As Canada's under-18 squad stomps through the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup in Alberta, the under-20 team prepares to do battle further north in the province, with World Juniors 2.0 beginning in Edmonton next week. Canada's roster is now set and while names such as Owen Power and Shane Wright will not be there (nor will Slovakia's Juraj Slafkovsky or Team USA's Matty Beniers), the host nation still boasts an impressive roster that should contend for gold.
Overall, this looks like a big team that will be hard to play against and also has the requisite high-end skill to light the lamp consistently. But let's break it all down by position, shall we?
The biggest draw here is center Connor Bedard, the top prospect for the 2023 NHL draft and the dynamic driving force of the WHL's Regina Pats. Bedard's ability to create goals out of nothing is a calling card and when surrounded by peers who can keep up with him, one can only imagine the damage Bedard is capable of. Similarly, Kent Johnson (CBJ) has the hands and mind to weave magic in this tournament, while Logan Stankoven (DAL) is coming off CHL player of the year honors on the strength of 104 points with WHL Kamloops.
And while those kids don't bring a lot of size to the table, many of the other forwards do. Mason McTavish (ANA), who already has an extensive international resume and NHL games under his belt, gives Canada a center with size, snarl and skill. Add in bangers like Will Cuylle (NYR), Brennan Othmann (NYR) and Zach Ostapchuk (OTT), plus 6-foot-3, 204-pound scorer William Dufour (NYI) and you've got a lot to handle if you're an opposing team.
It should also be noted that, as per usual, Canada is loaded at center with plenty of flexibility at the position - a big advantage at a tournament such as this.
The defense corps somewhat mirrors the forward group, in that you've got some skill, but also a bunch of guys with size who are not fun to play against. When it comes to puckmoving and offense, look to players like Olen Zellweger (ANA) and Lukas Cormier (VGK) to lead the charge. Jack Thompson (TB) has a big shot from the point and could be a difference-maker. On the other side, you've got a group of two-way players who will keep opponents honest in their own zone: Ryan O'Rourke (MIN), Donovan Sebrango (DET) and Daemon Hunt (MIN), among them.
Overall, it's a very solid group that might not have a Cale Makar-like star, but does have consistency throughout - you can pretty much toss these guys in a lineup-card blender and be fine with any result.
Sometimes it's almost better to have one clear option in net, but Canada's coaches will have to make a decision in Edmonton. Sebastian Cossa (DET) has the size and most NHL potential, but Dylan Garand (NYR) and undrafted Brett Brochu seemed to be favored early by the staff when the original tournament began last December. Garand is coming off a sharp season with WHL Kamloops and at 6-foot-1, probably has just enough size to get the job done. Brochu is only 5-foot-11 but has an undeniable scrappiness. With the 6-foot-6 Cossa leading the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL title this past season, it's hard not to see him in Canada's net, but that's in the hands of Dave Cameron and his coaching staff.