With the first leg of the CIBC CHL Canada-Russia series in the books, it’s time to look ahead to both the OHL and WHL portions of the event.
Early returns suggest that this will provide a wide-open audition at the goaltender and defence positions, as both the OHL and the WHL have an abundance of players who attended the Team Canada Summer Showcase — or who have excelled over the last year and a half with their respective teams — earning invitations to play in this event.
Here’s a list of 10 players to watch over the final two legs of the series.
Nolan Foote | Left Wing | Kelowna Rockets
Team Canada will be looking for goal scoring at the World Juniors and this Tampa Bay Lightning prospect should be able to provide some of it.
Fresh off an impressive performance for Canada at the Summer Showcase, this is a big year for the winger. Not only does he have the chance to play for Canada, but he will return to Kelowna and play on a Memorial Cup hosting team for the rest of the year — offering plenty of opportunity to seize the spotlight.
Foote exhibits some bite to his game, but even-strength point production will be key for his chances of getting a camp invite. His summer camp opened eyes and he can build on that resume in the two WHL games.
Ryan Merkley | Defence | London Knights
Since being drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2018, Merkley has been known as one of the most polarizing prospects in the game — in part due to his all-offence approach to manning the blue line that can sometimes lead to him being a defensive liability — and in part due to a few on-ice incidents he’s had, such as a retaliatory two-handed slash on Daniel Walker that led to a three-game suspension, that have brought his composure and coachability into question.
But after arriving in London via a trade from Peterborough in late September, he’s ripped it up, scoring twice and adding 14 assists in 12 games played so far this season.
This gifted, new-aged type defenceman can do things few others can. He doesn’t come without some concerns, but his talent may be too much to keep him from representing his country once again.
Cole Perfetti | Centre | Saginaw Spirit
To score 37 goals as a 16-year-old player is a massive accomplishment. Add eight more in the playoffs and eight more in a silver medal winning performance for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and you have a wonderful career-starting resume.
The fifth-overall pick from the 2018 OHL Priority selection hasn’t had the same goal-scoring prowess to date this season, but in 17 games so far for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, he’s still put up a highly respectable five goals and 24 assists.
Dylan Cozens | Centre/Right Wing | Lethbridge Hurricanes
Speed and size down the middle of the ice serve Cozens well. Taken seventh-overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL Draft, he impressed enough to earn an extended look with Buffalo at camp.
Cozens has experienced an uptick in goal-scoring as a result of shooting the puck 1.5 times more per game than he did a year ago. I thought he was knocking on the door last season, so if he can take the bull by the horns, he should make a legit run at a roster spot this season.
Quinton Byfield | Centre | Sudbury Wolves
The Mighty Q is deserving of all the hype that has surrounded him since being the first-overall pick by the Sudbury Wolves in the 2017 OHL Priority Draft.
Byfield had an amazing season as a 16-year-old, amassing 29 goals en route to a 61-point campaign. For most of this year, he’s led the OHL in scoring and has hovered around the two points per game mark for the first eight weeks of the season.
At six-foot-four, 214 pounds, Byfield provides the coveted size-down-the-middle asset desired by every team.
Ty Dellandrea | Fint Firebirds
Character alone would make him an easy selection for Dale Hunter, Canada’s head coach for the World Juniors, but there are more layers to this onion.
Not only will Dellandrea be able to play anywhere in the lineup, but he should be able to produce from anywhere as well, and give plenty of help short-handed.
Even-strength play is so important in today’s game, and Dellandrea has excelled in that area. Dating back to last season, 80 per cent of his points have been at even-strength or better. To this point in the season, he’s been deadly in the faceoff circle, winning at more than 60 per cent efficiency.
Jett Woo | Defence | Calgary Hitmen
Woo, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, was so disappointed by not making the team last year that he went back to Moose Jaw and had a brilliant second half of the season, amassing 52 points in 43 games from Dec. 1 through to the end of the campaign.
That day also marked the day the selection camp roster was announced and Woo wasn’t on it. This throwback defenceman has settled into his game, identified what will make him a pro and has focused on being a defensive guy first and a point producing guy second
Ty Smith | Defence | Spokane Chiefs
Smith earned an extended look two years ago with the New Jersey Devils, but there was little hesitation in sending him back to Spokane this year.
As mature as he is, he can’t help but feel disappointed and that should fuel his fire en route to the World Juniors.
Smith is one of three eligible returnees on the back-end who should wear a letter for Team Canada at the WJC. He’s an excellent skater, who possesses world-class character.
Connor McMichael | Centre | London Knights
McMichael was taken 25th-overall by the Washington Capitals in June’s NHL Draft, despite a slight production down-turn in the second-half that carried into the playoffs.
There’s been no such down-turn this season, as he continues to use his deceptive shot and release to trick goalies with 17 goals through 14 games.
McMichael will have a leg-up on the competition because he plays for Hunter during the regular season, but that alone won’t be enough to get him to selection camp. He’ll have to produce in this series and leading up to when the camp roster decision is made.
Bowen Byram | Defence | Vancouver Giants
A real opportunity exists on the back-end with Noah Dobson remaining in the NHL, playing for the New York Islanders, and the extent of Jared McIsaac’s participation still up in the air.
McIsaac, who underwent shoulder surgery in June and had a recovery time of five to six months, is expected to be healthy enough to play in time but the clock is ticking. Their diminished presence in the tournament presents a chance for Byram to shine.
Electric both on and off the ice, Byram’s passion and energy are infectious and he would be a great asset for Canada going overseas. Skating, rushing the puck, shooting and working the powerplay are all elements Byram excels at.