The brain trust went in to the selection process with a new mandate and they followed it. The result is a team that not only has everything, but wasn’t based on politics or age.
For those sent home, the final cuts to Team Canada’s world junior roster are brutal. But it’s a very tough team to crack and the brain trust behind the squad made sure the best players were available for competition and the result is a roster forged in fire.
In previous years, the selection committee had been criticized for being too political, doling out camp spots as evenly as possible to the three major junior circuits. This year, only three Quebec Leaguers made the camp, but in the end they were also the right three, since Zach Fucale, Samuel Morin and Frederik Gauthier will all have distinct roles.
The final cuts were made last night, with forwards Rourke Chartier, Jason Dickinson and Michael Dal Colle sent home along with defenseman Haydn Fleury.
With Ottawa lending Curtis Lazar to the team from the NHL, one more deserving forward had to go and at least for Dal Colle, he will be eligible next year as well. Same goes for the defenseman Fleury, who has a bright future ahead of him but couldn’t push past what looks to be an excellent blueline corps.
Joe Hicketts was the big surprise back there and the feisty Detroit Red Wings free agent had already served notice that he came to win. That helped lead to the early ouster of returnee Chris Bigras, who struggled in an early exhibition game. This blueline is mobile all-around and has a lot of two-way potential headlined by Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey. Morin and Darnell Nurse add snarl to the equation. Dillon Heatherington and Shea Theodore are two more reliable weapons.
Up front, Lazar will be a huge addition. Not only does he have NHL experience, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife player who can line up at all three forward positions, kill penalties and contribute to the power play. He can score and change the tone of a shift with a hit.
Simply put, Canada’s forwards have the potential to run over opponents one way or another. Sam Reinhart shares many of the same characteristics as Lazar, right down to the fact he played in the NHL this year for Buffalo before being sent back to junior (though Lazar came straight from the Sens). Anthony Duclair (also from the NHL), Connor McDavid, Max Domi, Nic Petan and Robby Fabbri are all elite offensive players, while Brayden Point and Jake Virtanen can also score, making for a sick offensive attack.
Most surprising for me is how much size Canada brought. Draft-eligible Lawson Crouse made the cut and he can be a physical force, but also plays responsibly. Nick Paul, an Ottawa prospect who came from Dallas in the Jason Spezza deal, is a big, two-way force, while Nick Ritchie is a burly, nasty power forward. Ritchie’s challenge will be negotiating the international officiating in the tournament. But on the smaller NHL ice surfaces of Toronto and Montreal, opposing teams will also have less space to get away from these players, which could be an advantage for Canada. Gauthier brings a great defensive awareness to the forwards corps and he too is huge.
The goalies have long been known, but Fucale has the experience and Eric Comrie has a great resume, just in case.
Canada is loaded once again and expectations will be sky-high. But with the final roster set, I can officially say they are the favorites and should win this tournament.