It’s that time of year!
With the holiday season quickly approaching, Team Canada’s U20 Men’s National Hockey Team is gearing up for its World Junior Championship selection camp. Players from across North America, who have been playing in the Canadian Hockey League and NCAA, arrive in Oakville, Ont., this weekend for a four-day camp that runs from December 10–13.
Team Canada is coming off an electrifying performance last year, in Halifax and Moncton. The defending gold medal champions won’t have Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli on their roster this time around, but they will ice a worthy group of prospects who could challenge for another championship.
Ahead of the selection camp, here are some players I’m keeping close tabs on:
Top rated prospect
Six-foot, 190 pounds; left/forward
Boston University (Hockey East – NCAA)
Team Canada will, again, have the No. 1 eligible prospect for next year’s entry draft on its roster. It would be shocking to me if Celebrini is not part of the Canadian team that breaks camp and heads overseas next week.
Celebrini is playing for Boston University. He’s a dynamic talent. Celebrini is equally comfortable attacking off the rush, or setting up on the weak-side flank as a shooter on the power play. His three-zone effort and attention to detail provides coaches even more confidence when they task him with hard matchups, defensively and offensively.
At the U18 World Championship last spring in Switzerland, Celebrini was one of Team Canada’s top players. He scored six goals and picked up nine assists in seven games, in addition to finishing the tournament plus-11.
Here’s a look at Celebrini’s stats so far this season:
Power forward / scorer
Six-foot-three, 190 pounds; right/forward
University of Connecticut (Hockey East – NCAA)
Nashville Predators: First round (15th overall) 2023
Another player developing at the college level. Wood leans power forward/goal scorer. He’s a big body who does his best work below the hash marks in the offensive zone. He’s difficult to defend and contain around the net. Wood has a fantastic catch and release; pucks are on and off his stick quickly and accurately. He will likely end up with a role on one of Team Canada’s power-play units if he makes the team.
Wood isn’t a massive threat off the rush, but he sees the ice and how plays are developing — with and without the puck on his stick.
Here’s an example of Wood leading the rush at the college level. Notice him taking stock of his options in transition. He absorbs contact, and attracts two checkers in the offensive zone, as he chips the puck deep. He then finds quiet ice before the play ends up on his stick. The result speaks for itself.
Wood won’t push the play in open ice, but his catch/release/score ability provides exceptional value and could lead to timely goals for Team Canada.
Five-foot-11, 192 pounds; left/defence
Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Columbus Blue Jackets: First round (12th overall) 2022
Five-foot-nine, 174 pounds; right/forward
Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Columbus Blue Jackets: Third round (96th overall) 2022
There’s a good chance both Denton Mateychuk and Jordan Dumais end up pulling on a Team Canada jersey over the holidays.
Mateychuk is a two-way/transitional defenceman who can match up defensively versus middle-six forwards as well as quarterback one of Team Canada’s power-play units. He was selected in the first round (12th overall) by Columbus in 2022. The Moose Jaw Warriors Captain is used in all situations. He’s produced six goals and 28 points so far this season in the WHL.
Dumais is an offensive dynamo who is producing at a ridiculous rate (16 goals, 47 points in 21 games) in the QMJHL for the Halifax Mooseheads.
Perhaps Mateychuk and Dumais will find some synergy working together for Team Canada the way they did in this clip from their pre-season game versus Pittsburgh.
There are some subtle plays being made in this highlight, starting with Mateychuk identifying back side pressure in the neutral zone, protecting the puck with his right leg and reach, and making a solid outlet to start the offensive zone entry at 3vs3.
What you see from Dumais is the kind of finish, off a scoring chance, that Team Canada would expect if Dumais makes the club. He’s a gifted scorer.
Goaltending to Gold
Teams, at any level, have zero chance of success without elite goaltending. Last year, Thomas Milic led Team Canada to a gold medal. He posted a 5-0 record, supported by a 1.76 GAA and .932 save percentage.
This year, Team Canada has four goalies invited to camp in Oakville. Two goalies from the QMJHL, one from the OHL, and one from the WHL.
