The end of the calendar year is always lots of fun for many reasons. The obvious one is the annual IIHF World Junior Championships. And then there are a couple of holidays to celebrate too, I guess.
In all seriousness, we are a little under a month away until the 2022 World Juniors, and Team Canada will be looking for redemption after a disappointing end for what appeared to be the best junior team the country had ever iced. Despite 21 first-round picks cracking the roster and having a total of 26 first-round picks at training camp, Canada came up short in the gold medal game to the United States, who were led by Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras‘ 18 points in seven games.
With the bulk of Canada’s talent last year being made up of 2001-born players such as Dylan Cozens (Buffalo Sabres), Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles Kings), and Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals), their roster will likely see almost a complete overhaul for the 2021-22 tournament. Having said that, they project to have quite a talented team of their own.
Forwards: Canada’s Offense Sees a Complete Overhaul (Almost)
As it stands right now, Byfield (Newmarket, ON.) is one of two possible returning forwards for the Canadians, and even he’s not a sure bet to suit up for Canada for a couple of reasons. The main reason is the ankle fracture he suffered in early October. His health come tournament time will be a major factor. But even if he’s healthy, it’s unknown whether the Kings will loan him to the tournament seeing that he was supposed to make their roster out of training camp.
Cole Perfetti (Whitby, ON.) is the other returning forward. The Winnipeg Jets’ first-round pick in 2020 had six points in seven games last year and will likely look to step into a leadership role for the Canadians this year. Carolina Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis is also eligible to return to Team Canada, but seeing what he’s done with the Canes this year, I doubt they will loan him.
Along with the possible returning forwards, Canada also has a couple of 2020 draftees who will look to make this year’s team after missing the cut last year. Mavrik Bourque (Shawinigan, QC.) and Hendrix Lapierre (Aylmer, QC.), are two late first-round picks in 2020 who could add speed and skill up front, while fellow 2020 first rounders Ridly Greig (Lethbridge, AB.) and Jake Neighbours (Airdrie, AB.) could provide some grit and two-way play to the lineup. Ozzy Wiesblatt (Calgary, AB.) is another name who wasn’t at the Summer Showcase but will definitely be considered come training camp. Tyson Foerster (Alliston, ON.) would be in the conversation as well but is out indefinitely after successful shoulder surgery.
While there are many talented prospects from the 2020 draft class, a handful of 2021 draft picks could see themselves stepping into prominent roles this year. The third overall pick in 2021, Mason McTavish (Carp, ON.), and fifth overall pick Kent Johnson (Port Moody, BC.) lead the way, with ninth overall pick Dylan Guenther (Edmonton, AB.) not far behind. Cole Sillinger (Regina, SK) is another name that will be considered, but like Jarvis, he’s been a crucial part of the Columbus Blue Jackets, so it’s unlikely they’ll release him.
One exciting name who will almost certainly make the team this year is 2022 draft phenom Shane Wright (Burlington, ON.). Canada typically reserves their roster spots for older players unless your name is Connor McDavid. But in Wright’s case, he’s more than likely a lock to make it. He was on the outside looking in last season but likely won’t even leave Canada with a choice this year.
Canada has lots of options to round out the last two forward spots. One player I may have had on the outside looking in six months ago was Luke Evangelista (Oakville, ON.), but he’s having a phenomenal season serving as the captain of the London Knights with 18 goals and 30 points in 17 games. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see the Nashville Predators’ second-round pick crack the roster.
While there’s sure to be lots of competition for the final spot and it will almost certainly come down to who has the best training camp, I’ve got the final spots going to Philadelphia Flyers fourth-round pick Zayde Wisdom (Toronto, ON.) and Zachary L’Heureux (Mercier, QC.). With the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the 2020-21 OHL season, Wisdom appeared in 28 games for the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms, tallying 18 points. He had shoulder surgery over the offseason but is reportedly progressing ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, L’Heureux is one of those players you don’t want to play against under any circumstances. He’s tough, gritty, and has a nice scoring touch as well.
If the final spots don’t go to Wisdom and L’Heureux, some other names to consider are Logan Stankoven (Kamloops, BC.) and Brennan Othmann (Pickering, ON.). Zach Dean (Mount Pearl, NL.), and Wyatt Johnston (Toronto, ON.) are two other names who could draw eyes at training camp, but as I said before, the final spot will ultimately go to whoever stands out the most by the time final cuts roll around.
Defense: Canada’s Back End Will Be Mobile, Skilled, and Physical
Like the forwards, Canada’s defensive corps will be almost brand new this year. The only likely returning defenseman will be Montreal Canadiens first-round pick Kaiden Guhle (Sherwood Park, AB.). Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale is also eligible to suit up for the Canadians this year, but like Jarvis and Sillinger, he’s been a big part of his NHL team’s success this year, meaning he likely won’t be released.
