The Canadians will be bringing a surprising number of draft-eligible players to Oakville, while goaltending appears to be almost a blank slate since the summer. We take a look at some of the unexpected additions and eyebrow-raising subtractions for world junior camp.
Quinton Byfield|Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Team Canada has released its 31-player camp roster for the world juniors and there is definitely some intrigue heading into the proceedings in Oakville, Ont. A healthy dose of 2020 NHL draft prospects made the initial field, while some other older hopefuls from the summer’s World Junior Summer Showcase have been left off. Of note, Canada will also be holding out for a couple kids in the pros right now: Joe Veleno, Kirby Dach, Barrett Hayton and Noah Dobson. Here’s a look at some of the surprises, broken down by position.
This was the most volatile category and there is good reason: netminding is going to be a huge wild card for Canada as there is no sure-fire No. 1 as there was last year with Carter Hart. Not making the December cut were Alexis Gravel (CHI), Colten Ellis (STL) or Zach Emond (SJ). All three play in the QMJHL and none of them had particularly strong summer showcases – though Emond didn’t play due to an undisclosed injury and left early. Olivier Rodrigue (EDM) and Hunter Jones (MIN) were also in Michigan for the WJSS and they did get an invite to Oakville. I get the sense that Rodrigue has the inside track on the starter’s job, but a couple of new invitees might have something to say about that.
Joel Hofer (STL) has been excellent for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks this season and he has the size (6-foot-5) and composure to get the job done. He’s also one of the statistical leaders in the ‘Dub’ with a 1.95 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
Out in the OHL, undrafted Nico Daws forced his way into the conversation with an excellent autumn for the Guelph Storm. I expect Daws to be drafted this summer – last year the big netminder was simply hidden behind veteran Anthony Popovich, who led the Storm to a playoff title. But Daws was sharp at the CHL-Russia series and his stats with the rebuilding Storm have been solid.
The biggest name missing from Canada’s defense list is Ryan Merkley (SJ), though I’m not sure you could call it a “snub.” Merkley is a fantastic skater and offensive player, but defense and temperament have not always been his best friend. Canada coach Dale Hunter traded for Merkley this season with OHL London, so he clearly had the book already on whether or not to bring the kid. Draft-eligible Justin Barron of QMJHL Halifax didn’t make the cut after playing at the summer series, but he’s young and will undoubtedly make it next year. Another 2020 prospect, OHL Erie’s Jamie Drysdale, did get an invite and I would imagine his strong play for both the Otters and Team OHL at the CHL-Russia series helped his case. Declan Chisholm (WPG) was also left off the roster after being at the WJSS, but he came in as an injury replacement, so it’s not too shocking. A little more surprising is the omission of Jett Woo (VAN), who was at the WJSS. Jonny Tychonick (OTT) from the University of North Dakota didn’t make the final cut either after being in Michigan.
Needless to say, Canada will not suffer for firepower, but the brain trust isn’t taking its task lightly, either. Quinton Byfield, one of the top 2020 draft prospects, made the cut after missing the WJSS – but he was at the under-18 Hlinka-Gretzky tournament around the same time, which explains that. Byfield has been a force for OHL Sudbury and he should get a very real chance to make this roster. He’ll be joined in Oakville by another hot-shot 2020 draft prospect, OHL Saginaw’s Cole Perfetti. Like Byfield, Perfetti missed the WJSS due to the Hlinka-Gretzky and both also looked great at the CHL-Russia series. But we’re not finished with the 2020 draft crop, as Dylan Holloway from the University of Wisconsin will get a crack, too. Holloway is a big kid with great skating ability and he’s been holding his own as a young freshman on the Badgers. There’s also Dawson Mercer, the 2020 prospect from QMJHL Drummondville who opened a lot of eyes at the CHL-Russia series with his high-end, two-way play.
As for snubs, the first that come to mind are Riley Damiani (DAL) and Samuel Poulin (PIT). Damiani, in my mind, would have been a perfect grinder/penalty-killer, while Poulin is a power forward having an excellent year in the ‘Q.’ While Poulin wasn’t at the WJSS, Damiani was. So were Jamieson Rees (CAR) and Ryan Suzuki (CAR) and neither of them got December invites, among others. There’s also Phil Tomasino (NSH), a speedster having a very nice year with OHL Niagara – though he’ll be eligible next year, too. Same goes for Brayden Tracey (ANA), who has piled up points for WHL Moose Jaw.
Overall, it’s hard to quibble with any of Canada’s selections here. The forward group is dynamic and deep, the defense is mobile and while the goaltending is a question mark, the brain trust at least wasn’t dogmatic in their selections: they brought the four kids that will give them the best chance out of the pool available.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.