A year like no other will end with a world junior tournament like no other when 10 teams descend on Edmonton for the annual Christmas festivities in an empty Rogers Place arena.
As defending champions, Canada enters the tournament as a favourite but with a majority of leagues still paused due to the pandemic — and the QMJHL re-paused after a restart that featured plenty of COVID-19 induced issues — it’s impossible to know how this group of players will perform.
Add in the fact that Hockey Canada’s selection camp was derailed by a two-week COVID-19 quarantine, and this version of Team Canada might be the most mysterious one in a long time.
Canada opens the tournament on Boxing Day against Germany. Before the puck drops, get to know the roster better with a note on each player.
Dylan Garand, Kamloops Blazers, WHL
Drafted: Fourth round, 103rd overall by Rangers in 2020
Garand, 18, is the youngest goalie on the Canadian roster, but don’t hold that against him. Last season he was one of the top goalies in the WHL, backstopping the Kamloops Blazers to a division title before the pandemic halted play in March.
The Victoria, B.C., native appeared in 42 games for the Blazers last season, posting a .921 save percentage and four shutouts, both top five among all WHL goaltenders.
Taylor Gauthier, Prince George Cougars, WHL
The only undrafted player on the roster, Gauthier has been passed over twice in the NHL Draft and enters this tournament with a chip on his shoulder. Last year, Nico Daws made the team in a similar situation and turned that success, along with strong league play, into becoming a third-round draft pick this October.
While the WHL isn’t sure when it will resume, Gauthier has a chance to show scouts what they’ve missed in this tournament.
“I hope people see that I might have gotten passed over, but I still personally think I’m one of the best goalies in Canada,” Gauthier told The Hockey News at the start of Canada’s camp. “Whether or not I get drafted, I don’t think that defines who I am as a person and a goalie. I think I can still stop the puck pretty well and if I get the chance to wear the maple leaf on Boxing Day, I can give the team just as good of a chance as if anyone else was in net.”
Of the three goalies, he has the most experience with the national team, having represented Canada at both the U17 and U18 levels.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) November 23, 2020
Devon Levi, Northeastern University Huskies, Hockey East
Drafted: Seventh round, 212th overall by Panthers in 2020
Levi was forced to miss the beginning of camp while he quarantined after crossing the Canada-U.S. border and he wasn’t invited to this summer’s virtual training camp, but he’s shown enough throughout his young career to impress the coaches and earn a spot on the team.
By committing to Northeastern, Levi didn’t play in the OHL and instead dominated the CCHL’s Carleton Place Canadians in his draft year, posting an incredible 34-2-1 record, 1.47 goals-against average and .941 save percentage to win league MVP. He then backstopped Canada East to a silver medal at the World Jr. A Challenge, making 36 saves in a double-OT loss to Russia in the final.
Justin Barron, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL
Drafted: First round, 25th overall by Avalanche in 2020
The Avalanche have three first-round picks on this team and Barron might be the most interesting. The right-shot Halifax native missed a significant amount of time last season with blood clots which likely led to him falling to the bottom of the first round of the draft. Now healthy, Barron has the talent to be a key contributor for Canada.
“Justin is strong, a really good skater, moves the puck well, has a lot of poise and defends well,” Canada’s head coach Andre Tourigny said of the Mooseheads captain. “He brings that strength on the back end and that stability.”
Barron isn’t known for his offensive game, although he did score three goals in four intrasquad scrimmages during Canada’s camp. Instead, he’ll be a reliable player in the defensive end and on the penalty kill.
Bowen Byram, Vancouver Giants, WHL, Returning
Drafted: First round, fourth overall by Avalanche in 2019
The reward from the Ottawa Senators for trading Matt Duchene, Byram will soon join Sam Girard and Calder Trophy winner Cale Makar to form one of the best blue lines in the NHL. But before he does that, he’s going to play a ton of minutes in all situations for Canada.
Byram returns to Team Canada after a solid tournament last year but this time will no doubt be the No. 1 guy on the blue line. That includes his role off the ice, where Hockey Canada has already shown it trusts him by assigning him to be roommates with 16-year-old phenom Shane Wright during camp.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Byram is going to wear a letter for Canada here,” Sportsnet’s junior hockey insider Sam Cosentino said earlier in camp. “You talk about the experience of a guy who defends well, who really is an offensive dynamo and a guy who just exudes that leadership quality.”
This week, Byram was given an ‘A’ by the team.
Jamie Drysdale, Erie Otters, OHL, Returning
Drafted: First round, sixth overall by Ducks in 2020
The other defenceman returning from last year’s team, Drysdale is still only 18 but brings a ton of experience. A right-shot, he complements Byram’s left-shot and the two could very well form the top pairing to start the tournament.
