After a miraculous gold medal victory for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship in August, the Canadians will look to repeat the feat in Halifax and Moncton this December. With headliners Shane Wright and Connor Bedard on the roster, Canada is in a great position to win its 20th World Junior title.
Hockey Canada released its 22-man roster, which includes 10 players from the Western Hockey League (WHL), four from the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and four from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (LHJMQ). There is a player in US College and three on loan from NHL clubs.
Canada’s proverbial guns are loaded for this showcase event, as Bedard is the consensus top pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, while Wright, who was the fourth-overall pick by the Seattle Kraken in 2022, is on loan to Hockey Canada for this tournament. Two other NHLers have also been made available by their parent clubs: the Arizona Coyotes have given the green light to forward Dylan Guenther, while the Los Angeles Kings have loaned out Brandt Clarke to man Canada’s blue line.
Meet Team 🇨🇦!— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) December 12, 2022
2️⃣2️⃣ players will wear the 🍁 at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton.
ROSTER ➡️ https://t.co/blqkTVfVla#WorldJuniors pic.twitter.com/imWpsvjUuX
Dennis Williams, who serves as head coach and GM of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL), was named head coach and will have plenty of talent to thwart any opponent on the way to another championship.
Benjamin Gaudreau, Thomas Milic
Benjamin Gaudreau is a 6-foot-2 attacking netminder who starts for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The San Jose Sharks’ third-round pick in 2021 is fast on his feet and unafraid to play at the top of his crease to challenge shooters. In 22 games for the Sting this season, he sports a goals-against average (GAA) of 3.63 and a save percentage (SV%) of .868.
He will be joined by Thomas Milic, a 2023 draft-eligible goalie who is currently guarding the net for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. The 6-foot goalie from Coquitlam, BC, has had a good season leading Seattle to a 20-4-1 record behind a GAA of 2.35 and an SV% of .919. He is more conservative than Gaudreau but uses his speed and impressive footwork to maintain positioning and rarely has to make the flashy save.
Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship
Latest News & Highlights
The duo was also the tandem that led Canada’s U-18 team to a gold medal in Texas in 2021. Gaudreau was the starter in that tournament, but no one has been named number one for this event yet. That will likely depend on how each plays in Canada’s pre-tournament games.
Nolan Allen, Brandt Clarke, Ethan Del Mastro, Tyson Hinds, Kevin Korchinski, Jack Matier, Olen Zellweger
Highlighted by Brandt Clarke, who is on loan from the Kings, along with Ethan Del Mastro and Olen Zellweger, who are returning for their second trip to the WJC, Canada’s defensive corp is a solid group that possesses size, strength and the ability to move the puck.
The knock every player wants. 🚪— Hockey Canada (@HockeyCanada) December 13, 2022
Go behind the scenes with 🇨🇦’s National Junior Team as players find out they’ll be on the ice at the #WorldJuniors, and then meet the fans in Moncton. pic.twitter.com/EAyBRAPLG7
Del Mastro, the captain of the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2021 NHL Draft. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound left-handed shot brings leadership to the squad and a level of engagement that makes it hard to play against him. He loves the one-on-one battles and is rarely out of position, using his long reach and strength to his advantage. In 22 games for the Steelheads, he has 21 points (two goals and 19 assists), along with 35 minutes in penalties.
“This season in many games you’ll see his team really rely on him to make plays, take on the other teams’ best player, and be the vocal leader. It’s impressive to see, no doubt why Team Canada will have him in an important top 4 role. Moving forward, I expect Del Mastro to graduate from the OHL to the AHL and immediately be one of the IceHogs best players.”– Kyle Graden, Prospect Update: Ethan Del Mastro
Zellweger, a Calgary native who suits up for the Everett Silvertips of the WHL, is a 5-foot-10 offensive defenseman and will be a pillar on Canada’s blue line. Coming off last season, when he was the top-scoring defenseman at the 2022 WJC and named the WHL’s Best Defenseman, he will quarterback Canada’s power-play unit and will lead the team in transition from defence to offence. He is a younger version of Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (also from Calgary), who will join the rush and bring his offensive touch to any scoring chance. Selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft, he can be a difference-maker.
Clarke is 6-foot-2 and wants something to happen every time he touches the puck, and is not afraid to push the puck. He sees things that others do not, is patient, and allows the play to develop before he makes his decision.
