With the 2019 World Juniors Championship just under a month away from starting in Europe, Hockey Canada has started the prep process to start getting players ready to battle and compete. With that in mind, just three weeks following the Canada Russia Series, the organization announced on Monday the players invited to World Juniors Selection Camp.
The series, being sponsored by Sport Chek, will take place in Oakville, Ontario which will allow some of Canada’s best players to continue working and take part in a pair of games against the U-Sports All-Stars.
Amongst the players named to Canada’s roster for selection camp next week, it is headlined by left-winger Alexis Lafreniere who is projected to go No.1 overall this spring. Lafreniere is just one of 31 players selected by Canada as he will be joined by a pair of Q players with both Ty Smith and Jared McIsaac returning.
A few hours following the announcement, Hockey Canada held a conference call on Monday which allowed Mark Hunter and head scout Brad McEwen to speak with the media to discuss their decisions.
To open the media conference call, Mark Hunter was asked to say a few words where he discussed the outlook for training camp after closely following these players the past month. With that in mind, the London Knights general manager said, “It’s going to be very competitive. We have three things coming to camp in our players; people who can compete, have grit and skill.”
With a collection of players coming from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Hunter was asked about Raphael Lavoie and Benoit-Olivier Groulx and the chemistry they share with the Halifax Mooseheads. When discussing the possible impact that the two will have on World Junior Selection Camp, Hunter said, “It is going to help for sure. In the end, it is what they do at selection camp. I am sure they will get time together and see how they do.”
Team Canada will be led by Dale Hunter, head coach of the Knights, meanwhile, sharing the duties with assistants Mitch Love, Alan Letang and Ottawa 67’s head coach André Tourigny. Amongst Team Canada’s roster that will compete for spots in the tournament are Quinton Byfield, Jamie Drysdale and Cole Perfetti of the Saginaw Spirit.
With Brad McEwen leading the charge for Hockey Canada as head scout for the tournament, the executive was asked about bringing three 17 year olds to World Junior selection camp. Given the overall abilities and in-game performances of Byfield, Drysdale and Perfetti, the western Canadian amateur hockey scout said, “We felt strongly that they are the best players, irrelevant of age.”
Brad McEwen is one of many who have been working hard behind scenes this past month and in a press release sent out on Monday, the head scout said about the overall process, “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.”
With anticipation now on the rise not only for players, but staff and executives, McEwen would close in saying, “We are expecting a highly competitive camp from these 31 players, and we know there will be many difficult decisions when it comes time to select the players who will wear the Maple Leaf in the Czech Republic.”
Lukas Weese of Last Word On Sports asked Brad McEwen about Rimouski forward Alexis Lafreniere and when discussing his World Juniors experience in Vancouver and Victoria last year and how that helps him, the former Calgary Flames executive said, “That experience is valuable. Knowing Alexis’ character, he will be a positive member of our team.”
Another star studded player has been Nico Daws of the defending league champions. With the attention being turned back to Mark Hunter, Lukas Weese asked the OHL executive about his first impression of the 18-year-old goaltender, one of four on Team Canada’s roster. In response to his capabilities, Hunter said of the Guelph Storm backstop, “What sticks out right away is his calmness. He deserves a lot of credit for Guelph doing so well.”
Joining Nico Daws and the pack of players who were selected from the QMJHL, the selection camp, being hosted in Oakville, will feature the likes of Bowen Byram and Ty Dellandrea. Liam Foudy and Connor McMichael will also be on-hand for the four-day process.
All four players participated in the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series which featured a pair of games in Kitchener and London with Team OHL under Dale Hunter’s management. When asked about Foudy and McMichael making the World Junior Selection Camp roster, Mark Hunter said of the skill they both bring, “Connor can be used in all situations, on the power play and protecting the lead. Liam started slow but has taken over games lately.”
With Team Canada the subject at the forefront, Mark Hunter said of the identity they’ve formed the roster around, “We need puck possession, skill and to not turn the puck over blindly. We believe we have really good skaters that can skate at high speeds and stop on a dime.”
Early in the morning on Monday, Owen Sound GM Dale DeGray said that captain Aidan Dudas was ‘highly considered’ for a World Juniors Selection invite from Hockey Canada. However, given his status since Friday night’s game, DeGray also said his upper-body injury was playing a factor in the decision to add him. With speculation starting to circulate that he could be out for 4-6 weeks, the Canadian centreman was presented an invite, one that will carefully be monitored throughout.
The Puck Authority then chimed in, asking what impacts his invite might have and in regards to an update on his status, Mark Hunter said of the situation, “It was a late injury that occurred Friday night. Our doctors will look at it. If he can’t go he can’t go, which means we would have 15 players.”
While the roster is fully stacked, there is a new face in the mix and that is defensemen Kevin Bahl who is a prospect of the Arizona Coyotes. When asked about the progress made by the left-handed shooter in Ottawa, Hunter said, “He’s come a long way as a hockey player and credit to him. He’s a big body, long stick. Plays tough minutes for Ottawa and has really improved.”
On the goaltending side of the roster, Nico Daws is not alone as he is joined by Joel Hofer, Hunter Jones and Oliver Rodrigue. When speaking about the talents that will represent Team Canada in net, Mark Hunter said, “I like all four. All four have had good years. They have done their job and won hockey games. The next step is whose going to be our number one, number two, number three goalie.”
At this time, neither Joe Veleno nor Noah Dobson or Barrett Hayton have been named to the roster. However, Shawn Bullock, who is the director of Men’s National Teams for Hockey Canada, said that he has been in contact with the NHL teams of the three individuals and will continue to do so. He also added that December 19th is the date where final decisions for Hockey Canada are made on whether or not these players get loaned.
Behind the entire process aside from the Hunter brothers, Shawn Bullock and Brad McEwen have been assistants Mitch Love and Alan Letang as well as Ottawa head coach André Tourigny. When speaking about these staff members who lent a hand in selection for the first time, Mark Hunter said, “It’s been great. We’ve had time to evaluate the best players from across Canada at Plymouth and the Russian series. We’ve had time to talk about what our hockey club is.”
With the QMJHL being a predominantly large focus this winter, Mark Hunter was asked about Jared McIsaac who is a prospect of the Detroit Red Wings. McIsaac, who played for the Mooseheads, is currently coming back from an upper-body injury. When discussing the defensemen’s return after taking the last five months to recover, Mark Hunter said, “Always a concern when someone comes back from a long-term injury. There is another level of speed and skill that must be achieved at camp.”
Lastly, Lukas Weese asked Hunter what he expects from Quinton Byfield at camp and when discussing the expectations in place, the former Toronto Maple Leafs executive said, “We want Quinton to be a big power forward, who can skate at high speeds and drive to the net. When you play the Russian team, you need big bodies who are skilled.”
With the World Juniors Preview Show having aired on TSN4 on Monday night, Owen Sound captain Aidan Dudas was named a frontrunner to make Team Canada’s roster out of camp for the tournament. Again, this call is dependent on what his timeline for recovery looks like.
There are 23 spots available and 31 players have been invited to camp. It will truly be a fight to the finish line for the chance of a lifetime on the world’s biggest stage.
The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off on Boxing Day in Ostava and Trinec as Team Canada squares off against USA Hockey to kick off the tournament on December 26th. All games can be seen live on TSN and TSN.ca, meanwhile, they can be streamed on TSN GO and TSN Direct.