Team Canada WJC scouting report: Sam Cosentino analyzes the roster

Alexis Lafreniere, just 17 years old, talks about how Tim Hunter and the team broke the news to him that he’s made Team Canada, and his excitement to prove they made the right choice.

Heading into the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship in Victoria and Vancouver, the Canadian team will be looking to repeat as gold medal winners for the first time since they won five times in a row from 2005-2009. Canada has medalled in three of the past four tournaments and in every year when the WJC has been hosted on home soil, the Red and White has come away with a medal.

With one injury decision yet to be made, this year’s roster is nearly complete.

But with very few returning players from the 2018 tournament, just how does this year’s team shape up? Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino gives an in-depth scouting report on the Canadian roster from each position.

GOALIES

Michael DiPietro was expected to be the starter for this team dating back to last April when Hockey Canada asked him to head overseas and experience the men’s World Championship. DiPietro, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, has quite the resume having won the Memorial Cup and being named the tournament’s top goalie with Windsor in 2017. DiPietro experienced the bitterness of being cut from last year’s WJC team and should thrive on the big stage.

Should he fail, Prince Albert’s Ian Scott should be more than capable of handling back-up duties. He’s put up the best numbers of any CHL goalie this season (23-2-0-0, 1.61 GAA, .943 SP, 4SO). The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect will go into the world juniors with a clear mind, having just signed his entry-level deal.

DEFENCE

This group is balanced, but does lean a little on the young side. The veterans are steady, but it’s those younger players who should bring more of a dynamic element.

Montreal prospect Josh Brook plays for Tim Hunter in Moose Jaw and shortly after the CIBC Canada-Russia series, Hunter sat Brook down to get his game back on track. He’s improved markedly on the defensive side and his skating can pace the offence. Brook has the ability to play both sides as a right shot as well.

Ian Mitchell is a Chicago second-rounder who plays at the University of Denver and adds skill as a right shot.

L.A. Kings prospect Markus Phillips has been a Team Canada favourite, having gone right up through the Program of Excellence. He’s not flashy, but does his job, and will likely play as a No. 6-7.

The youth makes this group exciting as Edmonton prospect Evan Bouchard is a late-’99 birthday, another right shot, and started the season by playing in seven NHL games. He thinks the game well, has a bomb of a shot and a unique ability to get that shot through.

Spokane Chiefs defenceman and New Jersey Devils prospect Ty Smith should thrive in an environment where his minutes will be tamed from what he’s seen in the regular season. He’s an excellent skater and constantly adjusts his game to get better.

Detroit second-rounder Jared McIsaac has taken to heart what the Red Wings are preaching. They’ve toned his game down and given him an identity where taking care of his own end and moving pucks efficiently are the two key elements.

Noah Dobson fell to the Islanders at pick 12 this past June and has the potential to be a top-pair player who can do everything at both ends. He’s a future NHL star.

CENTRES

Cody Glass just looks like a more confident guy — he’s come out of his shell and will be a leader for this group. He’s in tremendous shape after spending last summer training like a mad man. He’s up over two points per game with Portland (54 in 26 games) and should be a go-to guy for Canada.

Barrett Hayton is a two-way player whose skill is really starting to emerge. Arizona jumped to take him fifth overall in June and he’s shrugged off an early-season injury to help Sault Ste. Marie get back to the top of the OHL’s western division.

Nick Suzuki has taken his trade from Vegas to Montreal in stride. He makes plays and is a dual threat with excellent sniping ability.

Jack Studnicka, a Boston pick who plays with OHL Oshawa, elevated his game in camp the same way he did in Boston’s camp. At his best he’s good on the forecheck, reliable in his own end and can produce at second- or third-line levels.

WINGERS

Anaheim prospect Max Comtois is a returning player and can set the tone with his speed and skill. He should epitomize the way coach Hunter wants to play.

Mississauga’s Owen Tippett is a Florida prospect. While his all-around game has improved, he’s best known for his sniping abilities.

Jaret-Anderson Dolan has worked extremely hard to come back from a broken wrist and should be ready just in the nick of time.

Brett Leason is also banged up with a bad hand, but unless it’s completely unusable he’ll continue to write the next chapter in the best individual story in the CHL.

Shane Bowers is a Colorado prospect acquired through the Matt Duchene deal. He’s the epitome of a two-way centre who can play in any situation and brings a pro-style game.

Sault Greyhound Morgan Frost is a playmaker extraordinaire. He can slice, dice and dish. He can create gap with good acceleration and edge work. Whenever he’s been asked to produce, he’s answered the call.

Alexis Lafreniere won’t dazzle to the level you would expect for a player with the hype that surrounds him. He will, however, play a very mature game and will benefit by playing with such high-end players. He won’t start in an elevated role, but if he can capitalize on low minutes early in the tournament, he may play a key role when it counts most.

MacKenzie Entwistle is a tireless worker, with good size and skating ability. The Hamilton Bulldog, who signed his ELC with Chicago over the summer, can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s used to playing with super-skilled players and has no issue deferring to them — in-fact he thrives on it. He is highly effective on the PK.

Joe Veleno, a Detroit first-rounder who plays in Drummondville, is at his best when he plays with a physical element. It’s not what you would expect from an exceptional player, but it’s true. When he uses his big frame and skating ability to create havoc on the forecheck he finishes plays in the offensive zone with deft skill. He should follow the path of Max Comtois from last year’s WJC team.

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