Drysdale’s strength is his passing and skating, which could lead to him getting some time on the top power play. He had 47 points in 49 OHL games last year before the pause, including 38 assists, which is fitting since he models his game after Morgan Rielly and Cale Makar.
It’s too early to say whether Drysdale will head to Erie or Anaheim after the tournament, but an impressive showing in Edmonton could fast track him to the NHL.
Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL
Drafted: First round, 16th overall by Canadiens in 2020
Guhle is expected to start the tournament alongside Barron as Canada’s shutdown pairing. At six-foot-three, Guhle likes to use his size to his advantage and isn’t afraid of the rougher parts of the game.
“I think I’m a very physical, very good-skating two-way defenceman,” Guhle told Montreal reporters after October’s draft. “I like to be hard on other team’s best players. I like to make a good first pass, jump into the rush, use my skating to my advantage. Definitely like to be very physical on the ice. So I’d say a very good two-way defenceman, very physical, very good-skating player.”
While his strength is on the defensive side of the puck, Guhle still had 11 goals and 40 points in the WHL last season.
Thomas Harley, Mississauga Steelheads, OHL
Drafted: First round, 18th overall by Stars in 2019
Harley is one of seven players who made the cut this time after failing to do so last year. Now, he should slot in on the second pair and give Canada a secondary scoring threat from the blue line.
The 19-year-old got a taste of NHL action this summer when he appeared in one round-robin game for the Stars, skating just under 11 minutes and blocking one shot in a loss to the Avalanche. But while he didn’t see much game action, he did get to practice with the team as a black ace on their run to the Stanley Cup Final and should get every chance to make the Stars lineup after the tournament.
Kaedan Korczak, Kelowna Rockets, WHL
Drafted: Second round, 41st overall by Golden Knights in 2019
One of only two skaters on this team not drafted in the first round, Korczak is part of an already deep blue line prospect pool in the Golden Knights organization.
At six-foot-four, he’s tied with Harley as the tallest on the blue line, and can use his size to his advantage. But last season with the Rockets, Korczak took a big leap offensively.
In 60 games last year he had 11 goals and 49 points, after only scoring seven goals and 49 points in his previous two WHL campaigns combined. On top of that, he only took 27 penalty minutes, impressive discipline for a defenceman.
While Korczak will be lower on the depth chart for Canada to start the tournament, he offers a variety of skills for any situation if he’s called into action.
Braden Schneider, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
Drafted: First round, 19th overall by Rangers in 2020
Schneider models his game after Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo and it’s easy to see why. All three are big, right-shot blue liners who can play in any role assigned to them.
The Prince Albert, Sask., native can throw big hits and impose his will on a game, making him the perfect complement to Harley on the second pairing. Schneider is no slouch offensively either, scoring seven goals and 42 points in 60 games last season, as he put extra focus on his play with the puck.
Jordan Spence, Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL
Drafted: Fourth round, 95th overall by Kings in 2019
Spence’s journey to the national team took him all around the globe. Originally born in Australia, he grew up in Japan until his family moved to Prince Edward Island when he was 13. Now 19, the dual-Canadian and Japanese citizen will get his chance to live out a childhood dream.
“When I was young, and when I was in Japan, I would watch (the world juniors) with my dad,” Spence told The Journal Pioneer. “It’s every player’s dream to play in the world juniors and it was one of my dreams, too.”
Spence is the reigning QMJHL defenceman of the year after posting 52 points in 60 games last season and he’s kept that play up so far this year. In 13 QMJHL games before reporting to camp, Spence has 16 points including a hat trick in an October win over Acadie-Bathurst.
Quinton Byfield, Sudbury Wolves, OHL, Returning
Drafted: First round, second overall by Kings in 2020
Canada’s centre depth at this year’s tournament is very impressive, so it’s possible that Byfield or Kirby Dach moves over to right wing to form a stacked line up front next to Dylan Cozens and Connor McMichael.
The No. 2 pick in October’s NHL Draft, Byfield is looking to bounce back after what was generally viewed as a disappointing tournament last year. Now one year older and experienced, he’s expected to play a big role this time around… literally. At six-foot-four and 221 pounds, he’s the largest forward on this year’s roster, so he will be leaned on heavily to battle for pucks and drive play to the net in the offensive zone.
Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge Hurricanes, WHL, Returning
Drafted: First round, seventh overall by Sabres in 2019
Cozens made history in 2019 when he became the highest-drafted player from the Yukon. A tall centre with a long reach, he could slot in the middle or on the wing of the first line alongside two of Dach, Byfield or McMichael.
