It’s December once again and that means it’s time for the World Junior Hockey Championships.
This tournament is a tradition for hockey fans everywhere and every year. On top of that, this tournament seems to be more exciting than the last. Last year, Canada dominated the tournament and went on to defeat Sweden in an exciting, yet close final to capture their 17th gold medal. A year after they captured silver against the United States in 2017.
This year, the tournament returns to Canada as Vancouver and Victoria play host this year. Last time the tournament was in Vancouver, Team Canada claimed their second of five gold medals, as they went on a stretch of five straight gold’s from 2005-2009, and 12th overall.
With this year’s team, there possibly won’t be as many returnees as there were from previous years. It’s very likely that Robert Thomas won’t be on loan from the St. Louis Blues and Michael Rasmussen, who wasn’t a returnee but had a good shot to make the team, won’t be leaving the Detroit Red Wings. Only two players are returning form last year’s gold medal team, Ottawa Senator’s winger Alex Formenton and Anaheim Ducks’ winger Maxime Comtois.
Recently, Hockey Canada unveiled their selection camp roster. Team Canada head coach Tim Hunter said that this team is “deep, skilled, fast and high IQ group,” roughly the same makeup as last year’s team. Every year I like to predict and give my take on who should make the team. This year, there will be a number of spots open considering the number of eligible returning players.
First, let’s start of with the goaltenders and defense.
Goalies and Defense:
There are three goalies that are attending the training camp, but this position appears to be set in stone, as it’ll come down to Ian Scott and Michael DiPietro for the starting role.
Michael DiPietro heads into camp as the potential starter for Canada. Recently traded to the Ottawa 67’s, Dipietro had a 11-8-1 record with a 2.32 goals against average and a .920 save percentage with the Windsor Spitfires. He’s played one game with the 67’s earning a win and has a 1.00 goals against average and .960 save percentage. DiPietro also has a Memorial Cup to his name, winning it with the Spitfires in 2017.
DiPietro is a fierce competitor that will do anything to keep the puck out of the net. His steady presence and vision will give Canada a strong goaltender, which was a major question heading into each tournament before Hart’s stellar play last year.
Ian Scott will look to challenge DiPietro for the starting role. Based on his performance and his statistics, it’ll will be an interesting battle.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Scott has been a brick wall in the net for the Prince Albert Raiders. They sit first overall in the Western Hockey League with a 28-2-1 record. That alone is insane, but what’s even more impressive is Scott’s numbers.
Scott is 23-2-1 with a league best 1.61 goals against average and a .943 save percentage with four shutouts. His stellar performance has also garnered him the title of Goalie of the Month for November. Not only that Scott became the first WHL goalie since Stuart Skinner to score a goal. Scott also seemed to have made an impression with the coaching staff after posting a 26- save win against Russia in the Canada/ Russia Super Series.
|Michael DiPietro||Ian Scott|
|Jared McIsaac||Evan Bouchard|
|Ty Smith||Noah Dobson|
|Pierre- Olivier Joseph||Calen Addison|
Canada’s defense is a little different compared to previous years. By different, I mean there usually is a returnee to lead the blue line. That isn’t the case this year. However, they’ll still have the same qualities as last year’s defense, two-way defensemen that have the ability to make quick transitions from defense to offense.
They added Evan Bouchard who got a little bit of NHL experience under his belt. Because he has the most experience, Bouchard will look to lead Team Canada’s defensive core by bringing an all-around game to the team’s blueline. The same goes with Jared McIsaac who has the same qualities as Bouchard, but a more defensive style to his game.
Noah Dobson, who won the Memorial Cup last year with the Acadie- Bathurst Titan, and Spokane Chiefs defenseman Ty Smith, are both reliable defenders that can play in any situation. But what stands out is their ability to transition to offense and move the play quickly. Because of their mobility and smarts, I think they would serve as a great second pairing.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Calen Addison and Pierre- Olivier Joseph, selected by the Arizona Coyotes will provide great shut down defense as the third pairing, while still maintaining the ability to quickly move the play forward from their own end.
