Team Canada, the hockey powerhouse of the world, is a perpetual bet to bring a stacked roster to the World Junior Championship time after time.
This year is no exception.
Twenty first-rounders make up a roster with 24 drafted prospects in all — including a tournament-high seven in the Top 10 — for Team Canada in the 2021 WJC.
Here’s how Canada’s roster shakes out.
Team Canada posted a photo of its line combinations for a practice on Dec. 18, and it included the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft on Canada’s fourth line.
OK, Quinton Byfield probably won’t be a fourth-liner for the entire tournament. But it’s a testament to how deep and talented Canada’s forward group is.
It starts with Kirby Dach, who was loaned by the Chicago Blackhawks to Canada for the tournament. Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, was playing on a national stage as recently as August.
Playing against Cole Caufield (USA forward and Canadiens prospect) and Vasili Podkolzin (Russia forward and Canucks prospect), as talented as they are, might just be a slight drop-off from playing against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Byfield, Dach, Dylan Cozens (Sabres first-round pick), Connor McMichael (Capitals first-round pick) and Dawson Mercer (Devils first-rounder) round out Canada’s returners up front from last year’s tournament in the Czech Republic.
Notably, Canada has really strong depth at center with players like Dach, Byfield, and Cozens highlighting the roster. It will allow guys like Peyton Krebs, a Golden Knights prospect and a former Winnipeg Ice star, and Connor Zary, a Flames first-rounder and a Kamloops Blazer, to move to the wings.
Canada’s options on the blueline are also strong.
Bowen Byram, the No. 4 overall pick by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2019 NHL Draft, headlines the group. The former Vancouver Giants star will likely link up with Jamie Drysdale, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, as Canada’s top pairing.
Both Byram and Drysdale are also expected to be primary fixtures on Canada’s power play.
Canada also features two shutdown defensemen from the Western Hockey League in Prince Albert’s Kaiden Guhle (No. 16 overall to Montreal in 2020) and the Brandon Wheat Kings’ Braden Schneider (No. 19 overall to the New York Rangers).
Ironically, Canada may rely on its only undrafted player to handle its crease for the 2021 WJC.
Taylor Gauthier, who plays for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, has been in the Hockey Canada program since he was 16-years-old and tended goal for the Maple Leaf in the country’s gold medal finish at the 2018 under-18 Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament in 2018.
Devon Levi, a seventh-round pick by the Panthers in 2020 who plays for Northeastern University, and Dylan Garand, a fourth-round pick by the Rangers in 2020 who plays for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, are Canada’s other options in goal.
It’s unclear right now which one Canada will lean on in Edmonton.
This is perhaps Canada’s only weak spot on its roster, whereas other medal favorites, the United States and Russia, are well set up in the crease. USA boasts the Spencer Knight-Dustin Wolf tandem and Russia will go with super prospect Yaroslav Askarov.
Forward to Watch: Dylan Cozens
The Sabres prospect put up nine points for Canada last year as an underager and could be in line for another huge tournament. Cozens is projected to center Canada’s top line with Dach and fellow Buffalo first-round draft pick Jack Quinn. His combination of length (Cozens is 6-foot-3), speed, and shooting ability should be a spectacle.
Defensemen to Watch: Thomas Harley
The Stars prospect (No. 18 overall pick in 2019) is a highly-skilled rearguard who will be leaned upon to create offense for Canada. He spent last season with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League but played in one playoff game with the Dallas Stars during the 2020 playoffs.
Newcomer to Watch: Cole Perfetti, Forward
It’s hard for folks out west to watch the talented junior players in the east, so the WJC will be a terrific chance to get a glimpse of the Winnipeg Jets first-rounder (No. 10 overall). Perfetti, who plays for the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, is a lethal player on the rush with a quick release on his shot and superb puck handling and totaled 111 points in 61 games last season.
The local angles on the roster are a bit bare after Canada cut a trio of WHL U.S. Division players — Everett’s Gage Goncalves, Spokane’s Adam Beckman, and Portland’s Seth Jarvis — during its selection camp.
But there is Canada assistant coach Mitch Love, who is a cult hero in Everett Silvertips lore. Dylan Holloway is also a former Silvertips draft pick but decided to play at Wisconsin instead.
There’s no reason Canada can’t hold a “gold-or-bust” mantra heading into Edmonton.
Canada has elite top-end talent and astounding depth, two ingredients for a championship. Canada’s goaltending is something to keep an eye on, but the Canadians are the odds-on favorites in 2021.