Here we go!
As the World Junior Selection begins on December 10th and as we inch closer to Boxing Day, there is already a lot of anticipation in the air for Christmas hockey. Canada will begin its quest to defend its championship from a year ago as they kick off their tournament against our neighbours to the south, Team USA.
Every year, I like to make a prediction as to who will make Team Canada. Over the last few years, while not fully documented, I have guessed at least 70 per cent of each team since 2009/10. So, I’m going to try and reach that goal again.
One thing that is for sure with this year’s team is that there will be a number of new faces compared to last year. There won’t be the veteran presence of Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Curtis Lazar, Josh Morrissey, Sam Reinhart and Connor McDavid. But there is ample skill up front and the team won’t be shy on offense. For a detailed look at the invitees going to camp, check out this fantastic piece by Jordyn Moussa, here.
However, there is also the possibility that St. Louis Blues forward Robby Fabbri and Vancouver Canucks forward Jake Virtanen (who won gold last year with Canada) could be loaned to team Canada. But that is still yet to be determined. If they were allowed to go, it would be interesting to see who Virtanen and Fabbri would replace, seeing as they would both be an automatic lock for the team.
Aside from a few players who are locks, the other spots available up front aren’t set in stone.
For now I am predicting the team based on the invitee list. I am only focusing on the forward and defense. Mason McDonald and Mackenzie Blackwood have already filled the goalie positions.
Note: Mackenzie Blackwood has been suspended eight games by the OHL for a slashing incident on Dec.4th against the Sudbury Wolves. Blackwood will most likely miss the team’s first two games of the tournament, one of them being against the US. Full article at TSN. Due to the suspension, Canada has added Samuel Montembeault to the camp roster.
Here is how I think the forward group will look like:
|Michael Dal Colle||Brayden Point||Nick Merkley|
|Lawson Crouse||Dylan Strome||Mitch Marner|
|Anthony Beauvillier||Mathew Barzal||Spencer Watson|
|Pierre-Luc Dubois||Mitchell Stephens||Travis Konecny|
Line one: Nick Merkley and Brayden Point showed some great chemistry during the Summer Showcase. In the their second meet-up with Team Czech Republic, the two combined for three goals and five points. Point will be one of the main offensive weapons for Canada, as I think he will be the team’s number one centre come Boxing Day. Michael Dal Colle had a slow start to the OHL season, but he picked up his point production. He had only four points in his first ten games, but since October 25th, he’s tallied 17 points.
Line two: Like Point and Merkley, Strome and Marner were the next outstanding duo at the Summer Showcase. They read each other perfectly and knew where each other would be on the ice every time they were in the offensive zone. Marner’s elusive play along with the presence of Strome and returning winger Lawson Crouse and you have the making of another line with great offensive talent.
Line three: Mathew Barzal will look to centre the third line with scoring wingers Anthony Beauvillier and Spencer Watson. This line will have a good balance of both skill and have the ability to create a strong fore-check in the process.
Line four/ 13th forward: While Mitchell Stephens is coming off an ankle injury, he can bring so much to the table in regards to speed and an aggressive presence in the offensive zone. He will have extremely skilled wingers at his side in Dubois and Konecny to create time and space for each other.
I think John Quenneville will fill the 13th forward spot. Like Stephens, he’s a player who you can count on in any situation and create a strong fore-check.
Like last year, Canada isn’t short on offense. There are so many players throughout the line-up with high-end skill and the ability to be aggressive and compete at both ends of the ice. Add Virtanen and Fabbri into the mix, things could get very interesting up front.
|Joe Hicketts||Travis Sanheim|
|Travis Dermott||Haydn Fleury|
|Noah Juulsen||Thomas Chabot|
This defensive group will provide a great mix of strong defensive play and great puck movement. With Joe Hicketts being one of the returning players on the back-end, he will provide a veteran presence for the rest of the defensive core. Hicketts was strong on Canada’s blueline last year and will have more of a prominent role this year being one of their go to guys on defense.
Travis Sanheim and Haydn Fleury were cut from last year’s camp. Now, a second time around, they know what to expect and have an advantage compared to the rest of the invitees at camp. With their motivation and determination to make the roster coupled with their strong puck moving abilities, they will add a great amount of skill for Canada on the back-end.
Travis Dermott looked great at the Summer Showcase. The 34th overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs made some great passes and made some great decisions by jumping into the rush at times while not risking an odd-man rush the other way. In the process he scored a goal in a shootout loss to Russia. Dermott will look to bring a strong defensive presence, while still being capable of making a strong outlet pass to create a rush, as his 23 assists would say.
Juulsen and Chabot have strong offensive upside. Juulsen had 52 points in 68 games with the Everett Silvertips last year, but has only managed 10 points in 21 games thus far. Aside from that, Juulsen is a well-rounded player and can be threat at both ends of the ice.
With Chabot, Canada is getting a great defenseman who can contribute offensively. Chabot is a great skater who is able to make a great first pass. In his sophomore season with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Chabot has 12 goals and 29 assists. He could end up passing last season’s totals as he already has seven goals and 20 points.
I originally had Jake Walman to make this team, but he’s unable to make the camp due to a shoulder injury. Walman could’ve played for Team USA, but I’ll refer you back to Jordyn’s piece I linked above.
Some might think that with a solid group of 18 and 19 year olds, that means that potential number two pick, Jakob Chychrun may not have a spot. I tend to disagree, which is why I put the 17-year-old in the seventh defenseman spot. With his overall play this year, it’s extremely hard to pass up what Chychrun can do at both ends of the ice. Also to balance out the high-end puck moving abilities of Sanheim, Dermott and Fleury, Canada has a great option with a defense first mentality, yet can still provide you with some offense. While he is young, he’s really mature and capable of playing in any situation.
There you have it, my prediction for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship. Who do you have making the team?