capable of being relied upon in net with Team Canada.
Garand, on the other hand, seems to have the advantage over Gauthier to be the starter when the tournament opens up. Garand was drafted by the New York Rangers in the fourth round (103rd overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft and has posted strong numbers with the Blazers.
In his draft year, Garand went 28-10-3 while registering a 2.21 goals against average and .921 SV%. Early on in the first intra-squad game at camp, he stood out early on, as he had great poise and positioning when Team Red pummeled him early with shots. He held his own and seemed to be very comfortable when the situation became tense.
If Canada is going to find stability in the crease, that’s the kind of play that would help propel a team to victory in such a short tournament. While there have been question marks in the past as to who might be the starter, there might be a clearer picture this time around, as Garand looks to have the upper hand.
Justin Barron (Halifax Mooseheads), Bowen Byram (Vancouver Giants), Jamie Drysdale (Erie Otters), Kaiden Guhle (Prince Albert Raiders), Thomas Harley (Mississauga Steelheads), Kaedan Korczak (Kelowna Rockets), Braden Schneider (Brandon Wheat Kings), Jordan Spence (Moncton Wildcats)
This year’s defensive unit provides a great mix of puck movement and defensive stability in their own end. It’s without question that returnees Byram and Drysdale will lead the blue line. The coaching staff paired them together during the selection camp, and both seemed to play extremely well as a defensive unit.
Byram’s play during the intra-squad games was very noticeable. He was a driving force as the offense ran through him on Team Red. His puck movement, skating and ability to protect the puck in the offensive zone was on full display, as he had four points during the scrimmages. After a steady performance at last year’s tournament, Byram will be a big part of Canada’s leadership team.
Drysdale, the sixth overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2020, possesses the same offensive awareness, and his defensive game is an underrated aspect when he plays. Like Byram, he has the ability to jump up into the rush while also knowing when to prioritize defense. He is so calm with his decision-making and never seems to make a bad play with the puck. Drysdale is definitely going to see an increased role with the team this time around, as he was a sixth/seventh defenseman a year ago.
Justin Barron and Braden Schneider are two other notable defensemen with size that have the ability to provide a strong two-way game as well as play physically. Both also have powerful slap shots from the point. Barron, specifically, has the ability to know when to jump into the rush and provide an offensive presence, as this goal from the selection camp shows. They could potentially be a nightmare for the opposition to go up against, as they can be a threat at both ends of the ice.
Harley brings excellent mobility and the ability to stretch the play on defense, as he’s a very strong skater and can take care of things in his own end. Korczak looks to bring a steady defensive presence, finding that balance with both players, as the coaches paired them together after making their final cuts.
Rounding out the defense are Guhle and Spence. Spence really caught my eye during the scrimmages, as he made great decisions with and without the puck. He projects to be anywhere from the sixth to eighth defenseman on the team but based on his play during camp, it wouldn’t surprise me if he sees some meaningful minutes if he continues to make a positive impact on the ice.
Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves), Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge Hurricanes), Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks), Dylan Holloway (Wisconsin, NCAA), Peyton Krebs (Winnipeg Ice), Connor McMichael (London Knights), Dawson Mercer (Chicoutimi Saguenéens), Alex Newhook (Boston College, NCAA), Jakob Pelletier (Val-d’Or Foreurs), Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit), Jack Quinn (Ottawa 67’s), Ryan Suzuki (Spirit), Philip Tomasino (Oshawa Generals), Connor Zary (Blazers)
The talent Canada has up front is tremendous. All of the forwards selected are first-round draft picks, and one has seen time in the NHL. If this group doesn’t scream speed and skill, I don’t know what does. Leading the charge are Byfield, Cozens, McMichael and Mercer, as they’re the returnees from last year’s team that won gold.
While it’s still too early to project lines, Canada has many different combinations at their disposal, especially when looking at the top six. They have a number of players that can be moved up and down the lineup and can still make a positive impact on the ice. One line that stood out was the play of Dach, Zary and Tomasino, as they were absolutely dominant in the second intrasquad game before the team went into lockdown.
Dach, being on loan from the Blackhawks, adds NHL experience to the lineup much like Barrett Hayton did last year. The Blackhawks selected Dach third overall in 2019, where he recorded 23 points in 64 games. In a recent scrimmage, he was on a line with McMichael and Cozen,s and they appeared to be dominant, as Dach had two goals and two assists in that game.
Head coach Andre Tourigny was impressed, and that line would be difficult to split up. Quinn is also a strong top-six option after scoring 52 goals in the Ontario League last season, as he has the ability to finish off plays with his scoring touch.
Tourigny added that the line of Holloway, Newhook and Pelletier could have some potential, as they will provide high-end energy. Holloway is very aggressive and tenacious while playing an effective 200-foot game. He has excellent speed along with Newhook, as both players are always in pursuit of the puck. Add in the smarts of Pelletier, and you have a really strong third line.
While Dach and Cozens could rotate centering the top line, Byfield, the Los Angeles Kings’ second overall pick in 2020, will be centering the second unit. Byfield didn’t have a strong tournament last year, but this time around, expect him to be more motivated. His high-end skill set and skating will be on display, along with his quick and powerful release. In addition, Byfield likes to use his size to his advantage when moving in the offensive zone and getting to the front of the net. He’ll look to be one of the team’s main offensive contributors after having a very limited role previously.
Spirit teammates Perfetti and Suzuki are reunited this time around. Suzuki is a smart play-making centre, and Perfetti is an offensive dynamo (111 points during the 2019-20 OHL season) with great speed and a powerful shot. Perfetti was a standout at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2019, leading the tournament in goals with eight and 12 points while winning a silver medal. After falling short, you can expect gold will be on his mind this time around.
Mercer will look to be that utility player that can play anywhere in the lineup and in any situation. He has excellent vision to make very skilled plays. He knows how to challenge and gain possession of the puck while also being quick in transition and moving the play forward.
With the names on this roster, it’s easy to see why Canada can repeat as champions. It’s also possible that this team could find itself alongside other dominant Canadian teams from the past. While the team overcame a major obstacle in camp, there’s no doubt that the tournament and gold are on their minds. This team is going to be extremely difficult to go up against.