We are just a few short weeks away from the start of the 2019 IIHF World Juniors Championship taking place this time around at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. as well as the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre located in Victoria, B.C.
With that being said, training camps have opened up and preliminary rosters have started to be named by each respective country taking part with Canada taking the liberty of going first with their announcement from head coach Tim Hunter in Calgary, AB on Monday afternoon.
Right off the bat, Hockey Canada started with the naming of a few returning members as both Ottawa Senators players Alex Forementon and Maxime Comtois look for redemption while playing out west. This was then followed by the many notable additions joining the organization for the first time as they seek a gold medal after Canada fell short last year at New Era Field in Buffalo, New York.
As noted by The Canadian Press, the majority of Hockey Canada’s selections come from the Canadian Hockey League, with 29 of the 34 named to camp currently playing in either the OHL, QMJHL or Western Hockey League.
To that point, we start off in Quebec where the headliner of the tournament is located in left-handed left-winger Alexis Lafrenière of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Océanic. Lafreniére is just 17 years of age and has absolutely made the most of every minute played on the ice so far this season, putting him amongst the league’s sensations to join Team Canada for this year’s edition of the holiday season tournament.
Next, we turn our attention towards Canadian defensemen Noah Dobson, another active member of the QMJHL, however, with the Acadie–Bathurst Titan located at the K. C. Irving Regional Centre in New Brunswick. Dobson, 18, did not take part in last year’s competition and therefore joins for the first time looking to impress on a bigger stage. Dobson, a native of Summerside, PEI, was selected by the New York Islanders with the 12th overall selection in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft which took place at American Airlines Center located in Dallas, Texas.
Now we look onwards to the long list of invitees selected from teams across the Ontario Hockey League. We start off with Montreal Canadiens prospects Nick Suzuki and Josh Brook, both of whom are getting their first looks at a higher level of hockey. Stephane Leroux of RDS was first to report the news just half an hour before the announcement. Both Suzuki and Brooks took part in training camp in Brossard prior to the start of the NHL regular season, however, both were optioned at the conclusion to continue to develop their skills.
Since that time, Brooks specifically has been tearing it up in the WHL which ultimately led to him being named captain in fifth year of play with the Moose Jaw Warriors. As for Suzuki, he has continued to display his dominance with the Owen Sound Attack.
Next in line is forward Isaac Ratcliffe who plays for the OHL’s Guelph Storm. Ratcliffe, 19, is taking part in the World Juniors for the first time in his career and will look to use his lengthy size to his advantage to guide Canada on the ice defensively. Ratcliffe, a native of London, Ontario, was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round (35th overall) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft which took place at the United Center located in Chicago, Illinois.
Now, we look at the man likely to be the starting goaltender on Christmas Eve for Team Canada. Michael DiPietro has had a busy week in both being named to Canada’s roster as well as being traded to another team, putting quite the twist on his plans to give him greater opportunities to play and succeed.
It was announced on Tuesday morning that the 19-year-old netminder had been dealt from the Windsor Spitfires to the Ottawa 67’s in exchange for forward Yegor Afanasyev alongside four second-round draft picks as well as three conditional picks.
Wth this deal now officially in the books, it puts an end to his 3 1/2 year tenure across the Detroit River as he now makes his way to the nation’s capital in Ottawa. DiPietro was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the third round (64th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
I spoke with Kenneth Walls of TSN 1200 on Thursday afternoon where he said about the blockbuster trade that sent DiPietro packing, “His compete is what separates him from a lot of other goalies. Obviously he is naturally talented, very athletic, determined but his never say die attitude on each and every play has always stood out to me. There maybe a very small percentage to make a desperation save and he will make the extra effort to do so when others may not.”
In talking about his weaknesses and his overall game, Walls said to me in conclusion, “As far as weaknesses are concerned, I haven’t seen any in the games that he’s played against the 67’s in the past. Last year just before the deadline, rumours where swirling around that he may be traded. Windsor was in Ottawa and Mike had a tough start, he let in 3 of the first 4 shots or something like that, but he shut the door from there and allowed the Spits to come back and win. Even on his ‘bad’ days he seems to find a way to keep his team in it. Again, I haven’t been around him long enough yet to get a sense of any weaknesses, but I can tell you that he seems like a remarkable young man with a very bright future from our brief interactions.”
Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News notes about the deal that it’s not surprising that Windsor dealt DiPietro this year, but it is official now and that’s great for the contending 67’s. Furthermore, he goes on to make mention of the fact that Canada’s presumptive starter for the world juniors joins a loaded Ottawa squad and the 67’s didn’t even lose a roster player, instead surrendering picks and the rights to Egor Afanasyev (currently in the USHL) for the Vancouver Canucks prospect. DiPietro is expected to make his much anticipated NHL Debut at the beginning of the 2021-2022 regular season.