Los Angeles Kings prospect Markus Phillips will look to be the seventh defenseman. His smooth skating and offensive abilities will benefit Canada’s defense two-way style.
This year’s forward group only has two returnees from last year’s Championship team, but a lot of speed skill and depth throughout the lineup. But at the same time, a lot of players who were cut this time last year (Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki) will be given the opportunity to lead the team as 19- year-olds. The scoring and offensive talent up front could be what separates them from the rest of the teams in this tournament.
In addition, the camp roster is predominately heavy at the Centre position. Either some of the centres that they brought to camp will be cut, or will have to be moved to either wing position.
Here is who I think will make up the forward position (Bold indicates returnee):
|Alex Formenton||Cody Glass||Owen Tippett|
|Alexis Lafreniere||Nick Suzuki||Brett Leason|
|Maxime Comtois||Barett Hayton||Ty Dellandrea|
|Liam Foudy||Joe Veleno||Jack Studnicka|
These line projections aren’t necessarily what Hunter will roll with, it’s just based on how I see fit and how Canada should go with a balanced attack. There are number of combinations that Hunter can go with based on the talent this team has.
I always try to find a good mix of speed, skill and offensive presence. Canada’s first line, has the speed of Alex Formenton, the play-making ability of Cody Glass and the quick shooting, power forward in Own Tippett. Glass has 54 points in 26 games with the Portland Winterhawks and Alex Formenton has 7 goals and 16 points since being returned back to the London Knights.
I’ve seen Owen Tippett play a lot since his AAA Minor Midget days with the Toronto Red Wings. He is a pure goal scorer and a physical presence along the boards. Tippet has tallied 44, 36 and 19 goals respectively with the Mississauga Steelheads the last three years.
When a star-studded, potential first overall player is on your roster, there’s no doubt that he has to be in your top six. That’s where I have Alexis Lafreniere on the wing along side Suzuki and WHL leading scorer, Brett Leason.
While Suzuki is a strong offensive centre and Leason has come into his own as an offensive threat with Prince Albert, all eyes will be on Lafreniere. He’s top tier, offensive dynamo with strong play-making abilities and offensive instincts. He’s the first 16- year- old Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rookie to score 40 or more goals since Sidney Crosby. Lafreniere already has international success, winning gold and captaining Canada at the Hlinka- Gretzky tournament with 11 points, leading the tournament. His play at the tournament cemented his name as the top draft pick in 2020. He’ll be given another opportunity to show Canada his skillset at the World Juniors this year and most likely, next year
The third line will be focused on speed and ability to get in on the fore-check. While Comtois and Dellandrea are known for their offensive presence, their ability to grind and battle along the boards will be a great factor to wear down their opponents in both the offensive and defensive zone. The presence of a strong, two- way centre in Hayton will be a huge factor as well.
Like the third line, Canada’s fourth line will be another mix of the third line with speed, and an aggressive style of play. Liam Foudy’s speed and puck possession abilities combined with the complete overall play of Jack Sutndicka and two-way centre in Joe Veleno. This will be a line that could give teams a hard time at both ends of the ice.
Interesting to note about Veleno, after a trade from the Saint John Sea Dogs, his goal production started to take off. In two and a half seasons with the Sea Dogs he had 32 goals. Since being traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs, he has 38, including 22 in 28 games this year.
Originally, I had Jaret Anderson- Dolan projected to make the team. However, surgery on his wrist has hurt his chances of making Team Canada. Morgan Frost, will be my 13th forward considering that he can be placed anywhere in the line-up with his offensive instincts and passing abilities. Frost currently sits second in overall points and first in assists in the Ontario Hockey League.
There it is, my prediction for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships. It was difficult considering the number of players attending and the spots available. Every spot is there for the taking. Who will step up? Who will fall out? There are always a surprise or two during the selection process.
Canada kicks off their pre-tournament December 19th against Team Switzerland and their tournament starts Boxing Day against Denmark.
**Statistics and numbers are up to date as of Dec. 10, 2018.