Anaheim DucksArizona CoyotesBoston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesCarolina HurricanesChicago BlackhawksColorado AvalancheColumbus Blue JacketsDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersLos Angeles KingsMinnesota WildMontréal CanadiensNashville PredatorsNew Jersey DevilsNew York IslandersNew York RangersOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsSt Louis BluesSan Jose SharksSeattle KrakenTampa Bay LightningToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksVegas Golden KnightsWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets

2021 World Junior Championship: Team Canada Preview

Adversity; a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune. It may as well be the standard for 2020 as the world suffers through a global pandemic. The 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, as an event, will need to overcome adversity to even see the finish line. Without question, every team at this year’s IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships will face adversity as they attempt to capture the Gold. You would think that being the host team, and reigning champions Canada would hold a significant advantage, but they too will need to show perseverance in the face of adversity.

Canada is trying to win their first Gold at home since 2015 (failing in 2017 and 2019) and they are trying to win their first consecutive Gold medals since 2009, when Canada completed a five year winning streak. Yet, this is a team facing many challenges as the Edmonton based tournament draws near. Firstly, many of the team’s players have not played a meaningful hockey game in many months due to the OHL and WHL delaying the start of their season. This also concerns the United States and their top players and puts the two North American squads at a disadvantage when compared to their European counterparts who have been playing for several months now. Secondly, team Canada had to halt all activities during their selection camp due to multiple positive COVID diagnoses. The 14 days spent quarantining could have been spent on the ice to help players shake off rust, to help build chemistry, and to help the coaching staff select their final 25-man roster. Lastly, it was recently announced that the New York Rangers would not be releasing Alexis Lafreniere for the tournament, leaving Canada without their best player.

However, make no mistake, this is still a Canadian squad to be reckoned with. Canada has six returning members from last year’s gold medal winning effort, including two of the team’s top five leading scorers in Dylan Cozens and Connor McMichael. It could also ice nearly an entire roster of NHL first round selections. There is no doubt that Ottawa 67’s head coach Andre Tourigny will have Team Canada ready to rock come Christmas Day.

Storylines to Follow

Will a starting goaltender please stand up?

Last year, Joel Hofer came out of nowhere to secure the Canadian crease, leading the team to Gold and capturing the tournament’s top goaltender award. Hofer was the first Canadian goalie to win the award since Steve Mason in 2008.

This year, Team Canada is facing the same type of dilemma, with no clear-cut starter in place. Three of the goaltenders brought to camp are undrafted; Taylor Gauthier has gone through two NHL drafts, Brett Brochu went unselected in 2020, and Tristan Lennox is first time eligible in 2021. The other two, Dylan Garand and Devon Levi, are far from being high profile prospects.

The standout in the early days of camp was clearly London’s Brett Brochu, ironically the only goaltender of the five to have zero experience internationally for Canada. As good of a goalie as he is, we saw what the spotlight can do to high end, yet undrafted, and internationally inexperienced goaltenders last year when Nico Daws struggled. And that was not even on home ice.

There is a good chance that Canada will give significant playing time to all three goaltenders they select during the exhibition schedule as the coaching staff tries to find their leading man.

The emergence of Kirby Dach

The Chicago Blackhawks chose not to lend the third overall selection in 2019 to Team Canada last year, electing to keep him in the NHL. Even without Kirby Dach, Canada took home gold. This year, Chicago chose to send Dach to Edmonton and he appears poised to have an absolutely massive tournament for the Canadians. Though he is not one of the team’s six returning players, he is the hands-on favorite to be the team’s go-to offensive player. During the initial intrasquad scrimmages, he was the best player on the ice, even assisting on a highlight reel goal that saw him utilize his soccer skills. Even with so much talent at the tournament, Dach will be one of the favorites to take home the prestigious top forward award.

Can Quinton Byfield step up his game?

No question, Quinton Byfield struggled at last year’s event as a double underager. Starting the tournament as a scoring line player with a regular shift on the powerplay, he finished the tournament as the team’s 13th forward. This, thankfully, did not hurt his draft stock as he was still selected second overall by the Los Angeles Kings a few months ago. However, all eyes will be on Byfield to step up this year and be an offensive leader for this team. As a 17 year old, the expectations for him last year were relatively low. This year, they will be much higher and the scrutiny will be even more magnified and intense on home ice and given his status as one of the NHL’s top prospects. Finding Byfield linemates that he can develop chemistry with will be one of Andre Tourigny’s biggest challenges.

Who will be the high profile cuts?

It would not be a Team Canada WJC selection camp without a little controversy. Given the late start to the NHL season, the talent available to Team Canada is certainly higher than it normally is. Looking back to the 2005 World Juniors, where Sidney Crosby led a dominating team Canada to gold in an NHL strike year, the 2021 version has a chance to be similar. If the COVID-19 pandemic had not occurred and the NHL season had started as planned, players like Dach, Bowen Byram, Byfield, Thomas Harley, Jamie Drysdale, and Dylan Cozens may not have been available. As such, with so much talent at the Canadian selection camp, there are bound to be a few “shocking” cuts as the Canadian coaching staff determines who can fulfill certain roles. Who those players are is anybody’s guess at this point.

Key Players

Kirby Dach

As mentioned, Dach has a chance to have a similar impact to that of Patrice Bergeron in 2005, after he participated in the WJC’s following a season in the NHL the year prior. Not one of the team’s returning players, he should still be the team’s first line center and powerplay anchor. He also enters the tournament as a favorite to capture the top forward award.

