Only 3 things are certain in life. . . death, taxes, and the fact that I'll be sitting on my couch watching Team Canada in the World Junior Championships every Winter.
As we quickly head towards the end of 2019, it's about time we all get ready to let a group of 17-19 year olds toy with all of our emotions.
Now, let's be honest with each other. Every year, Team Canada is a contender. We are the most prized nation in Hockey History, and despite a little bit of a skid in recent years, there's no reason we shouldn't be a contender this year.
Following a disappointing 6th place finish with a quarterfinals overtime loss to Finland last year, Dale Hunter has been hired as the man at the helm for the 2020 World Juniors.
Hunter, the long time coach of the OHL powerhouse London Knights, and brief coach of the 2011-2012 Washington Capitals, will be tasked with selecting Canada's All-Star squad, and believe me, he has no shortage of stars to choose from this year.
Now, before you read this list and bash me in the comments, here's a few things to keep in mind. Following the list, I will break down each player and my rationale for having them on my projected squad.
1. Barrett Hayton, Kirby Dach, and Noah Dobson are currently in the NHL. Should their teams desire, they could be made available for the tournament, and they would all be virtual locks if they are made available. In all likelihood though, none of them will be tagging along. If anyone, I could maybe see the Arizona Coyotes allowing Barrett Hayton to go play, and send him down to the OHL after. He has only cracked the Coyotes lineup a handful of times this season, and because of the NHL's dumb rules, he isn't eligible to go play in the AHL.
2. Injuries happen. We pray it doesn't happen, but we all know how frequent injuries can be in hockey, and it seems as though every year someone gets hurt prior to or during Selection Camp.
3. I have listed the 20 skaters and 2 netminders I project to make the team. I have not placed them on lines, as in Junior hockey, so many players can/do play both centre and the wing, and it will all come down to Dale Hunter's positional and stylistic preferences. But, to reiterate, in my opinion, these are the best 20 skaters available for Team Canada.
4. The "On The Edge" list consists of players whom I do not believe will make the team, however, have either played themselves into or out of contention in recent times, or will be the go-to injury replacements.
5. Lastly, as these players are not in lines, I have loosely listed them in order of my confidence in them making the team. The players closer to the top are my virtual locks, whereas the players need the bottom may be the ones to slide in and out.
Alexis Lafreniere - Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) - Born 2001
If you haven't heard the name yet, you should probably go search him on youtube after you're done reading this article. Lafreniere is likely the most dynamic player to come out of the QMJHL since the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby. He finished with 105 points in 61 games last year as a 17 year old, and so far has 51 points in just 23 games to start off his draft year. Lafreniere made Team Canada last year as a 17 year old, not a common feat with the Team Canada brass, and has been the projected first overall pick to the NHL this year since he first stepped foot in the QMJHL as a 16 year old. Lafreniere is all but a lock, and is likely a favourite to be a part of Canada's leadership group this year. Expect big things from him on the wing, both at 5v5 and on the powerplay.
Joe Veleno - Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) - Born 2000
Another likely returnee from last year's team, Veleno can basically be written in stone as one of the centres on Team Canada. Currently playing big minutes as a 19 year old in the AHL, Veleno was the Detroit Red Wings 30th overall selection in last year's NHL draft, following a 104 point season in the QMJHL. Veleno is a speedy two-way player, and is another favourite to wear a letter for Team Canada this year. I'm intrigued as to how high his offensive ceiling can be, as his draft stock really fell off last year, after being an expected top 10 pick prior to the season, despite a near 2 point per game pace.
Quinton Byfield - Sudbury Wolves (OHL) - Born 2002
The projected second overall pick this year behind Lafreniere, Byfield is absolute monster on the ice. The 6'4" centreman has been on a tear in the OHL this season, with 46 points in 25 games. Unlike Lafreniere, he had a slower start to his Major Junior career, but figured it out as the season carried on last year, finishing right around a point per game. While he plays centre in Sudbury and Dale Hunter may use his big frame down the middle, Byfield can also be used on the wing, and could be a big part of Team Canada's powerplay. I expect big things from Byfield, as he's great with puck and has plus speed, especially for someone of his stature.
Akil Thomas - Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) - Born 2000
Thomas may not be as well known of a player as the guys listed above, but make no mistake that Thomas has high upside and a great chance of cracking this lineup. A late 2nd round pick last year, despite 102 points in 63 games, Thomas has really honed in his two-way game this season, while continuing his offensive prowess in the OHL. The captain of the Ice Dogs has 33 points in 20 games, and will use his speed and skill to be an effective member of Team Canada this winter, whether it be up the middle or on the wing.
Dylan Cozens - Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL) - Born 2001
Cozens was the seventh overall pick to Buffalo in this past draft, and the big rangy centreman/winger has had a good start to this season as well. With 16 goals and 16 assists in 23 games, Cozens has been improving his skating and has looked dominant at times in the WHL. While I'm not completely sold on his NHL offensive upside, Cozens will be a useful piece on Team Canada this year, with the potential to play on both special teams.
