Canada enters the 2020 rendition of the World Junior Hockey Championships after a disappointing sixth-place finish on home soil. The team must now attempt to win their first Gold medal on European soil since 2008. They do so by bringing five returning players and the consensus top two selections in the ultra-exciting 2020 crop. However, their poor finish a year ago has led to them landing in the “Pool of Death” along with Russia, the USA, Czech Republic and Germany. It will a slugfest.
Do they have the horses to take the podium in Ostrava and Třinec?
Upfront, the team can hang with the best of the best at this event. But just as they do every year, Canada finds a way to micro-manage their roster. The left very real offensive talent behind in Colorado first-rounder, Alex Newhook and 2020-eligible, Cole Perfetti. Both players will feature prominently on the 2021 team but will be left watching the games just as we are this year.
The top line
Long considered the top prospect for the upcoming draft, Alexis Lafreniere returns as a second-year member of the team and will skate on the left side of Joe Veleno and Nolan Foote to begin the event. This trio brings speed, skill, and jam to the rink. Lafreniere and Veleno will thrive in a transition game while Foote will bring the meat.
The All-Centre Line
The second line features three centres and they’re all very good. 17-year-old Quinton Byfield will skate on the left side. Barrett Hayton – fresh off of a private jet from the Arizona Coyotes will play the true position, and Buffalo Sabres prospect, Dylan Cozens rounds out the right side.
Call me crazy, but this line has all the ingredients to be the dominant line for the Red and White. All three have size, speed and skill and can beat you in any number of ways. The opposition will have migraines as they attempt to match up with the unique abilities of the unit.
Now to watch the world fall in love with Byfield.
[Read More: Robinson’s 2020 Draft Rankings – Byfield Sits Atop The Mountain]
The Shutdown Line
As the Canadian attempt to maneuver through the “Pool of Death” they’ll rely heavily on their third line to slow down the horses from the Americans and Russians. This line is all about north-south speed with Liam Foudy bringing arguably the top gear in the event. He’s lined up with Stars prospect Ty Dellandrea and Maple Leaf’s prospect, Aidan Dudas.
Dudas was a question mark with a lingering injury, but the team brought him to the Czech Republic just in case he was good to go, and BO Groulx spent a lonely flight back when Dudas was cleared.
The “Fourth” Line
Canada has the fortunate ability to have its bottom unit be of a calibre of many nation’s top line. The OHL point leader and Caps first-rounder, Connor McMichael brings all the intangibles you can handle. Akil Thomas is a nightmare to handle with his speed and tenacity, and Raphael Lavoie brings the girth and skill of a burgeoning power forward. These three will work the forecheck and the corners with the best of them.
The 13th Man
Dawson Mercer begins the event as the extra forward but the 2020-eligible QMJHLer has all the chops to elevate up the lineup and prove very valuable for this team. Don’t sleep on this kid. He’s one of my favourites in this class.
The team brings a nice blend of skills and ages on the blueline this year. They’ll look to play the matchup game against the big cats in Pool B but also won’t be afraid to push the pace. They don’t own the top corps at the event, but they should be able to hold their own.
Canada will attempt to insulate their U19 backs by playing them behind veteran returnees in Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith to begin the event. McIsaac will be the reliable, stay-at-home asset while Smith should more freely roam. Smith should be one of the best defenders at this short tournament.
The Shutdown Pair
Kevin Bahl and Jacob Bernard-Docker will start as the second pair and bring a calming, steady presence to their 20-minutes a night. Don’t expect a ton of offense from these two, but they should get the puck up and out in a hurry and stymie to opponents counter-attack. They’ll also see a healthy dose of PK time.
The “Third Pair”
The most recent fourth overall selection in Bowen Byram will skate alongside his WHL peer and Penguins’ prospect, Calen Addison. These two won’t be shy in engaging in the rush and creating offense out of nothing. Both should feature prominently on the team’s power-play units.
Just as Mercer has the chops to elevate up the forward ladder, 2020-eligible, Jamie Drysdale can do the same on the backend. He’s a tremendous talent.
If there is a clear question mark on this team, it’s in the net. The Canadian have won gold eight times on European soil and each time their stopper has been named the top in the event.
The team comes in with options, as undrafted, Nigel Daws appears to have a slight edge with Blues prospect, Joel Hofer waiting for his opportunity. However, the team is at a clear disadvantage in goal compared to the Fins, Czechs, Americans and Russians. They’ll need the goaltending to surprise if they plan on running all the way to glory.
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