2021 World Junior Championship Team Canada Preview

While it’s common knowledge that Team Canada is consistently one of the favourites heading into each World Junior Championship, this year brings with it an augmented level of excitement, as this particular tournament roster has the potential of being the best in Canada’s long and illustrious junior hockey history.

Boasting 26 first-round picks, there are currently a plethora of household names skating alongside one another in Red Deer. From last year’s returnees to a new crop of dominant junior players, the two intrasquad scrimmages over the weekend provided some insight on what the final roster could resemble.

Team Canada Akil Thomas Raphael Lavoie Russia Amir Miftakhov 2020 World Juniors
Akil Thomas after scoring the game winning goal in 2020. (Photo by Peter KovalevTASS via Getty Images)

Following a dominant showing during last year’s tournament overseas, Canada will hit the ice in search of their 19th gold medal. Already leading all other countries in regards to medal count with 32, the Canucks will be backed by the comfort of their own backyard, playing within a bubble in Edmonton. Attempting to avenge the heartbreak that occurred the last time the Canadians hosted this tournament, here are the 25 players you can expect to defend Canada’s title.

Forwards: Speed, Depth, and Goals Galore

Let’s start with last year’s returnees. Quinton Byfield (Newmarket, ON.), Dylan Cozens (Whitehorse, YT.), Connor McMichael (Ajax, ON.), and Dawson Mercer (Bay Roberts, NL.) all find themselves back with the national team following a successful tournament in Ostrava. All four have seemingly gotten better, as McMichael, Cozens, and Mercer all averaged well over a point-per-game in their respective leagues, and the Los Angeles Kings just drafted Byfield 2nd overall in the 2020 NHL Draft. Combine that with an impressive showing at selection camp, and you have four locks to make the team.

Kirby Dach (Fort Saskatchewan, SK.), Philip Tomasino (Mississauga, ON.), Peyton Krebs (Okotoks, AB.), and Connor Zary (Saskatoon, SK.) all find themselves in a similar position, as each one has exemplified a tremendously unique skill set so far. Dach, being the only one with NHL experience, is seemingly the unanimous favourite to lead Canada’s centre group, and for good reason. With elite hands and playmaking ability, his creativity alone allows him to rise above everyone else.

Chicago Blackhawks Kirby Dach Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury
Dach’s NHL experience should give Canada an advantage. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Krebs and Zary fill out the rest of Canada’s needs down the middle, as both have enjoyed an incredibly successful camp. Krebs can not only quarterback a power play, but his two-way ability and effectiveness at both ends of the ice is something that every team needs. Captaining the Winnipeg Ice (WHL) this past season, it’ll be Krebs’ vision and all-around ability that will lead him towards a prominent role with Team Canada.

Zary, who has the ability to shift to the wing, brings mobility and a physical presence to the team. Add an above-average scoring touch to that mix, and Zary could find himself in any in-game situation. While I originally had him on the outside looking in to begin camp, he found instantaneous chemistry with Dach and Tomasino while also contributing in his own fashion. His shot placement and his ability to find the puck at top speed make him an ideal linemate for a distributor.

Tomasino, an Oshawa Generals (OHL) standout, has also reached another level of success as selection camp draws on. Possessing a “lightning-quick first step and high-end foot speed” (Future Considerations, 2019) to go along with a dynamic release and a knack for the high-danger areas of the ice, he brings another offensively-driven threat to Team Canada’s lineup.

Peyton Krebs Kootenay Ice
Krebs provides another level of depth to the Canadian lineup. (Robert Murray/WHL)

Expect to see Winnipeg Jets’ prospect Cole Perfetti (Whitby, ON.) crack the lineup on his second attempt as well, considering he enjoyed an even more productive season with the Saginaw Spirit (OHL). While not having the most electrifying presence in Red Deer so far, the Whitby-native should bring a potent scoring touch in whatever role he’s placed in. Already having played with the national team at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Perfetti also brings a wealth of international experience.

Following an impressive rookie season with Boston College (NCAA), Alex Newhook (St. John’s, NL.) has the best chance to make the team out of the crop of NCAA players. Notching an impressive 42 points in 34 games last season, he has proven his worth at every level of hockey he’s played, and his explosive skating ability and high-octane mindset should give him the edge over other players in the main cohort.

Rounding out the forward group are two wild cards that Canada can interchange at will. For now, Jakob Pelletier (Quebec City, QB.) and Jamieson Rees (Hamilton, ON.) are my picks to fill in on the fourth line, as the pair have been standouts in both of Canada’s scrimmages. Pelletier, who has captained both the Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) and the Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL) while simultaneously posting impressive point totals, would be a valuable offensive talent on any fourth line. Rees, with his ability to track down loose pucks and engage in the high-danger areas of the ice, make him an ideal role player for the Canadians.

Jakob Pelletier
Pelletier has had an impressive showing in both of Canada’s scrimmages. (Courtesy of Daniel St Pierre)

Jack Quinn (Cobden, ON.) and Samuel Poulin (Blainville, QC.) should also make the team and could find themselves in the lineup on any given night. Both present a contrasting style of play to one another and could be an effective replacement in any situation. Quinn, the 8th overall selection this past summer, is an elite goal scorer who can find the back of the net from almost any area of the ice, while Poulin, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, is a traditional power forward who exemplifies an ideal two-way game. The two haven’t been as notable through the first half of selection camp. However, their talent and potential speak for themselves.

