Hockey Canada announced a list of 47 players expected to participate in a 51-day evaluation camp en route to the 2021 World Junior Championships in Edmonton. Canada will put its title defence on the line, playing in Group A alongside Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and Finland.
Canada will open the tournament on Dec. 26 against Germany, with the marquee preliminary round match-up against Finland on New Year’s eve.
At first glance, this roster is extremely deep. There are 26 first round picks and seven returnees from last year’s gold medal winning team. The list of 26 includes Kirby Dach, whom Hockey Canada learned it was getting on loan from the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.
One notable name not on the list was Alexis Lafreniere, the top pick by the New York Rangers in the 2020 draft. According to Hockey Canada president Tom Renney, talks are ongoing with Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton as to the participation of Lafreniere in either the camp or once Team Canada enters the bubble. We should know more in the next 10 days.
This camp will be challenging in that most of the players haven’t played a game since March. Nine players named to the camp from the QMJHL have played a varying number of games, as the only one of three CHL leagues currently on the ice.
In making things as safe as possible, each player and staff member will be tested for COVID-19 prior to leaving for camp, then tested regularly once camp begins. The evaluation camp will start on Nov. 16 in Red Deer, Alta. It is expected that the final roster of 25 players will enter the Edmonton bubble on Dec. 13.
The IIHF has made for an allowance of two extra players on the roster due to the pandemic. Canada will be allowed to carry 3 goalies and 22 skaters into the Edmonton bubble.
Discussion is ongoing with U Sports to play six exhibition games — with two pre-tournament games vs. Sweden and Russia — once Canada gets into the bubble.
Here’s a way-too-early-look at what Canada’s final roster might be (the “*” indicates a returnee from the 2020 team):
Synopsis: Goaltending is the biggest concern for this team. The position is wide open with no returnees from last year, as Joel Hofer, Nico Daws and Olivier Rodrigue have all aged-out.
Gauthier is the elder statesman of the group. He’s a right-catch tender who is extremely athletic and he’s a Hlinka-Gretzky gold medalist. If Gauthier can make the saves he’s supposed to make, he should be the starter. Garand has been brilliant for upstart Kamloops. He’s a monster competitor, who is technically sound. He is also very good at playing the puck. The third goalie is anyone’s guess. Lennox has the size, Brett Brochu has come out of nowhere and Devon Levi is extremely confident and has put up remarkable numbers at every level.
Synopsis: The defence corps provides a nice mix of experience, size and grit. Byram and Drysdale should anchor each of the top-two pairings, with both of them likely to see significant time on the power play.
Schneider, a Rangers’ first-rounder, was close to making it last year. He skates well, moves pucks efficiently and has great physical presence. The makeup of this group allows there to be a puck-mover paired with a complimentary or more of a stay-at-home type. O’Rourke, Guhle, and Korczak are all big and nasty, while Spence is a blend of Byram and Drysdale. This group is also split evenly between left and right shots.
TBD Alexis Lafreniere
Synopsis: The strength of this team is up front. If Dach plays and Lafreniere is added before the Dec. 13 cutoff date, Canada will possess the deepest group of forwards in the tournament.
There’s plenty of size down the middle with Dach, Byfield and Cozens. It will be a dogfight for the 4C position. Lafreniere would solidify the top left wing position, while an abundance of options remain, with many natural centres being forced to the wing.
McMichael snipes and Cozens can use his size and speed, while I expect big things from Byfield in an elevated role. Mercer can play anywhere in the lineup. The competition for forward spots will be intense.
Beckman led the WHL in scoring last season. Newhook was one of the best players at camp last year. Wright will not only have earned his way on the team, but he will be able to carry this experience forward. Pelletier is super slick and the long layoff has served him well. There will also be plenty of options for the power forward type in Greig, Holloway and Poulin.
Perfetti used last year’s snub as motivation and he’s poised to make the team this year. Goncalves had a breakout year in Everett last year, while Krebs spent time in the Vegas bubble. Tomasino has speed to burn and he’s a right shot.