Connor McMichael - London Knights (OHL) - Born 2001
A late first round pick of the Washington Capitals last year, McMichael has had an incredible draft+1 season thus far, with 50 points in 20 games on a less-than-stellar London squad. McMichael was not viewed as particularly fast nor purely skilled player last year in the OHL, yet still finished just over a point per game. Looking back on my draft rankings last year, I said McMichael isn't flashy but does everything right and puts himself in good spots. The latter is still true, but he had a great offseason and looks like a steal already from last years draft. With his coach Dale Hunter leading the bench for Team Canada, his familiarity should make him a virtual lock, and will likely be an all-situations centre again for Hunter.
Alex Newhook - Boston College (NCAA) - Born 2001
Newhook was one of my favourite prospects last year, and I'm excited to see what he can do this year for Team Canada. Last year, as a 17 year old in the BCHL, Newhook was captain of the Victoria Grizzlies, and amassed an incredible 102 points in 53 games, the highest point total in that league since 2015 when Tyson Jost along with 2 others cracked the 100 mark. Newhook has been somewhat of a journeyman, born in Newfoundland, going to St. Andrew's and playing AAA in Ontario, then flying out West for 2 years in the BCHL. He'll be one of the smaller forwards on Team Canada, yet has incredible speed and skill, and will hopefully see some powerplay time throughout the tournament.
Peyton Krebs - Winnipeg Ice (WHL) - Born 2001
Krebs had a great year in this past season, registering a point per game as a captain in the WHL, then being selected in the first round by Vegas to cap it off, however has just recently played in his first two games of the season after returning from injury. Assuming he is 100% healthy, I see no way that the two-way centre/winger won't crack Team Canada this year. He was captain of Team Canada in the U18 Championships last year, and seems like the responsible yet offensively capable player that Coach Hunter will fall in love with in this short tournament.
Raphael Lavoie - Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) - Born 2000
The 6'4" speedy winger could be one of Canada's go to scorers in this tournament, as he brings good hockey sense and a stellar shot to the table. Following 32 goals and 41 assists for the Mooseheads last year, he registered 20 goals in just 23 playoff games, carrying them down the stretch. After being selected in the early second round by Edmonton, Lavoie has had a nice start to this season as well, as will look to prove his offensive abilities in selection camp.
Cole Perfetti - Windsor Spitfires (OHL) - Born 2002
I may be the leader of the Cole Perfetti fan club heading into this tournament, because if he doesn't make the team, we riot. Canada historically at this tournament takes mainly 19 year olds, with a handful of 18 year olds and rarely any 17 year olds. However, if we are basing this team solely of who deserves to be there and not how old they are, Byfield, Perfetti, and Drysdale all deserve to be there. Perfetti is a dynamic player who ran away with the OHL Rookie of the Year award (over Byfield) last season. With 37 goals and 37 assists last year for well over a point per game, Perfetti has shone as a playmaker this year with 9 goals and 27 assists in just 22 games. Perfetti is one of the most offensivley gifted players available to Team Canada this year, and not taking him based off age should be a crime.
Ty Dellandrea - Flint Firebirds (OHL) - Born 2000
Dellandrea is a speedy forward who can play both centre and the wing, and adds a nice penalty-killing side to Team Canada. The long-time Flint Firebird has been a perennial point per game player the last 3 seasons, despite having some lackluster teammates. He got a cup of coffee in the AHL with the Texas Stars last year, getting 3 points in 10 games. Dellandrea is not a lock to make this team, but I like his play style a lot, and feel he brings a lot of good things to the table.
Liam Foudy - London Knights (OHL) - Born 2000
Personally, I've never been super high on Foudy. He does a lot of things well on the ice, but I felt getting picked 18th overall was a reach by Columbus, as he's never been the best skater nor a pure skill guy. However, he's clearly on Hockey Canada's radar, playing U17, U18, and in the recent OHL vs Russia series, and Dale Hunter may just like his familiarity enough to crack this team. Don't get me wrong Foudy is a good player, and I think his size and versatility will win him a spot, but I'm not sure I'd pick him if I were in charge (somehow).
Nolan Foote - Kelowna Rockets (WHL) - Born 2000
Another first round pick from last year, I think Foote has a good shot at making this team. Some early projections have had him on the outside looking in, but I feel his size and shot off the wing bode well for his chances of making it. The 6'3" winger is currently the captain of the Rockets, and has 27 points in 20 games. I have him near the bottom because I'm not 100% convinced you get the best Nolan Foote every night, but he has good upside and should crack this lineup, likely in a bottom 6 role.
Bowen Byram - Vancouver Giants (WHL) - Born 2001
Byram was the 4th overall pick in this past draft, after an offensively dominant season in the WHL. 71 points as a defenceman is almost unfair, but Byram has also done a lot to improve his two-way game this year. While his numbers have slowed down a little, he'll still wind up at a point per game, and has the skating skills to be a top player in this tournament. Look for him to be a powerplay quarterback, and to jump into the rush whenever possible.
Ty Smith - Spokane Chiefs (WHL) - Born 2000
Smith is another returning player for Team Canada, and might be my pick for captain. Smith is an elite defenseman who went 17th overall to New Jersey last year. Smith has donned the "C" for Canada at the U17, the U18, Team WHL vs Russa this past month, and has been Spokane's captain. He is an elusive skater and is very positionally sound. I'd expect him to play big minutes for Canada and be a key contributor at both ends.
