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And then there were 29.
Canada released its camp roster for the 2023 World Junior Championship. USA did the same earlier on Monday, and I profiled that group here. Early on, as most predicted, it looks like the two heavyweights will remain that when the tournament heads to Moncton and Halifax later this month.
Canada’s training camp is set for Moncton from Dec. 9-12, with a training camp for the final roster set for a couple of days after. Here’s a quick breakdown of Canada ahead of its gold-medal defense effort:
Which NHLers will be there?
For now? None.
Shane Wright, Dylan Guenther and Brandt Clarke weren’t named to the initial camp roster, but that could change. We know Wright, for example, is expected to return to Seattle’s lineup on Tuesday against Montreal, the team that passed him over at the 2022 draft. Wright told reporters earlier today that a decision on the WJC hadn’t been made yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can crack Seattle’s roster on a more permanent basis. He’d be better served in the NHL, but only if the opportunity makes sense.
Guenther has had some strong performances with the Arizona Coyotes, but playing critical minutes for a championship-caliber team can be a valuable experience. I’d have to assume they’d give him a call-up again after the tournament since he seemed to jive nicely on a team void of star talent up front, but his age means they don’t need to rush him. I firmly believe in mass ice time for young prospects, and he’ll have a great opportunity to do so at the World Junior Championship if added.
And then there’s Clarke, who didn’t make either iteration of the 2022 team. The Canadian management group said they liked who they had, and they won gold without him anyways. But after starting the year in the NHL with Los Angeles, it’s hard to say there are seven better defensemen this time around. He also went down to the AHL on a conditioning stint, so maybe LA does end up letting him go.
As it stands, Canada will need to cut one goalie, two defensemen and three forwards. But if Wright, Guenther and Clarke make the team, make it five forwards and three defenders. Just because they aren’t on the camp roster to start doesn’t mean they won’t be there when the games begin. So we’ll have to wait and see.
No shortage of top-end talent
Connor Bedard. Logan Stankoven. Olen Zellweger. Brennan Othmann. These four were so crucial to Canada’s summer team and will be counted on again as Canada looks to repeat. That’s an incredible core group to build upon, and one that should have no shortage at 5-on-5 and on-the-man advantage.
But the talent goes far beyond those names. There’s a chance that Canada will have the top two players taken at the 2023 draft, with Adam Fantilli likely forcing himself into Canada’s top six after an unbelievable start to his NCAA career. Speaking of tremendous seasons, Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Jordan Dumais has been one of the best prospects in all of hockey this season, period, and deserves to be in lineup when the games start to count on Boxing Day. At the same time, if Canada can’t find a spot for him in the top nine, the team could elect to go for more defensively-minded or physical options deeper in the lineup instead.
That’s quite the position to be in, though. You have a QMJHLer that’s absolutely putting a beating on the competition, and he might not even be a lock for this team. That’s good depth.
The competition down the middle will be electric
Canada has no shortage of talent down the middle, with Bedard, Stankoven and Fantilli all thriving at center. I assume Bedard, at the very least, will be moved to the wing, and Fantill could have the same fate. After dominating the faceoff dot during the summer tournament, I expect Stankoven to hold the No. 1 spot. And then there’s the Shane Wright factor, too.
But after that, that’s when it gets interesting. Owen Beck, Zach Dean, Nathan Gaucher and Riley Kidney are just some of the others fighting for what likely will become a two-spot race. I cut Beck from my initial roster, not due to his play, but just given the competition in the bottom six. Gaucher and Kidney were on the team during the summer and I’d expect them to return. Dean has been fantastic and can play either the 2C or 3C spot. I feel like Beck could be the odd man out, but I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if he made it as a fourth-line center, either. He’s so good.
Either way, Canada’s center depth will be a huge strength.
How does the blueline stack up?
Canada’s defense core might not match USA’s, but we’re still talking about one of the better cores in the tournament. Zellweger is the No. 1 guy right now, and Clarke would be a tremendous inclusion if he’s loaned out.
Outside of Zellweger, Ethan Del Mastro and Carson Lambos will return from the 2022 squad to help solidify the back end. Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan should both be there, while Jack Matier will be called to build upon his rock-solid start with the Ottawa 67s.
My early thoughts about this blueline core is that it’ll move the puck well with good speed and with good shutdown potential. Again, it might not be as structured as USA, but I’m not concerned about this group.
Who’ll be the No. 1 goaltender?
This is always a significant question mark for Canada’s junior team, and this year is no different. The two favorites to go for the No. 1 role are Benjamin Gaudreau and Tyler Brennan, both of whom have experience with Canada’s junior national team program. I said in my prediction article last week that I believe they’ll give Gaudreau the spot to start given his success at the U-17 and U-18 level, but neither goalie has been spectacular by any means.
Hockey Canada likes going back to familiar names, and Gaudreau was solid at the 2021 U-18 World Championship. The San Jose Sharks prospect has carried the load in Sarnia, where he’s had to make up for an average defensive core. That being said, I don’t think he’ll have much of a leash if given the No. 1 role, and Brennan is no stranger to pulling his punches in the WHL.
I think Thomas Milic will grab the third goalie spot after a nice start to the season, but William Rousseau has thrown his goalie mask in the ring after his tremendous run with Quebec. The third goalie spot will be an interesting one – and, heck, Canada has even elected to bring an extra roster player and go the two-goalie route in the past, too.
Bubble players to watch
I mentioned Dumais’ name earlier because, based on pure skill, I think he should be on the final roster. The issue is his small 5-foot-9 frame and lack of defensive acumen compared to some of the others at camp. If the top nine isn’t an option, maybe he slots in as a speedy 13th forward, and I think that would suit him incredibly.
Another one to keep a close eye on is Edmonton Oilers prospect Reid Schaefer. Schaefer was off to an absolute heater to start the season with 10 goals in his first seven games. But since then, he has just five goals in 14 games, including three in a single outing on Nov. 1. Did he heat up too early? Maybe, but I still like him as a depth shooter.
Other notable omissions include Connor Geekie, Denton Mateychuk, Zachary L’Heureux and Corson Ceulemans. I thought Matechyuk and Ceuelemans had good shots on the blueline, but, alas. Geekie is another player, like his Winnipeg ICE teammate in Savoie, that was left off as part of a numbers game. L’Heureux is slightly less surprising because he has played just five games this year for Haixaf due to injury. Still, he’s been excellent in those outings with five goals.
One that many fans will wonder about is Logan Mailloux. Given the vast defensive options available, I’m not surprised. While Mailloux has been good, he’s doing nothing too special that would have made him a true contender. Mailloux can be a bit of a defensive liability as he tries to do too much with the puck, and with a defensive group like this, he needed more than under a point per game as a 19-year-old. Of course, the off-ice stuff from a few years back is something the team likely wanted to avoid, PR-wise, given everything going on with Hockey Canada right now, so that didn’t help his chances, either.
I’m a big believer of Matthew Savoie, who could have fit well nicely on the wing. He’s an incredibly talented forward with a bright future in Buffalo – and a player I had on my roster prediction. In the end, he just wasn’t needed, and that’s a testament to the team’s offensive depth where a guy like Dumais isn’t even a lock.
Oh, and get ready for the Jagger Firkus revenge tour in 2024.
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