If Canada’s selection camp roster for this year’s world junior championship is any indication, youth could be served this holiday season.
Hockey Canada announced the roster Monday and it features 16 forwards, 10 defencemen and four goalies all competing for a spot next week during a four-day camp in Oakville, Ont.
Among those coming to camp are eight draft-eligible players highlighted by left-winger Alexis Lafreniere, who had one goal in five games at last year’s tournament, and is the projected first-overall pick in 2020.
“We’ve tried to not just lock in on our 19-year-olds,” Hockey Canada head scout Brad McEwen said in a recent phone interview. “Some real good players as you saw in the Hlinka this summer. We’ve tried to keep an open mind.”
None of the other draft-eligible players are slouches, either.
Forwards Dylan Holloway, Quinton Byfield, Dawson Mercer, Cole Perfetti along with defencemen Jamie Drysdale and Braden Schneider and goaltender Nico Daws round out the other prospects looking to get their names called at next June’s draft in Montreal.
It’s also impressive that Byfield, Perfetti and Drysdale are all only 17-years-old — a rarity when it comes to the predominantly older-aged world junior rosters.
Byfield leads the group of 17-year-olds and has been an early candidate to overtake Lafreniere for the No. 1 spot at the 2020 draft. In 28 games so far this season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves, he has 20 goals and 30 assists — currently good for fourth in league scoring.
One element that could work in Byfield’s favour on a Canadian squad lauded by its officials for depth is his size at six-foot-four, 214 pounds.
Perfetti isn’t too far off — at least in scoring — by sitting in ninth place after putting up 13 goals and 29 assists in 26 games for the Saginaw Spirit.
Drysdale, meanwhile, has drawn rave reviews for his skating ability with the Erie Otters this year.
“We felt strongly that they were the best players,” McEwen said Monday. “Irrelevant of age, they’ve been good productive players through our POE (Program of Excellence), plus you look at what they’ve done with their club teams, what they’ve done in the first half and their resume is really good.”
When Canada opens play at the world juniors on Boxing Day against the United States in Ostrava, Czech Republic, it will very much be a new roster from last year. Only Lafreniere along with defencemen Ty Smith and Jared McIsaac played on the 2019 roster which lost to Finland in overtime during the quarterfinals.
Talent, however, won’t be a shortcoming with eight first-round draft picks from the 2019 draft being brought to camp, highlighted by Dylan Cozens (Buffalo) and Bowen Byram (Colorado). Four other players were selected in the first round of the 2018 draft.
The Canadians are also hoping to get back three NHLers including Noah Dobson (New York Islanders), Kirby Dach (Chicago) and Barrett Hayton (Arizona), as well as Joe Veleno (Detroit), who is currently with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins.
As for how many draft-eligible players make Canada’s final roster come the end of next week remains to be seen. But Mark Hunter, who’s with the team’s management group, said everybody has a chance to make it.
“It’s wide open,” he said. “We wouldn’t bring them (draft eligibles) if they weren’t. We believe they’ve got a chance to make it and it’s going to be a tense four or five days for all players.”