Jared McIsaac - Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) - 2000
Another returnee from last year, McIsaac will be a big presence on the blueline for Team Canada. McIsaac has yet to suit up for Halifax this year following a shoulder injury, but he is expected back in the next week and if healed, he will crack the lineup in all likelihood. An early 2nd round pick of the Red Wings last year, lets hope he is able to get healthy in time to represent Canada on the world stage.
Jacob Bernard-Docker - University of North Dakota (NCAA) - Born 2000
Another returnee on the back-end, JBD will almost certainly be one of the right-handed d-men for Canada this year. Following a very successful AJHL career, he now finds himself tearing it up in college hockey. 9 points in 12 games shows that he has some offensive prowess, while he'll likely be relied upon in a bit of a shutdown role for Canada in the tournament.
Thomas Harley - Mississauga Steelheads (OHL) - Born 2001
Another 1st rounder from last year, Harley is one of the best offensive d-men in Major Junior hockey. This isn't to knock his defensive game, which is also above average, but his 21 points in 19 games proves he's very skilled with the puck. He's previously represented Canada at the U17 and U18 events, and I think will be a real nice defenceman to maybe play powerplay and be on a steady pairing.
Justin Barron - Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) - Born 2001
Barron is yet another Moosehead to crack this lineup, and brings an element of size and skill to the right side of this blueline. Undrafted as he just turned 18 this month, Barron has been a star for Halifax and I expect him to impress at camp. A strong first pass and sound defensive play go a long way, and his skating is certainly not a negative.
Jamie Drysdale - Erie Otters (OHL) - Born 2002
Again with the same arguement as Perfetti, Drysdale deserves to be here. Another projected top 10 pick this year, Drysdale has been one of my favourite prospects for a few years. As a rookie in the OHL last year, he had 40 points in 63 games, as a defenceman! He also captained Team Canada U17's, and played Team Canada U18 right after. He is already over a point per game this year in the OHL with 28 in 24, and is one of the best skaters in the nation. As a right-handed d-man, he deserves to crack the roster, even if it's the 7th D spot. Picture Cale Makar's role a few years ago, sheltered 5v5 time, powerplay time, and used when the team needs a goal. I love him as a prospect, and pray he makes this team.
Olivier Rodrigue - Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL) - Born 2000
While there's no clear cut starter in my opinion both these candidates are good, and Rodrigue might get the edge for me. He is a 2nd round pick of the Oilers, and has been great this year for Moncton. A .913 SV% and a 2.53 GAA is great in the high scoring Q, and he is very positionally sound.
Hunter Jones - Peterborough Petes (OHL) - Born 2000
A bit of a fall off from last year's remarkable start to the year, but I still like his odds of making the team. He's a huge goalie at 6'4" and has some very good numbers at a .906 SV% and a 2.79 GAA on a middling OHL team. I liked him a lot as a prospect last year, and with a good camp, I think he will likely make this team.
On The Edge
All these guys realistically have a shot at making it, but I'm not going to do a deep dive on each of them.
Serron Noel has a good chance of being Canada's power forward, but has kind of played his way out of consideration for a top line spot this year, and I feel he doesn't have the offensive upside of the guys I put ahead of him.
Aidan Dudas is definitely in contention, even though I may be a bit biased putting him here. He's represented Canada before, was the captain of Team OHL at the recent OHL vs Russia series, and is a fast, tenacious player who fans love to watch. He may fall just short, but Dale Hunter is someone who should know very well the kind of energy Dudas brings to the lineup every night. With 29 points in 21 games, his offensive upside isn't really behind many of the bottom six forwards I listed.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx is right in the mix too, joining several Halifax teammates. He wears the "C" for Halifax, wore it for Team QMJHL, and has 29 points in 20 games. I'm not sold on his offensive upside or his speed, but he's a very serviceable player who could very well take someone's spot at camp.
Hendrix Lapierre is another 2002 birthdate who could have been deep in contention if it wasn't for a recent injury. No word on when he's back, but if he's back for camp, the skilled forward could challenge for a spot on the bottom six forwards.
Kevin Bahl is a d-man right in the mix for me. I like his skills and his two-way game, but with a handful of star left D like Smith and Byram, he may end up on the outside looking in. If McIsaac can't return, he might run away with this spot in camp.
Jett Woo is also in the running, but a moderate season and the fact that Drysdale can put up better numbers on the right side are my reasons for keeping him off the team.
Declan Chisholm is a fascinating d-man for the Petes, who loves jumping into the rush. Again, if McIsaac doesn't return, he could give Bahl a run for this spot.
Lastly, I love Nico Daws in net. He's on Team Canada's radar, and was great last year in Guelph's run, He may not have what it takes to out-duel Jones or Rodrigue, but will likely get a camp invite.
Love it? Hate it? Let me hear it in the comments. World Junior's bring us all together as a country of hockey fans, so let's debate on it prior to the tournament when we all cheer together!