The Canadian World Junior camp roster has been announced and as per usual, there are quite a few notable and questionable omissions. The team is unlikely to receive help from the NHL with Seth Jarvis, Cole Sillinger, and Jamie Drysdale. With Quinton Byfield coming off his injury, the Los Angeles Kings will be reluctant to send their top prospect to the event.
With all of that scoring ability not on the roster, the exclusion of players such as Matthew Savoie and Brennan Othmann are head-scratchers, to say the least. There is a glaring lack of right-shot defenders and elite puck-moving offensive presences from the back end so the absence of Brandt Clarke is cause for concern as well.
One of the nice things about assembling a Canadian roster is that the depth of talent is virtually unmatched. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will always make the appropriate choices.
Rachel Doerrie and Tony Ferrari highlight some of the biggest omissions from the Canadian roster and highlight just how they could have brought value to a roster expected to compete for gold yet again.
D Brandt Clarke, Barrie Colts (OHL)
The OHL’s leading scorer on the backend is the most notable omission from Team Canada. He was considered a lock on a team as a top-4 stalwart to play behind Power and Guhle. It is one thing for him to not be on the team, it is entirely another for him to not be invited to camp when other OHL defensemen were. Entering this year, Canada’s biggest question was the right-hand side of the defense. That was with Clarke. Having ZERO right-handed D and choosing the likes of Sebrango and Iorio over Clarke is a head-scratcher. There are no documented off-ice issues that have been publicized with Clarke, so one has to wonder why he was omitted given his level of play merits a roster spot. This screams of Canada focusing on matchups, instead of bringing their most talented roster.
Clarke is a power-play option and largely seen as an offensive producer. Zelwegger overtook him at U-18s for his spot, and given that Power will run the top unit, this may be why Canada opted to go with others. However, Clarke is excellent in transition and Canada’s best right-shot defender. I don’t subscribe to lefty-righty, but deliberately putting players on their off side when you have a guy like Clarke available, seems strange.
James Boyd gave a very vague answer when asked about Clarke’s omission and the proof will come at the beginning of January. If Canada’s blue line is a weak spot on a team that fails to win gold, there will be a lot of tough questions asked of this decision. Rachel Doerrie
F Matthew Savoie, Winnipeg ICE (WHL)
The WHL’s leading scorer is one of the biggest omissions from the Canadian World Junior camp roster. He is leading the WHL in scoring with 39 points in 23 games as a 17-year-old and his skill level is electric. When you scan through the Canadian camp roster, there are less than a handful of forwards who boast a skill level equivalent to Savoie’s. With Shane Wright, Cole Perfetti, and Kent Johnson looking like the teams leading offensive weapons, Savoie would have fit right into the next group of forwards, likely leading the pack with Connor Bedard.
Savoie is undersized and that may be a concern for Team Canada who has known to prefer players who play a bit of a physical game, specifically if the player isn’t a lock for the top-six. The counter to that is that the game has been moving towards speed and skill for almost two decades. Omitting Savoie because of his size - the only semi-logical reason - seems like a mistake. His scoring prowess is undeniable. He has played both the wing and center in the last calendar year and proven to be able to play against both USHL and WHL competition. Savoie has played on Winnipeg’s top line all year and faced the toughest competition the western league could throw at him. Whether or not he made the team, not even inviting him to the camp is borderline ridiculous – and the same goes to his NCAA prospect Tony Ferrari
F Brennan Othmann - Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Another pretty glaring omission is Brennan Othmann, who has 27 points in 17 games, top-15 in the OHL. Othmann represented Canada at the U-18s and can play a versatile role. He ranks third in shots on goal in the OHL this season and his offensive game has significantly developed. Othmann was part of a third line on Canada’s U-18 team that played a puck possession game, won important minutes, and provided full value for a gold medal. It’s hard to make the argument that he couldn’t play a bottom-six role on this team, given that his play in the last year shows he can.
Canada’s concern may have been that he can be undisciplined at times, and the IIHF has far less tolerance for shenanigans. Whether it is patting an opponent on the helmet after scoring, or the fear of taking an untimely penalty, that may have given Canada pause. However, it is difficult to ignore his offensive production combined with the pest-level that he brings. Canada seems to have bought into the grit factor, so it is puzzling why they wouldn’t bring Othmann who plays a hard game but contributes offensively. He’s the best of both worlds from that perspective, especially when you consider that some other invitees don’t bring the same offensive production. Rachel Doerrie
F Zachary L’Heureux, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
L’Heureux missing the team is one of the more confusing ones considering the archetype that Canada generally looks for. A stalky forward who plays a physical game and has the ability to find twine regularly, L’Heureux seems like the typical Canadian forward. He has been scoring at a 1.60 points-per-game clip this season through 15 games, good for fourth in the QMJHL among all world junior eligible players. L’Heureux has a great shot and he has impressive hands in tight which could have been an asset as a net-front presence. His ability to punish players on the scoresheet and with his physicality could have been an important element for the Canadian junior squad.
The Halifax Mooseheads forward has had some issues with discipline in the past which could be the reason that he was left off the camp roster but Ridly Greig has made it a habit of being suspended to start each WHL season and he is on the roster. Not to say that Greig doesn’t deserve to be on the roster, but L’Heureux is a step above Greig in the scoring category and arguably in the physicality respect as well. If there was any player that Canada could have built a truculent third line around, L’Heureux could have been it. Tony Ferrari
F Zachary Bolduc, Québec Remparts (QMJHL)
Bolduc may seem like an under-the-radar omission but the talented Remparts forward has done enough and has a good enough track record that his lack of a camp invite seems odd. He is an outstanding complementary player who has a skill set that allows him to play a variety of roles on a line. He does an excellent job of finding space off the puck and his hands help him create space when he has it on his stick. When he is skating downhill at a defender, Bolduc will attack on the inside or outside based on what the defender gives him. As a passer, Bolduc will find teammates cross-ice or in pockets of space. Bolduc is a good skater who can push the pace when he gets his feet moving. Having a speed element lower in the lineup is a good idea and Bolduc could have provided that.
The concern with Bolduc seems to be that he hasn’t ever truly followed through on the potential that he possesses. While a valid concern, the Canadian camp roster is filled with players who have the same issue. Canada has routinely, at all levels of international play, found a way to leave off talent for players who fit a role which isn’t really the best way of going about things. Bolduc not even being a camp invite seems to be evidence of that case. Tony Ferrari
The World Juniors is known as a 19-year old tournament - ask Valeri Bragin. But, Canada has a pretty milquetoast group of 19-year olds without the NHL players present. There was a significant opportunity to give high-end 17 and 18-year olds a chance at the tournament. Certainly, where Savoie and Clarke are concerned. Canada has tremendous depth when it comes to talent. Instead of focusing on the matchups, Canada should bring their best players, and force other countries to match them. If Canada bought in with 4 scoring lines, other countries could not match that. It is better to ring your best players, because if they are truly better than everyone else, they will excel in any role you give them.
Year after year, Canada makes head-scratching decisions regarding the World Junior team. This year seems to be a little more eyebrow-raising than usual. Canada will likely be without Jarvis, Sillinger, Drysdale, and Byfield, who would’ve provided the lion’s share of the offensive production. Omitting names like Clarke, Othmann, and Savoie in favor of Cuylle, Dufour, and Iorio certainly seems like Canada is trying to grit their way to gold, instead of score. If they win, fantastic. But if Canada doesn’t win gold, a lot of people are going to be asking serious questions around the roster construction, and rightfully so.