Breaking Down Team Canada’s WJC Roster

The holiday season has arrived, and hockey’s World Junior Championships, one of the most anticipated events of the year, are quickly approaching. 

On December 3rd, Canada’s preliminary roster was released. 

A few days later, I tweeted out my lines for Canada at the WJC. Keep in mind that these aren’t a projection of what Canada’s lines will be, but the lineup that I would run if I were in charge. I expect that Canada’s brass will lean towards older, more experienced players for their final lineup, whereas I favoured younger, more skilled prospects.

Let’s go over the players featured in my lineup.

Forwards

Maxime Comtois (LW)

It looked like Comtois was going to stick in the NHL after he played his 10th game with the Anaheim Ducks this season, burning a year of his contract. However, the Ducks seemed to change their mind, returning Comtois to the Drummondville Voltigeurs, his QMJHL team.

Comtois had 7 points in 10 games for the Ducks, and 1 point in 4 AHL games. Since being returned to the QMJHL, he has recorded three points through two games.

The winger is an effective power winger with an edge to his game. He can fulfill that “agitator” role, and toes the line between clean and dirty play. Often, he finds himself on the “dirty” side.

Comtois will be a no-brainer choice for the final roster, and will play a key role for Canada at the tournament. He projects to slot in on the left wing somewhere in the top six, and is a very legitimate candidate for a spot on the first line.

Cody Glass (C)

The 6th overall pick of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, Glass is an intelligent two-way centre that will be very important for Canada at the WJC. The prime candidate for the centre spot on Canada’s top line, Glass could be the team’s most crucial player over the tournament. 

The impact he’s capable of is profound— there isn’t a single area of the ice where Glass doesn’t excel. He’s defensively responsible, he’s a transition beast, and his creativity and intelligence in the offensive zone has a positive effect on everyone of his teammates on the ice with him. Expect him to be leaned on heavily for Team Canada across all situations.

Nick Suzuki (C/RW)

Suzuki can play centre, but it’s expected that he’ll suit up on the right wing for Canada at the World Juniors. A smart, dynamic forward, Suzuki is strong on the puck, excellent in tight, and a creative and intelligent playmaker.

I see a pretty natural fit for him on the top line with Cody Glass, where the two could form a dangerous duo. Both are very intelligent, and could mesh well in that way.

This season, Suzuki has totaled 41 points over 27 games with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL.

Alex Formenton (LW)

Formenton got 9 games with the Ottawa Senators at the beginning of the season, but with just one point in that time, he failed to prove that he was worth keeping for that year. He was returned to the London Knights of the OHL, where he’s gotten off to a solid start with 14 points in 11 games.

Formenton, a fast and shifty winger, made his speed known at last year’s WJC, where he was an incredibly dangerous threat off the rush all tournament. He ended up with 4 points over 7 games.

This year, Formenton will play a more important role, projected to slot into the top six for Canada. His ability to wear down opposing players with his quickness should be on display.

Gabriel Vilardi (C)

Expected to anchor Canada’s second line, which has the potential to be even more dangerous than their first, Vilardi will bring experience and pro-level skill to the team. 

A dynamic, well-rounded centre, Vilardi has outstanding puck skills, great vision, and excellent skill in the dirty areas. Vilardi likes to operate from below the goal line, where he’s able to cycle the puck at a high level.

His line should be able to rack up significant time in the opponent’s zone, keeping the puck deep and the opponent hemmed in their own zone.

Owen Tippett (RW)

If I had to choose one Canadian player that could explode and just destroy this tournament, Owen Tippett would be that pick. A goal-scoring machine, Tippett is quick, an excellent forechecker, and an incredible shooter. Armed with a heavy shot and a quick release, Tippett has been scoring just under a goal-per-game for the Mississauga Steelheads this season.

Tippett and Vilardi should work well together, forming another potentially dominant duo for Canada. 

Alexis Lafrenière (LW)

A superprospect, and projected first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Lafrenière will be the only player from his age group to play for Canada at the tournament.

He probably won’t play much of a role for Canada— even Connor McDavid couldn’t earn a feature role for the team in his D-1 season, but honestly, he probably deserves to. Lafrenière has 49 points in 29 games so far this season, and is probably already on the verge of NHL-readiness.

Morgan Frost (C)

Last year, Frost was, in my books, the most impactful player in the OHL. This year, he’s gotten off to a bit of a slower start, but the tools that made him so good last season are still very much present. 

Frost has game-changing ability, and is expected to drive a third line that could be every bit as dangerous as the two before it. 

Barrett Hayton (C)

Hayton, the fifth overall pick in 2018, has 33 points in 20 games so far for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. Given a larger role by the Greyhounds, Hayton has flourished, improving vastly over his 60 points in 63 games last season.