He started this season with the Kings and then was sent to the Ontario Reign, their AHL affiliate, before being recalled in November when he was a healthy scratch for much of the month. The WJC will give him a chance to rejuvenate his game while playing against his peers and show off the skills that convinced the Kings to take him with their first pick (8th overall) in the 2021 Draft.
Besides Zellweger, the rest of Canada’s defence has an average height of 6-foot-3. They are big, physical, and fundamentally sound. The only question mark on this group is, can they keep up with the speed of the opposition’s forecheckers? They can all move the puck and are defensively sound, but the foot speed of this group might be their only Achilles’ heel. Other than that, look for this group to control their end and dominate their counterparts in the corners and along the boards.
Caedan Bankier, Connor Bedard, Colton Dach, Zach Dean, Adam Fantilli, Nathan Gaucher, Dylan Guenther, Zack Ostapchuk, Brennan Othmann, Joshua Roy, Reid Schaefer, Logan Stankoven, Shane Wright
Bedard and Wright will carry the weight of the forward unit, and with good reason. Bedard is the lottery pick most bottom-feeding NHL teams are aiming for. He was the projected number-one pick in the upcoming draft before he played a single WHL game. Last season, the center scored 100 points in 62 games for the Regina Pats, and this season already, he has 64 points in 28 games. Averaging 2.3 points per game, he is currently on pace to record 155 points this season. He is now 17 points ahead of the next player in the WHL, and his 175 shots on goal are exactly 40 clear of Zellwegger, who is second in that category.
For most of the 2021-22 season, Wright was projected to be the number-one overall selection in last year’s draft until the moment the Montreal Canadiens selected Juraj Slafkovsky of Czechia. Wright became the fourth-overall pick by the Kraken and was on their opening-night roster. The team sent him to their American Hockey League affiliate (AHL) after a slow start, which saw him score one goal in eight games in the NHL. In only five games with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, he has four goals and an assist.
While these two will garner much of the media’s attention, Canada’s deep forward unit should be problematic to play against, as they all possess the prerequisite attributes essential for today’s game.
“We got lots of skill, but at the same time, we want to have heaviness throughout our lineup. We want to play fast. We want to play hard. We want to compete and put teams on their heels. From our experience in August and last December, it’s going to make a big difference. Not only the size but the fact our players, who are larger players, they can really move. They can close quickly and play within the boundaries. So, it’s going to be a group where there’s not much room out there.”– Allan Millar, Canada’s Director of Player Personnel
Adam Fantilli should carry his fair share of offensive responsibilities. Choosing the NCAA route, the Toronto native is making a name for himself at the University of Michigan, where he is the Wolverines’ leading scorer, with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in just 16 games. He is the number two ranked draft-eligible player in the 2023 NHL Draft and should pose a problem for the opposition.
Coyotes’ forward Dylan Guenther has an explosive shot that will come into play during the tournament. The 6-foot-2 right-handed shot, who will be a key component to the Coyotes’ rebuild, has three goals and 11 assists in 21 NHL games and is on pace to record 40 points in his rookie season.
Canada’s forward group is laden with speed, skill, and size. Caeden Bankier has 20 goals this season for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers and is second only to Bedard in that category on the roster. The 6-foot-2 native of Surrey, BC, is on pace to record 89 points this season. His WHL teammate, Logan Stankoven, is currently tied for third in league scoring, with 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 21 games, and brings a wealth of international experience to the roster. The reigning WHL and CHL Player-of-the-Year was on last year’s gold medal team, as well as the U18 team that won gold in 2021. In August at the 2022 WJC, he had the best face-off percentage, winning 73% of his draws.
With Canada’s assets up front, it is not difficult to understand why they are favoured to repeat as champions. Their speed and skill, combined with their physical presence throughout the lineup, will be difficult for other teams to compete against. Besides Bedard and Stankoven, every forward is over six feet tall and will use their speed to be a force in the offensive zone while also being responsible in the defensive end.
Canada’s World Junior experience and quest for back-to-back titles begins on Boxing Day when they take on Czechia at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax. Canada will also take on Germany, Austria and Sweden to cap off the preliminary round before the tournament concludes with the gold medal game on Jan. 5