It’s that time of year, World Junior fever is upon us. The tournament is a still a month away, but training camps open soon, which means plenty of debates of who should and shouldn’t be invited. Things got underway today with Team Canada announcing the 32 players they have invited to their selection camp.
At first glance this roster looks very underwhelming, which is weird to say since it includes two third overall picks in Arizona’s Dylan Strome and Columbus’ Pierre-Luc Dubois. The roster also includes the Western Hockey Leagues and Ontario Hockey Leagues top scorers in Anaheim’s Sam Steel and Tampa Bay’s Taylor Raddysh. Not to mention Matthew Barzal who made the New Islanders out of camp this season.
There are some very good players at camp, but overall this is going to be a very different Team Canada than we have seen in recent years. This roster appears to lack that high end game breaking skill player, in the mould of a Connor McDavid or Mitch Marner, both of whom are still eligible for the World Juniors but will not be released by thier NHL teams. They have a lot of north-south type of players rather than east to west players. Players like Julien Gauthier, Zach Senyshyn and Raddysh fit this idea as they all have great shots, but lack that creative offensive instinct. The camp roster also includes many strong defensive players who would best be suited in bottom six roles.
Players like Anthony Cirelli, Brett Howden, Blake Speers, Mitchell Stephens and Auston Wagner are all two-way players who are strong in the defensive zone, but haven’t yet dominated their league offensively. Ideally you take maybe one or two of this type of players, but the way things are shaking out, four and possibly all five could make the roster. Another player to keep in mind who fits into this category is Lawson Crouse. Crouse has played in two World Juniors already and is a possibility to be released by Arizona.
This team is full of size; just four players invited to camp are under six feet. They are going to be a team that can crash and bang, and will wear their opponents down. They look like they will be a strong defensive team that will play close low scoring games.
Team Canada would benefit greatly if they got help from the NHL. If either Anthony Beauvillier or Travis Konecny were released by their NHL teams, it would give them such a big offensive boost, and completely change the look of the team.
On the backend the invites are very good, but Canada looks to have the same problem it has had for the last couple of tournaments. They lack that true number one defencemen. Thomas Chabot, the lone returning player on defence is as close as Canada has to that right now. Getting Jacob Chychrun back from the Coyotes would give the defence a big boost. They may lack that big time player, but this is a very skilled defensive unit. Jake Bean, Kale Clague, Samual Girard, and Victor Mete may not be the biggest defencemen out there but they are all extremely good skaters who can move the puck. They have also brought strong all around defencemen, in Noah Juulsen and Dante Fabbro.
On paper Canada is still going field a strong team, the issues arise though when you start comparing them to other teams and the potential skill mismatches become more prevalent. Team USA is going to roll out players like Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, and Jeremy Bracco, Russia is going to have players like Vitali Abramov and Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden will have Alex Nylander, etc. These are players that can single handily take over games. Canada could be in tough especially against the USA if they can’t shut down these players.
Canada has plenty of skill players to choose from, but they opted to not invite them. Personally, I would have included players like Adam Mascherin, (4th in OHL scoring with 43 points in 24 games), Cliff Pu (5th in OHL with 42 in 23), Mason Shaw (2nd in WHL with 40 in 25) and Maxime Fortier (1st in QMJHL with 47 in 26). These players are playing extremely well and would bring a different dynamic to the roster, making Canada a whole lot tougher to match up against.
Canada looks to be building a team around size and defensive prowess. They have some very good players but overall this isn’t a team that looks to be incredibly skilled. This is going to be a tight-checking team that could run into problems when matched up against smaller skilled teams like the USA and Russia, both of whom are expected to have plenty front-line skill. It will be very interesting to see who Canada ultimately selects for their roster and how the team comes together by Christmas. Right now though, I am not optimistic about their chances.
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