The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship will begin play on December 26th 2019, running through January 5th 2020 and is held in Czech Republic. There are ten Countries competing in two groups as follows:
Canada is usually always a medal contender. They’ve firmly established themselves as a regular Gold Medal favorite after winning five straight from 2005 to 2009. Since then, Canada has brought home the Gold only twice in ten years along with three silver medals, and one Bronze.
Heading into the 2019-2020 tournament, Canada has made the final cuts to their roster and many are not considering this to be their year. Canada has some questions in goal to be sure, and as usual, there are a few players that are not available due to the fact that they are playing in the NHL.
Despite these challenges Canada will still ice a very competitive roster and will no doubt rally around the fact that they are being overlooked as a Gold Medal favorite.
Starting in goal will be Nico Daws, who before the season began was not on the radar of Canada for selection. He was the Guelph Storm backup last season, posting garden variety stats in 20 games. In 20 games this year as the starter he has been turning heads. He was named the player of the week earlier in the season and was impressive during the Canada Russia series when he started for Team OHL. Joel Hofer has also come on strong this year and earned him a spot on the roster playing for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. Daws and Hofer boast stronger stats this year than the third goalie in Olivier Rodrigue who offers more experience playing with Canada by virtue of his Gold Medal from the 2019 Hlinka and the best GAA (1.33) and SVS percentage (.949) in the 2018 U18.
The defense will feature two studs in Ty Smith and Bowen Byram. Smith was close to making the NHL in New Jersey this season and Byram was the fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft by Colorado after posting over a point per game production for the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. Both are reliable defenders using their hockey IQ and skating ability. Both are more than adequate at creating offense and running a powerplay as well. Look for these two to log big minutes for Canada and play pivotal roles. On the defensive side, look for Kevin Bahl and Jared McIsaac to provide support and play a shutdown role. Calen Addison, Jacob Bernard-Docker and 2020 top draft-eligible defenseman Jamie Drysdale round out the defense providing a nice blend of versatility that can play in any situation. Canada has depth on defense.
Up front Canada got good news as Barrett Hayton and Joe Veleno were made available providing veteran depth at the center ice position. Canada is flush with centers meaning several will play on the wing. It gives Canada the luxury of having multiple centers available for draws if one is tossed for a violation. Liam Foudy, Akil Thomas, Aidan Dudas, Ty Dellandrea, Dylan Cozens and Connor McMichael all play center.
The shootout has not been kind to Canada since Jonathan Toews and Carey Price dominated to win the Gold, but Quinton Byfield may be the go-to there. He scored in a shootout against CIS in pre-tournament exhibition and this is something Canada has been practicing.
Canada also will ice the top two prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft in Byfield and Alexis Lafreniere who will no doubt go one-two overall. The only question is which will go number one. Perhaps a strong performance from one or the other will lend an answer to that question. But there are two more 2020 Draft eligible prospects playing for Canada in Dawson Mercer and Jamie Drysdale. Both my see limited ice time in the tournament but will look to make an impact. Drysdale has been very impressive and in my opinion, should be a regular. An issue is this tournament tends to favor 19-year-old players and at 17, he still has two more years of eligibility past this. Mercer will see more time if Canada struggles to score goals as he is a natural goal scorer and has been scoring regularly during camp.
One player to watch for a breakout could be Tampa prospect Nolan Foote. The big winger almost fell out of the first round of last years draft but was playing through a wrist injury most of the season. Now fully healthy he is well over a point per game as the Captain of the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL and has been scoring regularly for Canada during camp.
Having a younger team than many of the other big contenders like Russia and USA in their division, the challenge for Canada will be to win their group in round-robin play to avoid playing either Finland or Sweden in the first game of the Medal Round. It will be a tall order and Canada may have to do it the hard way.