The 19-year-old lit up the WHL last season, scoring 38 goals and 85 points in just 51 games, holding the third-highest points per game rate in the league. At last year’s world juniors, he tied for seventh in tournament scoring with nine points, including netting Canada’s first goal in their 4-3 win over Russia in the gold medal game.
There’s a good chance Cozens will head straight to Sabres camp from the tournament and could see time in the NHL shortly after. In fact, before Canada’s camp, he was in London, Ont., skating with a group of NHLers that included Bo Horvat and Travis Konecny in anticipation of jumping to the NHL.
Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks, NHL
Drafted: First round, third overall by Blackhawks in 2019
Dach missed the chance to play in the world juniors last year because he was living the dream in the NHL. Now, because of the pandemic, he will get to live out another dream.
“I feel like this is a good way for me to get my feet wet before the season starts back up in the NHL,” he told The Athletic.
The Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., native had a respectable 23 points in his 64-game rookie season but his coming out party happened during this summer’s playoffs. Dach had five points in nine games in the NHL bubble as the Blackhawks upset the Oilers before bowing out to the Golden Knights.
His play picked right back up during Canada’s selection camp, where he led all skaters with seven points in four intrasquad games. A six-foot-four power forward, Dach will anchor Canada’s top line in the tournament either as a centre or on right wing, and could potentially be named captain.
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) November 18, 2020
Dylan Holloway, University of Wisconsin Badgers, Big Ten
Drafted: First round, 14th overall by Oilers in 2020
Holloway is a power forward who always knows which play to make to help his team get the puck back.
The 19-year-old grew up just outside of Calgary, but now bleeds Oilers blue after being selected by the provincial rival in the NHL Draft earlier this year. This tournament will give him a chance to play at his future home rink for the first time.
As one of the youngest players in the NCAA last season, he had 17 points in 35 games. But in his two games for the Badgers this season before leaving for Canada’s camp, he had two goals, including this impressive one against Notre Dame.
While Holloway’s offensive potential has yet to be tapped, he won’t need to play that part on this team. Instead, he will slot in the bottom half of the lineup, potentially with Alex Newhook and Jakob Pelletier, to check other team’s top players and kill penalties.
Peyton Krebs, Winnipeg Ice, WHL
Drafted: First round, 17th overall by Golden Knights in 2019
Krebs has experienced a lot in his short hockey career. Just weeks before the 2019 draft, where he was challenging for a spot in the top 10 picks, he suffered an Achilles tendon injury in off-season training. That injury likely contributed to him falling to the Golden Knights at pick 17, and other teams might regret passing up on this high-skill scorer.
When he did return to the Ice lineup in late November, his offence found another gear and he finished the 2019-20 campaign with 60 points in just 38 games.
Krebs was with the Golden Knights as a black ace during the summer playoffs. While he didn’t get into a game, it won’t be long until he becomes a regular in the NHL.
Connor McMichael, London Knights, OHL, Returning
Drafted: First round, 25th overall by Capitals in 2019
McMichael returns to Canada poised to become a fan favourite on the top line. A pesky power forward, who plays bigger than his six-foot frame, he could fill a Brad Marchand-esque role alongside Dach, Cozens or Byfield in the tournament.
The London Knights captain had 102 points in just 52 OHL games last season — third highest in the entire league — and added another seven points, including five goals, in last year’s world juniors.
He got a taste of the NHL as a black ace this summer with the Capitals but he didn’t get into a game in the Toronto bubble. He’s not eligible to play in the AHL yet, but it’s clear he’s far too talented to be sent back to junior after the tournament.
Dawson Mercer, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL, Returning
Drafted: First round, 18th overall by Devils in 2020
Mercer was a surprise addition to last year’s squad as one of four draft-eligible players. But while Lafreniere, Byfield and Drysdale all had high-pedigree, Mercer earned his spot with a strong work ethic and bubbly personality.
Now a year older, the Bay Roberts, N.L., native is back and should play a larger role on Canada’s third line. Mercer can score — he had 60 points in 42 QMJHL games last season — but he prides himself on being a more well-rounded player. As a mid-sized, right-shot centre from Atlantic Canada, he models his game after Patrice Bergeron’s ability to fill any role.
“When you keep going to higher levels, there’s only a little difference between each player and you want to be on the right side of that,” Mercer said in a pre-draft interview with NHL.com. “I feel like these little qualities I have will give me the extra boost, whether it’s having a positive attitude, giving 100 per cent and not taking a shift off, being hard on your checks. All those little things matter and I take pride in doing those things well.”
Alex Newhook, Boston College Eagles, Hockey East
Drafted: First round, 16th overall by Avalanche in 2019
Newhook joins Team Canada as one of seven players who missed the cut last year. A small, speedy forward, he will bring an offensive element to the bottom six of the lineup.