While he didn’t attend the summer showcase, 2021 first overall pick Owen Power (Mississauga, ON.) would be a massive boost to the back end. The 6-foot-5, 214-pound defenseman is part of a ridiculously stacked University of Michigan team where he has 21 points in 15 games so far. It’s not often first overall picks from the year before suit up at the World Juniors, but since Power is playing in the NCAA instead of the NHL, I see no reason why he shouldn’t join the team at the tournament.
Brandt Clarke (Nepean, ON.) is almost a lock to make the team as well. The Kings’ first-round pick spent last season playing in Slovakia and has fit right back in at home this year with 18 points in 15 games for the OHL’s Barrie Colts. Also among players who should crack Canada’s back end are 2021 first-round picks Carson Lambos (Winnipeg, MB.) and Corson Ceulemans (Beaumont, AB.).
From there, I think Vincent Iorio (Coquitlam, BC.), Miguel Tourigny (Victoriaville, QC.), and Ryan O’Rourke (Bowmanville, ON.) will round out the final spots. Between these three, I would probably give the last spot on the defensive corps to O’Rourke for his gritty stay-at-home game and his booming slap shot.
Other names who could win a job on the team with a strong training camp include Olen Zellweger (Fort Saskatchewan, AB.), Donovan Sebrango (Kingston, ON.), and Lukas Cormier (Sainte-Marie-de-Kent, NB.). Like the forwards, it will all come down to who outperforms the others once you look past the Powers and the Clarkes.
Goaltending: Canada Has Three Safe Options
Two of Canada’s three goalies won’t be returning to the team this year. With Devon Levi and Taylor Gauthier outgrowing the tournament, Dylan Garand (Victoria, BC.) remains the only returning goalie. And with a record of 13-2-0 for the Western Hockey League (WHL)’s Kamloops Blazers to go along with a save percentage (SV%) of .933 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.74, he’s likely a safe bet to be their starting goalie this year.
Another goalie who will likely challenge Garand for starts is Sebastian Cossa (Fort McMurray, AB.). Standing at 6-foot-7 in the crease, he’s an intimidating figure both physically and in the crease. He’s also having a fantastic season for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, carrying a.928 SV% and 2.19 GAA to compliment a record of 12-3-3.
After Garand and Cossa, I think the last goaltending spot will go to London Knights netminder Brett Brochu (Belle River, ON.). Brochu was a contender to make Team Canada last year before Devon Levi shocked and made the team out of camp, and it seems as though this year will be his proper chance to crack the roster.
In terms of other names to watch, Garin Bjorklund (Grand Prairie, AB.) and Tristan Lennox (Cambridge, ON.) were both at the summer showcase, but neither of them has performed at the same level as the former three goalies I named. As it usually goes with goaltenders at the World Juniors, the team will likely ride the hottest hand.
Preliminary cuts typically come around the end of November and early December, so before the first round is officially announced by Hockey Canada, here’s my best idea of what to expect from Canada’s roster this year.
THW Projected Team Canada Roster
Goalies: Dylan Garand, Sebastian Cossa, Brett Brochu
Defensemen: Kaiden Guhle, Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, Carson Lambos, Corson Ceulemans, Ryan O’Rourke, Miguel Tourigny, Vincent Iorio
Forwards: Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, Mavrik Bourque, Hendrix Lapierre, Ridly Greig, Jake Neighbours, Zachary L’Heureux, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Mason McTavish, Kent Johnson, Dylan Guenther, Shane Wright, Luke Evangelista, Zayde Wisdom
Roster Questions Include Health and Willingness to Loan
The beauty of this year’s World Juniors is that while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, the circumstances are much clearer. Last year, the pandemic swayed the decisions of players like Power, who would have had to quarantine for two weeks in Canada. This year, the only questions revolve around players like Wisdom and Byfield, whose health remains a question mark.
It’s unlikely that the players who have crossed the nine-game threshold for their NHL teams, such as Drysdale, Jarvis, and Sillinger, will be loaned for the tournament. In fact, once you look past Byfield’s health, that still remains a question mark for him. The Kings are having a decent season and could use his services over that span. But again, it depends on his health and where he’s at by that point.
With the tournament kicking off in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, on Dec. 26, the battle for roster spots on Team Canada remains wide open. Who do you think is going to crack the roster this year? Let me know in the comments below.
All the 2022 World Junior Championship Team Information:
Austria – Team Preview – Roster
Canada – Team Preview – Roster
Czech Republic – Team Preview – Roster
Finland – Team Preview – Roster
Germany – Team Preview – Roster
Russia – Team Preview – Roster
Slovakia – Team Preview – Roster
Sweden – Team Preview – Roster
United States – Team Preview – Roster
All Your THW 2022 World Junior Championship Coverage
Alex Hobson is a writer and a radio producer for 610 CKTB. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.