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Canada finalizes world juniors roster with some NHL adds, surprising cuts

Shane Wright, Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and others highlight a stacked Canadian world juniors squad looking to defend gold on home soil. (Getty)

Shane Wright, Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and others highlight a stacked Canadian world juniors squad looking to defend gold on home soil. (Getty)

Canada has named its final roster for the 2023 world juniors in Moncton and Halifax. The news that three current NHL rostered players would be joining Team Canada sparked excitement as Shane Wright (Seattle Kraken), Dylan Guenther (Phoenix Coyotes), and Brandt Clarke (Los Angeles Kings) were loaned from their respective clubs.

The three players represent a major upgrade to Team Canada’s gold medal hopes considering none played for Canada at this summer’s tournament.

Canada’s roster, however, features a plethora of returning talent, including eight players from August’s gold medal winning group. Surprisingly, it chose to cut two additional returning players. Replacing them are a group of NHL first-round picks, and emerging prospects, making expectations sky-high, as usual, for Canada.

Here is a look at where Canada’s World Junior roster stands heading into the 2023 World Junior championships.

Bedard, Stankoven, Zellweger lead Canada’s returning core

Connor Bedard is a generational talent, unique to the hockey world since Connor McDavid. Containing Bedard will be a focus, albeit a nearly impossible one, for opposing defenders. When teams key in on the phenom who has 64 points in 28 games with the WHL’s Regina Pats this season — and will certainly become the first overall pick at this year’s NHL Draft — however, they’ll be exposing themselves to the rest of Canada’s attack.

From the backend, Olen Zellweger will quarterback the powerplay, Canada’s breakout, and jumpstart a transition filled with offensive speed at the tournament, building on his 11-point performance this summer that earned him a spot on the world junior all-star team.

Up front, Logan Stankoven scored 10 points in seven games for Canada this summer. The reigning CHL Player of the Year was on pace for 130 points with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers when he left for camp. Also returning up front are Joshua Roy and Brennan Othmann, who were both point-per-game or better performers for Canada. They’ll be joined by returning forwards Zack Ostapchuk and Nathan Gaucher, and defender Ethan Del Mastro.

NHL contingent leads newcomers

Three of the newcomers joining Team Canada have spent time in the NHL this season. Dylan Guenther put up respectable numbers with the Arizona Coyotes, scoring 11 points in 21 games. He chose not to play at this summer’s tournament to focus on his NHL training camp. Shane Wright missed this summer’s tournament for the same reason but has struggled so far this NHL season.

His use, or lack thereof, with the NHL’s Seattle Kraken has been widely discussed, and until a recent conditioning stint in the AHL where he scored four goals in five games, few had seen the talent that had many scouts ranking Wright as the top prospect available at last year’s draft. This tournament will provide Wright, who slipped to fourth overall, a chance to regain his confidence. Seattle will ultimately need to decide his NHL fate at the conclusion of the tournament.

Brandt Clarke, the third NHLer on Canada’s roster, enters with something to prove. The blueliner has two assists in nine NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings this season, and similar to Wright, spent a stint in the AHL. This summer, Brandt was not only omitted from Canada’s roster but the eighth overall pick in 2021 wasn’t even invited to camp. He’ll look to prove national team critics wrong at this tournament.

Other prominent names joining Canada for the first time include Adam Fantilli, who is off to a remarkable start in the NCAA with the University of Michigan and is vying for the second overall draft position behind Bedard in 2023.

On the blueline, Chicago Blackhawks seventh overall pick Kevin Korchinski will be a major contributor on both sides of the puck. The mobile six-foot-three defender can contribute offensively, but will also be relied upon to play tough minutes against opposing top lines. He’s joined by fellow Blackhawks first-rounder Nolan Allan and towering Nashville Predators prospect Jack Matier — who has arguably been the OHL’s best defender this season with the Ottawa 67s — as notable newcomers.

Does Canada have a weakness?

If Canada does have a weakness, it’s in net. Benjamin Gaudreau enters the tournament as Canada’s likely starter, and won’t need to be spectacular for Canada to win. With the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, however, Gaudreau has registered a modest 3.62 goals against average and .868 save percentage, both stats among the bottom half of OHL netminders. His counterpart in net, Thomas Milic, outplayed another NHL pick in Tyler Brennan to claim Canada’s second goaltending spot. Milic has a sparkling 11-2-1 record this year with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds posting a 2.32 GAA and .919 save percentage.

Who didn’t make Team Canada?

It was a shock to many that Team Canada cut two returnees from their recent gold medal-winning team. While forward Riley Kidney was injured, impacting his status, defender Carson Lambos, a first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild, was cut as well. Lambos appeared in only a single game for Canada in the summer, but also played two games in the cancelled winter world juniors, and by all accounts was having a good season captaining the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice. Whether it speaks to something about Lambos, or about the depth and strength of Canada’s blueline, is yet to be seen.

Jordan Dumais, a third-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, was another notable cut. He opened his season on a tear in the QMJHL scoring 54 points in only 25 games before he joined Canada’s camp. His totals were second in Canada only to Bedard, and he showed well picking up a pair of points in Canada’s first game against USports during camp. Positionally, this was likely a choice that Canada had enough smaller, skilled players, and needed size and players to take on a different role in their bottom six.

Team Canada opens their world junior tournament December 26 against Czechia.

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