Hayton is a smart, well-rounded forward with good hands and an excellent release. He’ll be counted on as a goal-scorer for Canada.

Ty Dellandrea (C)

Dellandrea has been one of few bright spots for an embarrassingly poor Flint Firebirds team. Despite playing for a team with just 3 wins through 31 games, Dellandrea has still managed to produce at a rate of over a point-per-game.

A big, two-way centre, Dellandrea was selected 13th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2018. He’s fast, he has great hands, and he a huge danger on the rush. He’ll be very influential in the transition game for his line.

Joe Veleno (C)

It was an absolute travesty that Veleno, once heralded as a future NHL star, fell all the way to the Detroit Red Wings at 30th overall last June. While he didn’t live up to expectations, he was still a worthy top 15 pick, but nearly fell all the way out of the first round. 

We can argue about whether or not Veleno deserved “exceptional status” all day long, but there’s no argument that he isn’t, at the very least, skilled enough to warrant the consideration. An excellent skater, playmaker, and two-way pivot, Veleno is projected to anchor a fourth line that could skate circles around the lesser players of the opponent.

Brett Leason (RW)

Leason went undrafted in 2018, his first year of eligibility, but there’s no way he doesn’t get snatched up the second time around. Playing in the WHL, Leason has exploded this season, tallying 62 points in 29 games to date, over two points per game and good for the lead in WHL scoring.

Despite this otherworldly level of play so far this season, it isn’t expected that he’ll play a significant role for Canada at the World Juniors. Those spots will go to more established players with longer track records. But Leason will be a player to keep an eye on, and it will be extremely interesting to see if he can keep it up on the international stage.

Defense

Ty Smith (LHD)

Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson will most likely be perceived as Canada’s top defencemen, but Ty Smith could be more impactful at the tournament than both. 

A smart, puck-moving defenceman, Smith excels in the transition game. It’s rare for Smith’s team to become hemmed in their own zone with the blueliner on the ice— he’s just too good at breaking the puck out. Expect Team Canada to spent a lot of time in the offensive zone with him present, especially if he’s paired with another similarly talented defenceman like Dobson or Bouchard.

Noah Dobson (RHD)

Dobson seemed like a prime candidate to go early at the draft — after all, he’s a big, right-shot, offensively talented defenceman — but he ended up falling to the Islanders at 12th overall.

A responsible, two-way defenceman, Dobson is exceptional at moving the puck up ice and supporting the play. Quick enough to join the rush and proficiently recover if needed, Dobson can chip in on offence while holding down the fort defensively.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph (LHD)

A mobile, two-way defenceman, Joseph doesn’t make much of an offensive impact, but he’s solid defensively and can transition the puck.

His defensively-inclined game should compliment Evan Bouchard’s offensive-geared style well.

Evan Bouchard (RHD)

An intelligent defenceman and exceptional passer, Bouchard can make an enormous transitional impact. Although his skating holds him back from being a strong puck-rusher, he’s very good at kick-starting the attack with an accurate pass to a forward in motion.

Offensively, Bouchard has a hard, accurate slapshot that he uses remarkably well to generate rebounds, deflections and other opportunities. That portfolio mixes well with the powerplay— he’ll quarterback Canada’s top unit at the tournament.

Jared McIsaac (LHD)

The 36th overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, McIsaac has taken a big step forward offensively this season, going from a touch over 0.7 points-per-game last year to 22 points in 23 contests this season.

Canada will be counting on that offensive ability to show at the World Juniors as they strive for three dependable pairs on their blueline. 

Josh Brook (RHD)

Brook is off to an exceptional start to his D+2 season for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, tallying 33 points in 25 games. The second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2017, I have Brook penciled in on the third pairing, but his experience and WHL resume could easily launch him higher in the lineup. He’s spent some time playing the left side as well, so it’s possible that head coach Tim Hunter could slot him in there instead.

An exceptionally intelligent defender, Brook plays a well-rounded game. He does a very good job of supporting the play, and consistently makes small, but impactful plays for his team. He isn’t overly flashy, and it’s unlikely that he’ll blow anyone away with his play, but he’s a quietly excellent player.

Goalies

Michael DiPietro (G)

The main piece of a very significant recent OHL trade, DiPietro was moved from the Windsor Spitfires to the Ottawa 67s. Widely regarded as the best goaltender in the OHL, DiPietro has game-changing ability— if he didn’t, why would the 67s give up a package including four 2nd round draft picks, and three more conditional selections (one 2nd rounder, two third rounders), as well as the rights to a promising OHL prospect for him?

DiPietro has a .920 save percentage on the season.

Ian Scott (G)

A Maple Leafs prospect, Scott has been absolutely insane so far this season in the WHL, posting a save percentage upwards of .940. If that superb play can continue through Team Canada’s selection camp, it’s possible that Scott could steal the starting job from DiPietro.