As a freshman at Boston College last season, Newhook tied for the team’s goal-scoring lead with 19 and overall-scoring lead with 42 points. He was back in Boston getting ready for his second college campaign before being summoned to Canada’s camp, but he has yet to play a game this season.
Newhook grew up in St. John’s, N.L., making this is the first time in nearly 30 years that two Newfoundland-born players will represent Canada on the same roster.
Jakob Pelletier, Val-d’Or Foreurs, QMJHL
Drafted: First round, 26th overall by Flames in 2019
Pelletier is one of two Flames first-rounders on Canada’s roster and one of the few forwards on this team who has been able to play games this season.
The former Moncton Wildcats captain has lit up the QMJHL the past two seasons, scoring a combined 71 goals and 171 points in 122 games. He was traded to the Foreurs in an off-season blockbuster and has just kept scoring, with 13 points in nine games before reporting to Canada’s camp.
Like Newhook, Pelletier isn’t big at only five-foot-10, but he still plays hard on the forecheck and is a smart puck carrier. The two, along with Holloway, could form a high-skilled but trustworthy bottom-six line.
Cole Perfetti, Saginaw Spirit, OHL
Drafted: First round, 10th overall by Jets in 2020
Perfetti is a high-skilled forward who, as the cliché goes, sometimes seems to have the puck on a string. He’s one of a group of players who will be fighting for an offensive wing role in the middle of the lineup.
The 18-year-old’s strengths come from his hockey IQ and his ability to read plays. No player on Canada’s roster had more points than the 111 Perfetti had in the OHL last season for a Spirit team that was building up for a deep playoff run before the pandemic hit.
“To me, his player comparable is Nikita Kucherov,” his OHL coach, Chris Lazary, said in a pre-draft interview with Sportsnet’s Sonny Sachdeva. That’s pretty impressive company.
Jack Quinn, Ottawa 67’s, OHL
Drafted: First round, eighth overall by Sabres in 2020
Quinn is the only skater on Canada’s roster who was not invited to the virtual summer camp, which is a testament to Canada’s depth more than Quinn’s abilities. The 19-year-old had 52 goals last season in the OHL, the most of any player on this roster.
Naturally, to put up that many goals, Quinn’s strength on the right wing is his release, which can find the net from anywhere. And while he’s comfortable playing the perimeter as a shooter, his six-foot-one frame allows him to muscle into the slot for scoring chances closer to the net, too.
Ryan Suzuki, Saginaw Spirit, OHL
Drafted: First round, 28th overall by Hurricanes in 2019
Suzuki is the younger brother of Montreal Canadiens star Nick Suzuki and the two play similar styles as high-skilled centres with excellent offensive instincts.
The younger Suzuki’s hockey career almost ended in 2019 when a high-stick caused him to lose part of his vision in his right eye. Luckily, he didn’t lose full use of his eye and was able to return to the ice after two months of rehab. He finished the season wearing a full face cage and was still able to score 58 points in 44 games.
“It was super scary, just mentally. It was tough. My whole body was fine, I just couldn’t see,” Suzuki said in an interview with The Athletic. “When you’re trying to go to sleep at night, you think about everything. About my career. About if I was going to see again.”
Philip Tomasino, Oshawa Generals, OHL
Drafted: First round, 24th overall by Predators in 2019
Tomasino may be the fastest skater on Canada’s roster and his great first-step will make him a useful offensive player in the top six.
He was acquired by the Generals at last season’s OHL trade deadline for a prospect and nine draft picks, including six second-round picks. While that seems like a steep price, Tomasino met the challenge, scoring 18 goals and 43 points in just 26 games with Oshawa before the pandemic wiped out the chance to go on a long playoff run.
Tomasino is ready for the next level and could earn a spot on the Predators roster as early as this season. A strong performance at the world juniors would just be a cherry on top of a great junior hockey career.
“I believe I’m ready. I feel like I can play in the NHL,” Tomasino said recently in an interview with The Athletic. “I’m not scared to say it.”
I saw the little pirouette of a man
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) November 23, 2020
Connor Zary, Kamloops Blazers, WHL
Drafted: First round, 24th overall by Flames in 2020
Zary was part of one of the most dominant lines in junior hockey last season, with his elite shot playing a large part in that production. As the centre on a line with Zane Franklin and Orrin Centazzo, Zary was fifth in WHL scoring with 37 goals and 86 points while the trio combined for 258 points.
The 19-year-old is the type of player who does everything well, making him a versatile option for any line on Team Canada. Whether it’s a quick goal, an important face off or strong defensive minutes, Zary can fill any role a coach asks of him.