It’s the hardest job in juniors: picking Canada’s entry for the World Junior Championship. The Canadians announced their preliminary roster on Monday, with 34 kids getting the call. As Bob McKenzie pointed out earlier in the day, NHLers Robert Thomas (St. Louis) and Michael Rasmussen (Detroit) are not likely to be loaned out, though nothing is official yet. A couple players who have been injured, such as Los Angeles prospects Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, were included, though Vilardi did play for AHL Ontario on the weekend, so he’s clearly on the mend.
We’ve also got a couple locks already in players from last year’s gold-medal squad: Maxime Comtois (Anaheim) and Alex Formenton (Ottawa) will definitely be there, barring injury of course.
With that out of the way let’s take a look at the names we do have and a couple that did not make the cut. In general, I would say that Hockey Canada did not overlook anyone shocking, but let’s start with that category, since I gather a lot of fans will be curious about that group.
Trey Fix-Wolansky, RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): The second-highest scorer in the ‘Dub’ right now, Fix-Wolansky is a Columbus Blue Jackets pick who has a ton of offensive skill, but not necessarily the 200-foot game that Canada covets. Short but stocky, Fix-Wolansky is still a very good junior player, but Canada is deep up front.
Antoine Morand, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): The Anaheim Ducks pick helped Acadie-Bathurst win the Memorial Cup last year and now has a chance to clinch another national championship since the Mooseheads host the tournament. A solid two-way player, Morand has the resume, but again – there are only so many spots.
Akil Thomas, C, Niagara IceDogs (OHL): While defense was the reason Thomas dropped in the draft last year, the Los Angeles Kings pick does have great playmaking abilities and 34 points in 22 games this season is nothing to sniff at. Unlike Fix-Wolansky and Morand, Thomas will still be eligible for next year’s world junior team, as he has a 2000 birthday.
Olivier Rodrigue, G, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL): Because he has represented Canada four times already (Youth Olympics, under-17s, under-18s, Ivan Hlinka), Rodrigue seemed to be on track for at least an invite, but it seems as though the ascendancy of Ian Scott may have bumped him. Rodrigue, an Edmonton Oilers pick, is still eligible for next year’s team.
Brett Leason, RW, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): Leason has just been a surprise, period, this season, leading the WHL in scoring with 60 points in 27 games. So the shock isn’t that he made the camp based on his current production, rather that he has been so dominant as a 19-year-old with no pedigree. Leason is a classic late-bloomer who has really improved his skating and brings a big 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame with him. Smart and athletic with good hands, he’s putting it all together at the right time and will certainly be drafted after getting passed over the previous two years.
Raphael Lavoie, RW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Eligible for the 2019 draft, Lavoie is a big man with great hands who can also play center. His numbers are pretty good (top-30 in the league) and he plays for a solid team; it’s just interesting to see Canada take him over older teammate Morand. Perhaps there’s an eye to the future here, as Lavoie could be an important piece on Canada’s 2020 team.
Cameron Crotty, D, Boston University Terriers (Hockey East): When the Arizona Coyotes drafted Crotty in 2017, they were getting a raw prospect with a lot of upside thanks to his size, skating and puckmoving abilities. Crotty has yet to record a point in 13 games this season, but he is second in blocked shots on the Terriers. Crotty was not at Canada’s summer showcase, so clearly he earned his spot based on his play in Boston this season.
Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Like Leason, this is more of surprise based on how dominant Lafreniere has been as a youngster, rather than his inclusion: how could you not include the third-highest scorer in the ‘Q,’ especially one who isn’t even eligible for the draft until 2020 due to a late birthday. Lafreniere has been excellent for Canada in the past and his ability to make those around him better is a great skill, on top of all the other offensive goodies he brings to the table. Whether he makes the team this year or not, Lafreniere will be a centerpiece at next year’s tournament.