Defense: Options in Abundance

It’s all but a guarantee that the two returning players from last year’s team will become the new go-to pairing this time around. Bowen Byram (Cranbrook, AB.) has been nothing short of outstanding over the course of selection camp, never failing to put his elite skating ability and on-ice intelligence on display. Jamie Drysdale (Toronto, ON.), who made last year’s team at the age of 17, should have an even more important role on the backend as well. Another brilliant skater, the Anaheim Ducks prospect is a complete partner for Byram on Canada’s top pairing.

At the beginning of camp, Thomas Harley (Syracuse, NY.) and Braden Schneider (Prince Albert, SK.) were favourites to make the team, and they should find themselves with a prominent middle-pairing role when the tournament kicks off in Edmonton. Both are excellent distributors and are incredibly mobile when shutting down rushes. A secure contrast compared to the Byram-Drysdale pairing, both Harley and Schneider provide a steady, more defensively inclined alternative.

Braden Schneider Brandon Wheat Kings
Schneider was the 19th overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. (Tim Smith)

Justin Barron (Halifax, NS.) and Kaedan Korczak (Yorkton, SK.) are the leading candidates to round out Canada’s defensive core. Both have made impactful contributions during the two intrasquad scrimmages, and both provide an increased level of depth on the blue line. Barron, who enjoys jumping into the rush and creating chances offensively, should have the confidence that Korczak, who loves to “physically engage opposing forwards” (McKeen’s Hockey, 2019), has his back.

Goaltenders: Calm, Cool, and Collected

Similar to previous years, Canada’s goaltending battle has yet to crown a winner. They’ll carry three goalies into the bubble, and it remains to be seen who those three netminders will be. Brett Brochu (Tilbury, ON.), who registered an impressive .919 save percentage (SV%) and 2.40 goals against average (GAA) with the London Knights (OHL) during the 2019-20 campaign, has been nothing short of spectacular thus far, so it would be fathomable to see the 18-year-old take the starting job.

With that said, Brochu certainly wasn’t the favourite heading into camp, and Taylor Gauthier (Calgary, AB.), who has played just as much, still has a legitimate chance to command the crease for Canada. Gauthier, who saw all 60 minutes of action during the second scrimmage, put up similar numbers with the Prince George Cougars (WHL) during the 2019-20 season. He hasn’t exactly set himself apart just yet, but in terms of his competition, Gauthier is right in the thick of it.

Due to Brochu’s stellar play, it seems as though the other half of Team Red’s tandem has overshadowed Dylan Garand (Victoria, B.C.). However, let’s not forget that Garand played just as well in the first scrimmage before leaving the net in favour of Brochu. Garand holds the best numbers in the CHL out of the three frontrunners, with a .921 SV% and a 2.21 GAA with the Kamloops Blazers (WHL).

Kamloops Blazers Dylan Garand
Garand is still in the hunt for Canada’s starting job. (Allen Douglas/Kamloops Blazers)

While Canada’s goaltending competition has remained unclear at best, Tristan Lennox (Mississauga, ON.) and Devon Levi (Dollard-des-Ormeaux, QC.) have not yet made as significant of an impact, separating the goaltending debate into two tiers.

Roster Projection

With preliminary cuts expected in the coming days, Canada’s selection camp roster is bound to become smaller as the week progresses. And with the Canadians set to play exhibition games against the University of Alberta Golden Bears (USPORTS), the Mount Royal Cougars (USPORTS), and potentially the University of Calgary Dinos (USPORTS, awaiting school approval) later this week, the roster picture will become a lot clearer as we inch closer to December.

THW Projected Team Canada Roster:

Goalies: Brett Brochu, Taylor Gauthier, Dylan Garand

Defensemen: Bowen Byram, Jamie Drysdale, Thomas Harley, Braden Schneider, Justin Barron, Kaedan Korczak, Kaiden Guhle, Matthew Robertson

Forwards: Connor McMichael, Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens, Quinton Byfield, Dawson Mercer, Peyton Krebs, Connor Zary, Cole Perfetti, Philip Tomasino, Alex Newhook, Jakob Pelletier, Jamieson Rees, Jack Quinn, Samuel Poulin

Unanswered Questions

Team Canada announced Tuesday morning that two of the players in Red Deer had tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in the cancelation of the third, and final, intrasquad scrimmage. With hockey activities paused and very little information to go on, this predicament has the chance to disrupt the team’s roster plans and could affect the health of other players and staff.

Secondly, it remains unclear on how likely NCAA players like Dylan Holloway (Calgary, AB.), Newhook, and Levi will get evaluated at camp. Now with hockey activities paused, for the time being, players who hadn’t yet hit the ice with the main cohort may not get a chance at proving they belong on the national team.

Finally, things remain quiet on the Alexis Lafreniere (Saint-Eustache, QC.) front. With the New York Rangers awaiting more clarity on what the upcoming NHL season could look like, they are reluctant to release their top prospect before more information is known. The addition of Lafreniere, who won gold with Canada at last year’s tournament, would likely make a team like this virtually unbeatable.

Alexis Lafreniere
Lafreniere scored 10 points in 5 games at last year’s tournament. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

In what will be an unprecedented World Junior tournament, there is still a lot that needs to be decided by the Canadians moving forward. However, with a solid projection of Team Canada’s lineup, hopefully, the excitement of the World Juniors can begin to be felt nationwide.

Who can you see cracking the lineup at the end of December? Is this the most talented Team Canada roster that you’ve seen? Let me know in the comments.

All the 2021 World Junior Championship Team Information:

Selection Camp Invites by NHL Team

Draft Eligible Players to Watch

One Player to Watch for Each World Junior Team

7 Predictions for the 2021 World Junior Championship

All Your THW 2021 World Junior Championship Coverage