Canada World Junior Selection Camp Preview: Roster breakdown, player-by-player analysis
Analyzing who made it, who didn't and what that says about Team Canada at the WJC
Hockey Canada will welcome its 35 World Junior hopefuls to Calgary on Thursday as they look to improve on a silver medal finish from the 2021 World Junior Championship, played in the bubble in Edmonton. With fans expected to return to venues in Edmonton and Red Deer, the Canadians should enjoy a decided home ice advantage, but this year’s tournament will be far from a cake walk.
Sure, Canada is in the weaker of the two preliminary-round groups, but once it gets to the elimination round, it really feels like there are a number of teams that have a chance.
Hockey Canada’s selection camp will open with a series of practices and on both Saturday and Sunday, Canada’s hopefuls will play in games against USports All-Stars.
With Canada’s camp set to open and since I didn’t have a chance (due to some travel and a weekend illness) to break down Canada’s roster after the camp was announced last week, I wanted to dive in just as they’re getting ready to start getting to work on finalizing the roster.
So here is my comprehensive look at Canada’s World Junior Camp roster, with player-by-player analysis and some thoughts on the chances of each player.
Quick Reaction to the roster
Canada’s roster for its camp is always a unique exercise. The beauty and the curse of such a deep pool of player to pull from is that you’ve got to try to get all the right ingredients and just about everybody has a different idea of what the recipe for success looks like. As we saw when Canada announced the roster, as has always been the case, there was much more chatter about who wasn’t on the roster than who was.
We’ll get to the omissions in a second, but if we’re looking at the Canadian roster as a whole — understanding that several eligible players are not available due to NHL duty or injury — there’s every reason to believe Canada has a gold-medal contender and they should be the betting favorite, as they almost always are.
The biggest thing they have right now is goaltending depth. Sebastian Cossa is more than capable of being the No. 1, but Dylan Garand was on the roster last year and has played very well this season. I don’t think it’s a cut and dried decision as to who gets the net. It might even benefit Canada to platoon their goalies as we’ve seen some teams do to great success.
Defensively, Canada has depth. I don’t know that there’s a tremendous amount of variety in the types of defensemen they can bring, but they’ve all got talent. Owen Power is going to play an awful lot and so will Kaiden Guhle. Beyond that, there’s a real conversation about how to build out the blue line for the best results, especially after purposely leaving right-shot offensive defenseman Brandt Clarke without an invitation.
Up front, Canada is fascinating. There is so much skill, but there was definitely an emphasis on making sure they had some size to their group and a good dose of work ethic in the mix.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what this all ends up looking like.
Brandt Clarke, D, Barrie Colts (LAK): This is the one that definitely provided the most public head scratching and rightfully so. I can buy that you might not take him to the tournament, but not even bringing him to camp was surprising to me. I think Clarke has some deficiencies that need to get cleaned up, like his skating and his defending. Offensively, there isn’t a more creative defenseman in this age pool in Canada. There’s a certain way Canada wants its defensemen to play and I’m not sure Clarke fit in there. Based on what I’ve gathered, there was some concern about personality fit, too. That’s not to say Clarke is a bad kid or that there are going to be lingering character concerns. Also Mark Yanetti, Los Angeles director of amateur scouting, said in an impassioned defense of Clarke that he did not feel Hockey Canada was leaving him home as a “hockey decision” in a conversation with Russ Cohen of EP Rinkside (subscription required). I think you can make some hockey-related reasons for not taking him to the tournament, but to not see how he handles himself with his peers in this setting after he’s dominated offensively in the OHL is one of those decisions that will be remembered if Canada doesn’t win the gold.
Zachary L’Heureux, C/W, Halifax Mooseheads (NSH): This one did not shock me as much as it did some others. L’Heureux is scoring with remarkable consistency in the QMJHL with 28 points in 19 games for Halifax. I still think there were lingering concerns about his temper and the propensity for penalties. It’s not a risk you want to take internationally. L’Heureux has 21 PIM this year, which isn’t egregious and he hasn’t been suspended like he was last year. I still don’t fault Hockey Canada for taking a beat and looking in other directions. They have an abundance of skill already, so let L’Heureux continue to prove himself and his ability to play the game with some controlled aggression and try again next year.
Brennan Othmann, LW, Flint Firebirds (NYR): I think there was some valid criticism of them not taking Brennan Othmann, especially with him scoring 17 goals in 21 games so far for Flint. He also played in the U18s last year and scored a few big goals for them in that tournament. In the end, I think they had enough guys that play the game similarly to Othmann. It seems like if it was close between older players and 18-year-olds, they were going with the 19-year-old. It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it really can show itself in these types of settings.
What we can tell about Canada from the camp roster:
As always, Canada’s strength will be its depth, but there also appears to be an added focus on versatility and size, especially up front. This is going to be a team that has a good mix of skill and grit, with capable goaltending.
I think Hockey Canada is also taking a lot of lessons from the way the gold medal game went down last year. Their D corps had a really, really hard time handling USA’s forecheck. As a result, I think they wanted to get some defensive-minded guys that are going to battle for pucks, be OK with absorbing contact while also having the ability to make plays and get pucks up the ice quickly. There’s not as much of a focus on soft skill on the back end. A lot of the players invited are similar. Even Owen Power, who can produce with the best of them, is not a silky-skilled guy back there.
You also look at the bigger players Canada is bringing to camp at forward and that’s probably also a reaction to not having enough push-back in that game against USA where they didn’t have a as much of a response. Sometimes you can go too far one way or the other, but I think there’s a decent enough balance here. Canada doesn’t have as many options this year as they did last, but they still have a team capable of winning a gold medal.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Hockey Sense with Chris Peters to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.