Hockey Canada on Monday invited 31 players to next week's world junior hockey selection camp, including left-winger Alexis Lafrenière, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL draft.
The 18-year-old, who amassed 105 points in 61 games last season for the Rimouski Oceanic, is on a better pace this year with 59 points in 28 contests to lead the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Two others eligible to return for this year's tournament in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic — defencemen Ty Smith and Jared McIsaac — also received an invite.
Canada's selection camp will be held Dec. 9-12 at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ont., and feature two games against a team of U Sports all-stars — Dec. 11 at 5 p.m. ET and Dec. 12 at 2 p.m.
"After a long evaluation process through summer camp, the early weeks of the CHL season and the Canada-Russia Series, we are nearing the final steps in selecting the roster that will represent Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship," Canada head scout Brad McEwen said in a news release.
"We really believe there's experience within the group, some youth and enthusiasm," he added Monday.
Tourney opener vs. U.S.
The camp is a final step towards determining which players will compete at the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 world junior championship.
Canada's quest for a gold medal begins in Ostrava on Dec. 26 against the United States at 2 p.m. ET. The Canadians, who last won in 2018 at Buffalo, N.Y., will be looking to add to their 31 medals — 17 gold, nine silver, five bronze — since 1977.
Canada never found its groove in last year's tournament, dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to eventual champions Finland in the quarter-finals at Vancouver.
It marked the first time Canada didn't win a medal as the host team and only the second time in 21 years it didn't play for a medal at the world juniors.
It's expected this year's squad will be a mix of hard-working older players and highly skilled young players.
Will NHL rookies join team?
Canada head coach Dale Hunter is hoping to have three NHL players and another in the American Hockey League at his disposal in the Czech Republic.
Centre Kirby Dach of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., has scored five goals and 10 points in 20 games with the Chicago Blackhawks after starting the season late due to a concussion.
The 18-year-old has experience playing international for Canada at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup when it won gold.
Dobson, also 19, has two assists in seven contests on defence for the New York Islanders, who drafted the native of Summerside, P.E.I., while centre Hayton has four points in 14 outings for the Arizona Coyotes. The 19-year-old was the fifth overall pick in 2018.
Veleno, 19, has three goals and eight points for the Detroit Red Wings' AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids, Mich., where the centre from Kirkland, Que., is a team-worst minus-16.
Coaching staff 'relentless in their work ethic'
Assisting Hunter is Mitch Love (Saskatoon, WHL), André Tourigny (Ottawa, OHL) and Alan Letang (Owen Sound, OHL).
"We're extremely excited about this staff," director of national teams Shawn Bullock said at Monday's news conference in Calgary. "I can assure you there's cohesion, they're relentless in their work ethic and we're extremely excited about the athletes that we've identified today."
Mark Hunter, general manager of the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights and brother of Dale, is the management lead for Canada.
"His experience and leadership is such a positive," said McEwen of Mark Hunter, the former Toronto Maple Leafs assistant GM. "We're so lucky to have him drive this process to now and moving forward to the tournament."
Six years ago, the Hunters teamed to bring home a world under-18 championship gold medal for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the Czech Republic.
Canada's selection camp roster
- Quinton Byfield, Sudbury (OHL)
- Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge (WHL)
- Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL)
- Aidan Dudas, Owen Sound (OHL)
- Nolan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
- Liam Foudy, London (OHL)
- Benoît-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)
- Dylan Holloway, U. of Wisconsin (NCAA)
- Peyton Krebs, Winnipeg (WHL)
- Alexis Lafrenière, Rimouski (QMJHL)
- Raphaël Lavoie, Halifax (QMJHL)
- Connor McMichael, London (OHL)
- Dawson Mercer, Drummondville (QMJHL)
- Alex Newhook, Boston College (NCAA)
- Jakob Pelletier, Moncton (QMJHL)
- Cole Perfetti, Saginaw (OHL)
- Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)
- Calen Addison, Lethbridge (WHL)
- Kevin Bahl, Ottawa (OHL)
- Jacob Bernard-Docker, U. of North Dakota (NCAA)
- Bowen Byram, Vancouver (WHL)
- Peter Diliberatore, Quinnipiac University (NCAA)
- Jamie Drysdale, Erie (OHL)
- Thomas Harley, Mississauga (OHL)
- Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)
- Braden Schneider, Brandon (WHL)
- Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)
- Nico Daws, Guelph (OHL)
- Joel Hofer, Portland (WHL)
- Hunter Jones, Peterborough (OHL)
- Olivier Rodrigue, Moncton (QMJHL)