This year’s Team Canada roster at the World Championship could look very different. As COVID-19 continues to spread and with a shorter offseason, veteran NHLers may not want to participate in the tournament, which could open doors for players who normally would not be considered. We may see more European-based and younger players as Canada looks to build their team. Here are a few names Roberto Luongo and Team Canada management should consider.
The second overall pick from the 2020 NHL Entry Draft could find his way to Latvia this summer. The LA Kings and Ontario Reign (AHL) will likely both miss the playoffs, so Byfield should be available for the World Championships. Byfield, who has yet to make his NHL debut, has a long and successful history with Team Canada – winning a gold and silver medal at the World Junior Championship – that could help his case to be included on the roster. Now, it could be time to add a World Championship gold medal to his trophy case.
He had a decent first season in the AHL, with 20 points in 30 games, and ranks second on the team in points and eighth in the league for rookie scoring. He will do well in the NHL once he gets some experience playing against older and tougher competition, and this is a perfect opportunity, especially if Team Canada wants to use him in future tournaments. The Kings will also want Byfield in the tournament so he can continue to develop this season.
Knight was the Florida Panthers’ fifth-round pick in 2009. After bouncing between the NHL and AHL for a few seasons, he decided to pursue an opportunity in the KHL. After a successful season with Barys Nur-Sultan in 2019-20, Knight moved over to the powerhouse Avangard Omsk where he registered 40 points in 57 games this season.
Knight knows how to succeed against the top players in the KHL, which would be a major boost for Team Canada as they will see some of these players during the tournament. He is now playing for the league championship against CSKA Moskva, and he has averaged 21 minutes per game in the playoffs and recently had a three-point night to help tie the series at two games apiece. Knight is becoming a top player in the KHL as he tries to help Avangard win the Gagarin Cup for the first time.
Éric Gélinas was a second-round pick by the New Jersey Devils in 2009. He is now playing for Rögle BK, who are in the semi-finals of the SHL championship. The 6-foot-4 defenseman is having a great season, with 34 points in 46 games to finish fourth in points among defenseman.
Gélinas had some success playing parts of four seasons with the Devils, including a 60-game campaign in 2013-2014 when he registered 29 points. He would be a great addition to Team Canada as he knows how to defend on the larger ice surface, and he has provided Rögle BK with solid second-pairing minutes all season and has been a key part of their playoff run. The one-time Memorial Cup champion would provide solid depth at the World Championship.
Garteig was a star in the BCHL and NCAA before he made his way to Germany this season where he is now the starting goaltender for ERC Ingolstadt of the DEL who are in the semi-finals of the playoffs. He had a .902 save percentage (SV%) during the regular season which has improved to .927 SV% in the playoffs.
Garteig could be Team Canada’s third goaltender. He has a winning pedigree as a BCHL champion and an ECHL champion, and his solid play early in his career led to a contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Although his time in North America did not go as planned, he has established himself as a solid goaltender in Europe. He even helped his team pull off an upset in the first round of the playoffs this season. This would be a great opportunity for Garteig, who is proving he can lead a team throughout a tournament.
Audette is playing for Lukko in the Finnish Liiga. Audette, who was a fifth-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens in 2014, has found his stride and helped Lukko make the semi-finals. He also has experience with Team Canada, after playing in the U-18 and Hlinka Memorial tournament in 2014. He understands how the team operates and could provide solid fourth-line minutes on the team this year.
Audette had a great season, finishing with 50 points in 60 games to rank second in the league, and he helped Lukko finish first in the league. He is a smaller player with good speed and the ability to find open teammates. He understands how to play on the larger ice surface and could bring some depth scoring to the World Championship tournament.
DiDomenico has spent the last three seasons in the National League, the top Swiss league, playing for HC Fribourg-Gottéron. Drafted in the seventh round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2007, he has spent most of his career in Switzerland and is coming off a season where he scored 46 points in 48 games.
DiDomenico also has experience playing for Team Canada. He played in the 2009 World Juniors and put up seven points in six games to help his team win gold in front of a home crowd in Ottawa. He also played in the Spengler Cup, where he helped Canada capture three championships. DiDomenico has blossomed into a top-line forward who can contribute consistently. He has that winning pedigree with Team Canada and could help round out their bottom-six.
Junior players don’t usually make Team Canada but Nielsen could be the exception. The 21-year-old is playing for the Vancouver Giants and dominating the WHL. He has 22 points in 14 games and is drawing a lot of interest from NHL teams as he looks to sign a contract (from ‘Tristen Nielsen pledges to avoid hype and hoopla after hot start with Vancouver Giants,’ The Province, 04/01/2021). This could be the perfect opportunity for Nielsen to prove he can play against tougher competition and make the transition to the pros next season.
Nielsen is a long shot to be considered, but he should not be written off. Not only is he among the league’s best in points per game, but he is also a vital part of the Giants’ penalty kill, which ranks second in the league. Nielsen is a big part of his team’s success and he has played alongside Panthers draft pick Justin Sourdif all season. Florida selected Sourdif in 2020, so this may be a chance for Luongo to see if Nielsen is a good fit for the Panthers.
We are still unsure of who will be available and who will want to play for Team Canada at this year’s World Championship. With so much uncertainty, Canada may be forced to consider players outside of the NHL to fill out their roster. It is going to be a tough job for management, but any of the seven players mentioned above would be s great addition to a team looking to reclaim gold after their loss to Finland in the final in 2019.
Adam is excited to be joining The Hockey Writers as part of the Seattle Kraken and Vancouver Canucks team. His work can also be found at area51sportsnet.com where he covers the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.