Jamie Drysdale

Last year, Drysdale started the tournament as the team’s 7th defender and someone who saw sheltered ice time. However, as the tournament progressed he worked his way into the regular rotation and was one of the team’s best players in the medal round. The smooth skating, offensive rearguard will look to build upon that in more of a leadership role on this year’s team as he becomes a defensive anchor.

Bowen Byram

Like Drysdale, Byram is a returning member of the gold medal winning team last year and someone being counted on to be a potential top pairing defender. The Canadian powerplay is likely to funnel through Byram and his ability to QB the point. As we know from history, a good powerplay is one of the keys to winning this tournament.

Dylan Cozens

The top returning scorer from the 2020 tournament (not just for Canada, but for the entire tournament), Cozens will be facing significant pressure to repeat his performance as one of Canada’s best forwards. If the NHL were currently active, Cozens would likely have not been loaned by the Buffalo Sabres, so consider his appearance a blessing.

Quinton Byfield

The talented Los Angeles Kings prospect has to be better this year, right? While it remains to be seen whether Byfield will have to shift to the wing again or will play his more natural position up the middle, the expectations will be high for him heading into the tournament. With his blend of size, speed, and skill, there is no reason that he should not be able to elevate Canada’s secondary scoring behind Dach and Cozens.

Thomas Harley

A later cut by Canada heading into last year’s event, much to the surprise of some (see the above note about “shocking” cuts), Harley looks to have his place cemented on this year’s team as a top four defender. Andre Tourigny and his coaching staff have already been extremely complimenting of Harley and he is likely to see heavy minutes for Canada.

Dawson Mercer

Mercer saw pretty limited minutes on last year’s Gold medal winning squad in his NHL draft year. Despite going through the tournament pointless, he made an impact away from the puck with his ability to drive the net and play physically. This year, he will be expected to be a larger contributor offensively and is likely to be a key figure on the powerplay where he can wreak havoc down low and near the crease. Over/under on the number of crease violations he picks up?

Connor McMichael

Low key, Connor McMichael had a terrific 2020 World Junior Championships, finishing the tournament with five goals for Canada. He is certainly not the world’s flashiest player. However, he is the type of player you can move around the lineup and not worry about chemistry because of his intelligence. He is likely to work as a triggerman on the powerplay and should once again be a top six fixture for Canada.

Dylan Holloway

Like Thomas Harley, Holloway was a late cut by Canada and someone who many thought deserved to make the team (myself included). His speed and physicality can be a major asset at an International event and it is very likely that Team Canada uses Holloway in the classic shutdown role. He is going to see a ton of Trevor Zegras, Lucas Raymond, Vasili Podkolzin, etc this tournament.

Philip Tomasino

Certainly not a lock to make the team, but Tomasino should be classified as having a good chance. He was a standout over the first two intrasquad games and his speed/skill combination makes him an ideal candidate to play with the likes of Dach, Cozens, Byfield, etc in Canada’s top six.

Projected Roster

Brett Brochu
Taylor Gauthier
Devon Levi

How this group shakes down is anyone’s guess. But this is mine. Brochu seems all but assured a spot given how strong he had been at camp before the shutdown. Gauthier is the oldest goaltender at camp and has performed very well for Canada internationally in the past (U17’s, U18’s, and the Hlinka/Gretzky). Devon Levi had not yet had a chance to play at the camp due to the NCAA players having to quarantine...before the entire team was forced to. However, he is a terrific goaltender who showed that he can stand on his head and steal games against this age group at last year’s World Junior A Challenge, an event he was named the MVP of.

Bowen Byram - Jamie Drysdale
Thomas Harley - Braden Schneider
Kaiden Guhle - Jordan Spence
Daemon Hunt - Kaedan Korczak

In this situation, the first pairing is a no brainer unless you want to separate the returning defenders on different pairings. Harley and Schneider make sense given their polar opposite styles of play complimenting each other. Both were late cuts last year and have drawn compliments from Hockey Canada in the past. Guhle is the highest profile player of the bottom four and his physicality and skating ability would play well in a shutdown and PK role. Jordan Spence seems like the most likely fourth offensive defender brought along behind Byram, Drysdale, and Harley. Hunt and Korczak, while similar players, really stood out positively in the first two intrasquad games and have been favorites of Hockey Canada in the past.

Connor McMichael - Kirby Dach - Dylan Cozens
Peyton Krebs - Quinton Byfield - Dawson Mercer
Jamieson Rees - Dylan Holloway - Jack Quinn
Cole Perfetti - Alex Newhook - Philip Tomasino
Seth Jarvis - Graeme Clarke

This would be an extremely well balanced forward group. McMichael operates as the triggerman for Dach and Cozens and that first line brings a ton of experience. The second line brings size, skill, and tenacity, with Krebs operating as the puck hound to Byfield and Mercer’s more power oriented approach. The Rees-Holloway-Quinn line can be utilized as a high end shutdown line with Rees as a standout of the intrasquad games and Quinn being someone Tourigny already trusts in that role in the OHL. Meanwhile, the Perfetti, Newhook, and Tomasino fourth line would matchup with any fourth line in the tournament and outduel them from an offensive standpoint. The 13th and 14th forward spots go to Seth Jarvis, because of his flexibility and effectiveness in any role, and Graeme Clarke because Andre Tourigny trusts him greatly as a prime time goal scorer. There was definitely a desire to find room for phenom Shane Wright in this lineup, however given the team’s depth, it is my belief that Hockey Canada will wait another year before he makes the team (as a draft eligible player in 2022).