2022 IIHF World Juniors Preview: Canadaby Christopher Gallagher December 24, 2021 0 comments
Canada heads into the World Junior Tournament as one of the favorites to capture the gold medal once again. They will look to win the nation’s third since 2015. The team is looking to avenge their loss in the final game to the United States a year ago. A young group, the program returned just three players this year in defenseman Kaiden Guhle, winger Cole Perfetti, and netminder Dylan Garand. There is no shortage of storylines making headlines across the country. Connor Bedard became just the seventh 16 year old ever to make the final roster. He joins the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Jason Spezza, Eric Lindros, and Wayne Gretzky. Along with this, the consensus number one pick in the upcoming NHL draft, Shane Wright, will look to cement his stock with a strong tournament.
Behind the bench for Canada for the first time since he won a silver medal as an assistant coach at the world championship, Dave Cameron will look to guide the young group. He was formerly the head coach of the Ottawa Senators. The 63-year-old also became recently named the bench boss of the Ottawa 67’s in the OHL. A longtime member of the national program, he has won three medals at the World Junior Championship. The Charlottetown native was an assistant coach in 2009 and 2010 and a head coach in 2011.
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This will be one of the deepest groups in the tournament for any club. The strength for Canada will be their depth at the forward position. Perfetti will skate on the team’s top line alongside Wright and Edmonton Oiler’s 2021 first-round pick Xavier Bourgault. He is looking to figure more prominently this year after racking up six points in seven games a year ago. The Whitby Ontario native has spent most of his 2021 campaign with the Manitoba Moose. This was after the Winnipeg Jets selected him 10th overall in 2020.
Selected to the squad after appearing in nine games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, Mason McTavish will look to center the second line for Cameron. Joined by two more first-time players in Kent Johnson and Mavrik Bourque, the former currently leads the University of Michigan hockey team with 23 points in 17 games. Furthermore, the latter is pacing the Shawinigan Cataractes with 22 goals this season.
Rounding out the bottom six for the club, Edmonton Oilkings captain Jake Neighbours is joined by Ridly Greig and Justin Sourdif in what figures to be one of the top third lines in the tournament. Previously representing Canada at the 2018 World U-17 Hockey Challenge, Neighbours was named the captain of Team White. Impressing many, the Alberta native racked up six points in five games while helping to lead the team to a first-place finish in Group A.
Bedard will begin the preliminary play as one of the extra forwards. However, look for the speedster to force his way into the top half of the lineup. Selected as the first player to earn exceptional status in the WHL, the Vancouver native is currently averaging a point per game in his first season with the Regina Pats. Electrifying during the selection process, he has the shot and game-changing burst to flip a contest at a moment’s notice.
Two high-end talents anchor Canada on the back end. Leading the group’s top four are this year’s number one draft pick in Owen Power and Ghule. Likely to eat up a lot of minutes throughout the tournament, Power returned to Michigan to spend his 2021 campaign after being chosen by the Buffalo Sabres. He has built upon his offensive game mightily over the course of two seasons in Ann Arbour. The smooth-skating defenseman has improved his point total from a year ago, with 23 in 18 games for the Wolverines.
Selected to captain the team as a returnee, look for Ghule to log heavy minutes on the blue line. Impressing as an 18-year-old in 2021, the former Prince Albert Raider recorded a goal and an assist. Physical on the back end, he offers little room for his opponents to work. Possessing the ability to neutralize players both off the rush and in his own zone, look for him to be on the ice in every big moment for the team.
Olen Zellweger and Carson Lambos are two more players to watch on the blue line. Skating alongside Power on the group’s top pairing in practice before the commencement of the championship, Zellweger inked a deal with the Anaheim Ducks in August. That came after they chose the 5’10 defenseman with their second-round selection in 2021. An option to man one of the power-play units for Canada, Lambos has both the shot and manipulation skills on the back end to fool netminders and find the open passing lanes. Ultimately choosing to select all left-handed shots to round out their core, Lukas Cormier offers another offensive threat on the back end. Furthermore, Ryan O’Rourke and Donovan Sembrango are potent and smart in their own zone as depth pieces with specific roles.
Historically, goaltending has not been a position of strength over the last few years for Canada. However, the team will roll into the 2022 tournament with what projects to be the strongest trio the nation has had in recent memory. Returning after making one relief appearance for the country in 2021, Garand has been outstanding for the Kamloops Blazers this season. Making 19 starts for the team, the New York Rangers draft pick has recorded 14 victories while amassing a 1.85 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
Joining the 2020 fourth-round pick are two first-time selections in Sebastian Cossa and Brett Brochu. Likely to open up as the third option in goal, Brochu has been strong for the London Knights. He has guided the group to a second-place spot in the Western Conference. The 19-year-old ranks third among OHL netminders in save percentage and fourth in goals-against average.
A first-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in April’s draft, Cossa offers a unique skill set in between the pipes. A three-year starter for the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL, the Hamilton Ontario native posted a .927 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average across 73 junior starts. He has already racked up two shutouts across 21 appearances in 2021. Cossa is able to get to the top of his crease to cut down the angle on opposing shooters. Along with this, he can recover on rebound attempts to get in front of multiple shot sequences. A substantial puck handler behind the net, he can stop the puck for his defenseman on dump-ins. While also being able to spring the puck up on breakouts.
Player to Keep an Eye on
Shane Wright, 17, Center, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)/Draft Eligible
Wright is lauded by many as the first player likely to hear his name called in the upcoming NHL Draft. He was just the fifth person ever to be granted exceptional status to play in the OHL at 16 years old. The Burlington Ontario native exploded onto the scene with the Frontenancs, in 2020, with 39 goals during his rookie season. Chosen to captain Kingston during his second junior campaign, the 6’1 center is locked into leading Canada’s top line all tournament long.
Offering high-end offensive upside, he has already drawn comparisons to former world junior standouts in Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. While the spotlight will likely be on Bedard throughout the tournament, look for Wright to play a more integral role. The last cut a year ago, expect him to shine on the international stage amidst a veteran-heavy group.
Canada will compete in Group A after receiving a silver medal a year ago. The team will square off against the Czech Republic on boxing day to open up the tournament. After this, they will round out the preliminary round with matchups against Austria and Germany. Look for Finland to provide them with their biggest early-stage challenge. Expected to win the group and advance to the knockout stage, the country will face familiar tests in the United States, Sweden, and Russia. After going undefeated in pool play, they were disappointingly knocked off by their rivals to the south in the finals a year ago. The key to the tournament will once again be how they manage adversity in the later stages. Entering as one of the best teams on paper, the expectation remains for them to come out on top.
Prediction for Canada: Gold Medal
Follow Chris Gallagher on Twitter @ChrisGally06
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