Welcome to another edition of the World Juniors, where Canada looks to improve upon its silver-medal finish from last winter. For those who need a brief refresher — we all might, it’s been a rather bleak year — Trevor Zegras capped off a tour de force performance, leading the United States to a 2-0 victory while capturing tournament MVP honours as Canada could only watch the celebration, with the victors bringing a symbolic barrel onto the ice.
In the absence of a clear favourite, Canada is expected to win gold, hosting the tournament for the second-consecutive year. We’ll have in-depth coverage throughout the competition centred around Canada’s efforts, and here’s a look at what to expect from this year’s squad.
Canada has plenty of depth, but its generational prospects will steal the show
Canada boasts arguably the deepest forward corps in the tournament, although it is short on traditional experience. Winnipeg Jets prospect Cole Perfetti is the lone returnee among the forwards, and will be aided by Mason McTavish, who spent nine games with the Anaheim Ducks before being returned to the OHL, while Columbus Blue Jackets first-round pick Kent Johnson and Arizona Coyotes first-round selection Dylan Guenther solidify an impressive core.
And yet Canada will be operating against the conventional notion that this tournament belongs to the 19-year-olds. Shane Wright (2022-eligible) and Connor Bedard (2023-eligible) are the favourites to go first overall in their respective drafts — Bedard could be challenged by Russian phenom Matvei Michkov — and both players could play an elevated role on this year’s squad.
Wright’s detractors pointed to a relative lack of production (11 goals, 30 points in 22 games) as to why he shouldn’t be considered a generational prospect. I reject this hypothesis outright. Wright doesn’t boast world-class speed, but he is indeed a plus skater, with an explosive release, outstanding ability to see the ice and plus-defensive ability. He’s a complete player, and with his 18th birthday on Jan. 5th, Wright could certainly dominate this tournament.
He’s not going to give you flashes of Connor McDavid, but I’ve been following the OHL for almost two decades, and I’d rank him as the fourth-best prospect out of the province of Ontario in that span, trailing McDavid, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. A comparison to Stamkos isn’t unreasonable.
Bedard is a different case. He had to earn his spot on the roster, proving why he’d be a better fit than many 19-year-olds waiting in the wings, including Hendrix Lapierre from the 2021 team. He is an excellent skater and his stride looks downright effortless, in large part due to his ability to switch gears, combined with his otherworldly anticipatory ability.
Bedard can dangle through traffic and beat multiple defenders as if they aren’t there, and he should be able to do this against the top prospects in the world. He’s got phenomenal hands, and as the seventh 16-year-old in Canada’s history to make the team, he will face weighty expectations. That will be no matter. Throw caution to the wind, Bedard could end up being the player of the tournament.
How will the Canadians cope without a right-handed shot?
Kaiden Guhle was named Canada’s captain and is the clear leader of a defence corps that currently lacks a right-handed shot. Guhle is also the lone returnee, and this group is short on star power, with the exception of 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power. Brandt Clarke was inexplicably cut before the selection camp began. He would’ve provided Canada not only with a right-handed shot, but a ready-made power-play quarterback as well.
Canada’s draw is relatively weak — Finland ought to provide the only real test during the group stage on the New Year’s Eve marquee — so the glaring flaws of the defence corps may not be put to the test until the medal round. Keep an eye on Guhle, Power, and Detroit Red Wings prospect Donovan Sebrango as they could be logging heavy, disproportionate minutes.
Sebastian Cossa is the clear-cut starting goaltender
Sometimes, we have to find out who will emerge through a muddled field to become Canada’s starting goaltender. That isn’t the case this year. Sebastian Cossa, a 2021 first-round pick of the Red Wings, will be between the pipes for Canada, while Brett Brochu and Dylan Garand compete for playing time during Cossa’s rest days.
Cossa is a six-foot-six goaltender who blots out the net but moves extremely well laterally for a player his size. He’s often been compared to Ben Bishop, the recently retired Dallas Stars standout, due to his size, agility, and ability to handle heavy volume. Goaltending variance is often one of the biggest determinants of success in this tournament, especially with a small sample involved, but having a bona fide NHL prospect in net should be one fewer thing for Canada and its fans to worry about.