Last year, Team Canada was comprised of 19 first-round NHL draft picks which included Bowen Byram, Kirby Dach, Dylan Cozens, Quinton Byfield, Jamie Drysdale, and Dawson Mercer, to name a few. This year, Team Canada is once again loaded with top-end talent with the only returnee being Kamloops Blazers’ goaltender Dylan Garand. While they are missing a handful of players from the past December’s cancelled tournament, this is still a deep roster filled with exceptional talent.
Canada is coming off a heartbreaking loss to the United States last year that saw Trevor Zegras and the Americans capture gold. They are the favourites once again heading into the tournament, and with just under a week before puck drop on Aug. 9, here is a rundown of four players you should keep an eye on.
Columbus Blue Jackets 2021 first-round pick Kent Johnson will surely draw a lot of attention. The Port Moody product, and fifth overall pick, is an elite offensive talent whose creativity is off the charts. Before playing in college, he spent the 2019-20 season in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and registered an astonishing 101 points (41 goals, 60 assists) in 52 games with the Trail Smoke Eaters. Over the past two NCAA seasons he put up more impressive numbers, combining for 64 points in 58 games at the University of Michigan before making his NHL debut last season playing in nine games with the Blue Jackets.
This will be Johnson’s first World Juniors experience but not his first international appearance in a Canadian jersey. He was named to Canada’s roster for the 2022 Beijing Olympics and had a successful tournament scoring five points (one goal, four assists) in five games. The upcoming WJC will give him a chance to show off his incredible precision, quickness and high-end skills on what is widely considered the greatest stage for junior hockey.
Even though it will be Johnson’s first experience at this event, he will surely take on a major role in terms of production and leadership. I think it’s safe to say that he will be one of the tournament’s top point getters and recently being named as an alternate captain definitely puts him in the spotlight. This is not the last time you’ll read about Johnson by tournament’s end.
At 6-foot-1, this 213-pound imposing 19-year-old is an intelligent hockey player with no issues playing in the dirty areas to get the puck and create scoring opportunities. Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with the third overall selection last June, Mason McTavish led the Hamilton Bulldogs to an Ontario Hockey League (OHL) championship this past season. Incredibly 2021-22 saw him on the opening night roster for the Ducks where he recorded two points, including a goal against the Winnipeg Jets in his NHL debut.
Last season McTavish split time between the Ducks, the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League, then back to the OHL’s Peterborough Petes before being traded to Hamilton. With the Bulldogs, he scored an impressive 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in just 24 games, then added 29 points in 19 games en route to the championship. He was named to the December roster for the World Junior Championship where he tallied two goals and three assists in Canada’s two games. To top off his incredible 2021-22 season, he was also a member of the Canadian Olympic Team that competed in Beijing last February.
McTavish’s ability and intelligence paired with his leadership skills made him an easy choice to wear the “C” as Team Canada’s captain for this version of the WJC. This NHL-ready forward will be a very noticeable and impactful player for Canada as they look to capture gold once again.
Kamloops Blazers co-captain and Dallas Stars prospect Logan Stankoven lit up the Western Hockey League (WHL) last season, as the Kamloops, B.C. product had 104 points (45 goals, 59 assists) in 59 games and finished third in the league in points, and was the league leader with an average of 1.76 points-per-game. Back in April, he was a member of Team Canada’s under-18 squad that won gold and he posted eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games while donning the A on his jersey. He cracked a loaded team and proved to everyone why hard work and determination pay off, no matter your size. Standing at 5-foot-7, he has overcome a lot of adversity, as he was snubbed as a first-round selection due to his lack of size and has since gone on to prove scouts and teams wrong. He will surely use this tournament as another way to flourish his high-octane play style.
With Stankoven’s added international experience complementing the lineup, he will surely take on a significant role. He is a fearless puck carrier who boasts a lethal shot if given the chance to shoot. Not only is he offensive, but his defensive play allows for him to relentlessly attack the opposition and hound them for the puck. Overall, he is going to be a player that can be used in all situations come tournament time.
A player every hockey fan around the world will be watching is the 2023 top prospect, Connor Bedard. The 17-year-old phenom blew everyone away at the under-18 WJC in April of last year, having a lights-out performance recording 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in seven games. Not only did he have a solid performance on the international stage, but he also registered 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 15 games as a 15-year-old rookie playing for the Regina Pats of the WHL. He won the Rookie of the Year award and followed it up with a sensational season recording 100 points (51 goals, 49 assists) in just 62 games. He has quickly made a name for himself and has been considered by many in the industry to be the next big NHL superstar and is the consensus number one overall pick in next year’s NHL Entry Draft.
Bedard was arguably one of the best players throughout selection camp last December and didn’t disappoint with four goals and an assist in the only two games Canada played before the tournament was cancelled. At the time, he was just the seventh player in Canada’s history to compete as a 16-year-old and joined an elite list that includes Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Sidney Crosby, and Connor McDavid. He is truly a special player, and he will have a fantastic battle at the tournament against the likes of Slovakia’s Dalibor Dvorsky who is also a top prospect for the 2023 NHL Draft. Expect Bedard to once again be lights out when given the ice time.
Trust me when I say that the four aforementioned individuals will be front and centre when it comes to Canada’s success. They will be the core of a very offensive squad that should have little problem scoring. Their speed, creativity and leadership will be the driving force behind their chances to win gold and if you watch any of Canada’s games during the WJCs you’re going to hear an awful lot about these guys.
|Team Canada||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Switzerland||Players to Watch||Roster|
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Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.