With the tournament being played in Europe, Team Canada will almost certainly bring three goalies to the event in case one where to go down with injury or illness.
Here’s a scouting report on each one of the goalies attending camp:
Six-foot-three, 200 pounds; catches left
North Bay Battalion (OHL)
Winnipeg Jets: Seventh round (207th) 2022
The first thing that stands out with DiVincentiis, compared to the other goalies on the roster, is his stature. He’s the tallest goalie in camp. DiVincentiis plays a butterfly style. His deep knee bend, whenin his stance, makes him look smaller than his list size. He has very good feet. His lateral push is timely. When he reads the play developing in front of him, he has the athleticism to move side to side to make big saves. He arguably has the best catching hand out of the goalies at this camp.
Areas of concern, at times, include his crease composure and rebound control.
DiVincentiis is aggressive in challenging the play around his net. It’s not a poor habit, but he does get leaning forward in his butterfly at times, resulting in some scramble scenarios.
His rebound control also ranges. Second chances to score can make for long nights at big events like the WJC.
DiVincentiis is the reigning OHL goalie of the year. He posted a 2.33 GAA and .919 save percentage last season. So far this year, his GAA is 3.75 and his save percentage is .876.
Six-foot, 175 pounds; catches left
Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Buffalo Sabres: Fifth round (141st) 2023
Ratzlaff isn’t tall in his net, but he has a stocky look about him. He’s the kind of goalie who needs to play between his posts. He can’t afford to get caught wandering off his angles, or over play a scenario on one side of the ice that could result in him arriving late when the play switches sides.
Ratzlaff is a butterfly goalie who fronts the shooter well and generally absorbs pucks from distance. He has good hands. Both gloves are above average. Pucks seem to find him through traffic due to his, mostly sound, positioning and tracking.
Ratzlaff isn’t wiry or super athletic. He isn’t the kind of goalie who will scramble around to make a ton of desperation saves. He performs best when things are structured in front of him.
So far this season, Ratzlaff has posted a 3.13 GAA and .894 save percentage.
Five-foot-11, 172 pounds; catches left
Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Rousseau is tending net for one of the top CHL teams, in Halifax. He’s draft eligible and currently sits third, all time, in career wins by a Mooseheads goalie. He attended Columbus Blue Jackets development camp in the summer as a post-draft invite.
Rousseau has shown he is capable of coming up with timely saves for Halifax. It’s one thing to be playing behind a very good team. It’s another to be recognized as part of the reason the group escapes with victories on any given night.
Rousseau isn’t big in the net. He’s a compact, butterfly/athletic goalie who is full of battle. He has great feet. He shuffles and pushes laterally very well. First stops aren’t an issue for Rousseau. When he’s down and out, despite his athletic ability and battle, he gives away more net than most goalies due to his stature.
One of the coolest moments of the CHL season occurred in a Mooseheads game this year when Rousseau scored a goalie goal.
Rousseau has fantastic statistics. He’s posted a 2.07 GAA and .934 save percentage so far this season.
Six-foot-two, 184 pounds; catches left
Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
The most interesting goalie at camp has to be St-Hilaire. Every goalie matures at their own pace. A cookie-cutter development path doesn’t exist with netminders.
St-Hilaire has just over one year experience at the QMJHL level as a starter. He played 29 games last season and posted an impressive 2.30 GAA and .903 save percentage. He’s carried over momentum to this season, and gone to another level with his 2.07 GAA and .928 save percentage.
St-Hilaire brings an interesting combination of size and crease presence. He plays a butterfly/hybrid style. When rebounds pop off him, he has the quickness and lateral push to stretch to make stops. His size is a plus when he’s positioned responsibly in his crease and playing between the posts. He’s competitive and on the rise overall.
St-Hilaire could be a sleeper pick to be named to Team Canada. He attended the Toronto Maple Leafs’ summer development camp as an undrafted invitee. St-Hilaire’s head coach in Sherbrooke, Gilles Bouchard, will be an assistant coach for Team Canada. Nothing is given at these camps, but obviously Bouchard can offer valuable information and context if St-Hilaire stands out.