It came and went: Canada's world-junior selection camp is complete and we're inching closer to knowing what the final team will look like.
Hockey Canada held base at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ont., over four days, slimming the roster from 31 to 24 before taking off to the Czech Republic. Canada played two games against the U Sports selects team, a group made up of the best Canadian university hockey players, with most being prominent CHL players at some point. The teams split the series, as often is the case, with Canada juggling lines around to see what worked and what didn't.
Canada still has at least one cut to make, with the potential for two more if the team gets some help from the NHL. With the stage set for a Euro Trip, let's take a look at the biggest takeaways from the camp in Oakville:
Quinton Byfield is the real deal
There’s no way Byfield misses the final roster. In the mini-scrimmage on Tuesday, he was outmuscling players, winning battles and making plays around the net. He wasn’t getting carried by Nolan Foote or Dylan Cozens on the first line – Byfield was the one creating the opportunities. With Alexis Lafreniere missing action due to an undisclosed injury, Byfield took center stage and ran with it. He had an assist and came close to scoring twice in the first game against U Sports but in terms of two-way play, Byfield was among the best on the team. Who cares if he’s 17? He’s going to make an impact for Canada.
The goaltending battle isn't that much clearer
Well, we entered camp with questions as to what Canada would do with the four goaltenders it brought and we’re not that much closer to finding out who’ll be the starter. Nico Daws rode his hot hand and looked especially good late in Wednesday’s game, fighting off a late-game challenge by U Sports with a couple of highlight-reel stops. Joel Hofer also stood out in the opening game, keeping Canada in the hunt despite an early flurry from the older, more experienced U Sports roster. Olivier Rodrigue was Canada’s best goaltender on Thursday, including a few solid stops on the 10 shots he faced in 30 minutes of play. The odd man out was Hunter Jones, who, despite a great year with OHL Peterborough and a fantastic effort at the CIBC Canada Russia Series, finished with a 4.14 goals-against average and a .818 save percentage – last in both categories, albeit in a small sample size.
Who is the favorite in net? Right now, that's hard to tell, so it'll all come down to how the exhibition contests against Switzerland and Finland go. If the team wants to go with the hottest hand, Daws has to be looked at as the favorite, but if nobody else stands out, Rodrigue could get it based on his history with Hockey Canada at various other levels.
Canada believes in Jamie Drysdale, and that's a good thing
Canada doesn't have a history of bringing underage defensemen to the world juniors, so Drysdale's inclusion was a bit of surprise despite how well he played in camp. Outside of Bowen Byram, Drysdale was Canada's most noticeable defenseman – in a good way – to the point where he was outperforming 'D' partners Thomas Harley and Calen Addison. As other countries – most notably, Finland and Sweden – have embraced younger talent at the World Junior Championship in recent years, bringing someone like Drysdale over a 19-year-old like Peter Diliberatore or a power-play muncher like Harley is a statement. Drysdale was fully deserving of a spot, but the line of thinking has often been to take the more experienced option. Drysdale's inclusion doesn't fit that narrative, but there's a reason he's the top defensive prospect for the 2020 NHL draft.
No love for the NCAA
Of Canada's 31-man camp roster, four players came from the NCAA. Among them, only defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker made it out in good standing, but he was a lock to begin with. Alex Newhook's exclusion was surprising: he scored Canada's only goal on Thursday and should have been credited for tipping in Dilberatore's shot on Wednesday, making him one of Canada's more dangerous scoring threats. Was he good enough to be on the final roster? Yes. Is Canada worse off without him? No, but that's because with Canada's abundance of talented centermen, the spots on both wings became tougher to snag. Newhook was a victim of the numbers game, but he'll be a top-six threat next year when the 2021 WJC heads to western Canada. Dylan Holloway also had some good moments and was regarded as one of Canada's hardest-working forwards, but with Byfield, Lafreniere, Connor McMichael and Liam Foudy on the left side already, there simply wasn't room for him. Again, we'll see Holloway next year. Diliberatore's scratch on Thursday was surprising when you consider he was the only player scratched over the two days to get the boot, but he didn't play his way onto the team, either. He wasn't bad, but he just didn't stand out.
Two more NHL inclusions could shake things up
Midway through Thursday's game, the news broke that Arizona Coyotes center Barrett Hayton would join the team in Europe, just like AHLer Joe Veleno will do next week. That leaves Canada waiting on the status of two other stars: center Kirby Dach and defenseman Noah Dobson. Dach looked like a lock to stay in the NHL by mid-November but he hasn't found the scoresheet in the past 11 games. Would he benefit joining a team with a positive culture and a chance at a medal over playing fourth-line minutes with Ryan Carpenter and Alex Nylander? That's what the Chicago Blackhawks need to decide in the next few days, and Canada will certainly make room for him. Same goes for the New York Islanders and Dobson. Dobson has played in just nine of the Islanders' 30 games with an average ice time of 13:44. He's too good to return to the QMJHL, but New York must see some value in keeping him up with pro players at this point. Dobson would be a fantastic two-way addition for Canada, but it could come at the expense of dropping someone like Drysdale. In the end, that's a worthy sacrifice to make, especially since Dobson's broken stick led to Finland eliminating Canada at the tournament last year, something Dobson will want to get revenge for.
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