Moving forward now, Evan Bouchard will add on to Team Canada’s junior roster after having made huge strides to open the year, finding himself in the NHL soon rather than later. Bouchard, a native of Oakville, Ontario, has spent the past three years with the OHL’s London Knights, however, since having been drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round (10th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft, he has seen time playing on the NHL stage before returning for his fourth year where he can further develop his skills.
Turning the attention now to Canadian centreman Ty Dellandrea, the native of Port Perry, Ontario is looking to make an impact with Team Canada while also doing so for the very first time. Dellandrea has spent the past two years with the OHL’s Flint Firebirds and is now looking to push his limits in his third year with the club. Dellandrea , 18, was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the first round (13th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft but is not yet ready to advance to the next stage of professional hockey.
In looking at another player who has made his name known, Owen Tippett, a native of Peterborough, Ontario, is a driving force in every aspect when given the time to play and could be a leading force for Team Canada when the World Junior Championships commence. Tippett, 19, has spent the past three years with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads while also having served a stint in the NHL with the Florida Panthers under Bob Boughner. Tippett was drafted by the Panthers in the first round (10th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft but for the time being will remain in the OHL to both further grow as well as develop.
In the final round of players who find themselves in the OHL, Liam Foudy will help to round out this portion of Team Canada’s active roster. Canadian centreman Liam Foudy, another native of Peterborough, Ontario, is playing at a higher level for the first time while representing his home country. Foudy, 18, has spent the past two years with the OHL’s London Knights and is now looking to make his case that he belongs in the NHL. Foudy was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round (18th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft but needs more time to prove his worth before making the jump to a higher level.
As one of the final five, we now preview the background of Barrett Hayton, another native of Peterborough, Ontario. Hayton is a left-handed centreman who is only 18 years of age and could help Team Canada down the middle to drive the production to the other end. Foudy has spent the past two years with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds while also having served a stint in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes under head coach Rick Tocchet. Hayton is now back in the Soo and for his third season where he is guiding the way as captain to lead the team to another Memorial Cup. Hayton was drafted by the Coyotes in the first round (5th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and will hopefully get a second shot with Arizona in the foreseeable future to come ahead but for now will remain lower down to continue to push his game to the greatest extent that he’s capable of.
Moving onto Markus Phillips, the native of Toronto, Ontario is a left-handed defensemen who is 19 years of age and very soon to be NHL ready. That in mind, he will be one of the more veteran players on Team Canada an could prove to be an asset as the team looks to get back on the right track. Phillips has spent the past three years with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack and is now onto his fourth year with the squad looking to drive the way alongside guys like Nick Suzuki. Phillips was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and is certainly hopeful of getting the chance to prove that he can soon be ready to take on his next challenge at the National Hockey League level.
As we draw towards the end with the final three men, we turn the focus to MacKenzie Entwistle, the native of Georgetown, Ontario. Entwhistle is a right-handed right-winger who is 19 years of age and could be ready to tackle the NHL after a few more years of skill development. That in mind, he will join a team of few who will lead the younger guys both on the ice as well as off the ice and in the clubhouse. Entwhistle has spent the past three years with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and is now onto his fourth year looking to lead the way in Will Bitten’s absence. Entwhistle was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the third round (69th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and it may just be a few years before he is given the opportunity of a lifetime to make his debut on the NHL stage.
We transition out now to Morgan Frost, the native of Aurora, Ontario. Frost is a left-handed centreman who is 19 years of age and like a few others above could be ready to soon take on the NHL with a little more playing time and development growth at a lower league down below. Frost joins a team with an even split in both age and talent that certainly has the potential to drive it to the finish line. He will also likely be looked upon as one of the elders to the youngsters. Frost has spent the past three years with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs and is now onto his fourth year looking to lead the way in Will Bitten’s absence. Frost was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round (27th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and could very easily find himself in the NHL if he works hard day in and day out to showcase the skill and the IQ that the Flyers believe he has in his head on the ice within him.
We now bring the OHL to a wrapping point with none other than Matthew Villalta, the second of three goaltenders who will be given the chance to show what they have while also representing their country on the stage that is the World Juniors. Vilalta could easily find himself backing up DiPietro if Ian Scott is cut from the roster before exhibition matches get underway. Villalta, a native of Godfrey, Ontario, is 19 years of age and has plenty to prove between the pipes. If successful, perhaps this could be one of the leading trails that takes him down the long and twisty road en route to the NHL. Vilalta has spent the past two years with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and is now participating in his third while looking to bring the cup back home. Villalta was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round (72nd overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and it may just be a matter of time before he makes his impression a worthy notice to find himself amongst the next generation of players to hit the ice out west in Los Angeles.
On Friday, I go through the second of three stages, this time, analyzing Hockey Canada’s portion of the roster that comes from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Stay tuned for more analysis as we continue our on-going coverage ahead of the 2019 World Junior Championship that gets going with puck drop on Boxing Day, Wednesday December 26th, 2018.