It's the most controversial time of the year, so here's a shout-out to Canada's world junior braintrust - because they'll always get second-guessed unless the team they chose wins gold (and even then people will complain about the roster). Canada announced its 35-player camp roster today and of course there were snubs; with a talent pool so deep, it's hard not to have omissions. But when you look at the players who will be there, it's not hard to picture a gold medal hanging around their necks in a month and four days.
True, the competition in Edmonton will be fierce and there are no guarantees at the world juniors, but Canada once again looks like a strong favorite for gold. Let's break down the camp roster.
Canada is always deep down the middle and this year is no different. Mason McTavish (ANA) jumped straight from the draft to the NHL before the Ducks sent him back to OHL Peterborough recently and his combination of skill and power is hard to slow down. Speaking of high end, top 2022 draft prospect Shane Wright is hoping to reprise his international success after dominating at the world under-18s last season and the OHL Kingston star has the elite two-way game to do so. For more scoring punch, Winnipeg pick Cole Perfetti returns from last year's team, but also won gold at the World Championship with the men's squad and has pro experience with both the Jets and AHL Manitoba. One of his teammates on that World Championship squad was University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power (BUF), who has been electric for the Wolverines this season. He'll be joined on the back end by Kaiden Guhle (MTL) of WHL Prince Albert, a returnee from last year's WJC squad who blends mobility and physicality.
Xavier Bourgault (EDM) of QMJHL Shawinigan earned his camp spot by torching the league early and doing so without running mate Mavrik Bourque (DAL), who was injured but is now back and also on Canada's roster. Michigan's Kent Johnson (CBJ) is an electric producer who has been one of the most dangerous players in college hockey, while OHL London's Luke Evangelista (NSH) is one of those complete players who tend to thrive at these tournaments. Offensive defenseman Olen Zellweger (ANA) made a huge impression at the world under-18s and has been more than a point-per-gamer from the blueline for WHL Everett.
Canada has already locked in its three netminders for the tournament: Sebastian Cossa (DET), Dylan Garand (NYR) and undrafted Brett Brochu from OHL London. Garand has been a national team favorite for awhile now, but that hasn't translated to a lot of actual starts. He is red-hot for the WHL's Kamloops Blazers right now, however. Cossa plays for another WHL powerhouse, the Edmonton Oil Kings. He also has great stats and an imposing 6-foot-6 frame; by far the biggest of Canada's choices. Brochu is an intriguing wild card because he's only 5-foot-11, but has consistently been elite in his junior career. I don't know who will start the tournament, but my gut says Cossa will be in net for the finish.
The youngest player in camp is top 2023 draft prospect Connor Bedard of WHL Regina and after last year's dominating world under-18s, it's no surprise he got an invite. Bedard has made a number of highlight-reel plays already this season on a so-so Pats team, so it's fun to think of what he could do with elite linemates again. Having said that, Canada is super-deep and Wright didn't make the team on his first try (last year), so Bedard will have to impress early and often to earn his spot.
You're always going to have snubs with Team Canada and the controversies began swirling yesterday when Jeff Marek reported that OHL Barrie's Brandt Clarke (LA) would not be getting an invite. Since then, the hockey rumor mill has been on overdrive, but I don't want to speculate on the reason: The fact is, Clarke is incredibly talented and will no doubt get a shot at next year's team, as will his buddy Brennan Othmann (NYR) of OHL Flint, another player who was left off this year's roster. With Othmann, I wonder if Team Canada had already set their hearts on WHL Brandon's Ridly Greig (OTT) - an older player with a similar game. Finally, there has been some clamoring about the lack of Savoie brothers: Matt Savoie (2022 draft) is the leading scorer in the WHL, while Carter Savoie (EDM) leads the University of Denver in points.
The big surprise is UConn sophomore Ryan Tverberg (TOR), though he is the Huskies' leading scorer and a kid with a great motor. For what it's worth, he won silver with Canada East at the World Jr. A Challenge a couple years ago. The other intriguing name for me is 6-foot-6 center Jack Finley (TB) of WHL Spokane. I have to speculate Canada likes his shutdown ability; Finley is great on faceoffs and can kill penalties.