Fresh blood for Canada
by Chris Jurewicz|03 DEC 2019
Jamie Drysdale is one of three 17-year-olds in Team Canada’s camp for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Chris Tanouye / HHOF-IIHF Images
Those who are around – or follow – the IIHF World Junior Championship often refer to the annual showcase of talent as a 20-year-olds’ tournament. That is, team leaders and the best players are usually the older teens, those who have been drafted by NHL teams and are closing out their days in junior or have already embarked on pro careers.

Hockey Canada has generally followed that rule by putting together World Junior selection camp rosters made up of 20, 19 and 18-year-olds, limiting the number of 17-year-old athletes on those rosters. This year is a bit of an anomaly, however, as Canada is bringing three 17-year-olds to its selection camp, which runs 9-12 December in Oakville, Canada. 

Brad McEwen, Hockey Canada’s head scout, says the decision to bring the three players – forwards Quinton Byfield and Cole Perfetti and defenceman Jamie Drysdale – simply comes down to who the best players in the nation are.

“When we looked at the process and did our evaluations, we felt strongly that they were the best players regardless of their age,” says McEwen. “They’ve been good, productive players through our Program of Excellence, plus you look at what they’ve done with their club teams especially in this first half of the season. Their resumes are really, really good.”

You have to go back a full decade for the last time three 17-year-olds were invited to a Hockey Canada National Junior Team selection camp, with the 2010 camp featuring John McFarland, Brandon Gormley and Tyler Seguin. In 2011, just one 17-year-old cracked the camp roster (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), there were none in 2012, two in 2013 (Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon), one in 2014 (Aaron Ekblad, although Connor McDavid, at 16, was also at that camp), two in each of the 2015 (Lawson Crouse and McDavid) and 2016 camps (Jakob Chychrun and Pierre-Luc Dubois), none in 2017 or 2018, and only one last year (Alexis Lafreniere, who returns to the team this year).

Simply put, getting to a Team Canada under-20 selection camp at that age is an astounding feat.

The three under-agers this time around all play in the Ontario Hockey League and are enjoying fantastic seasons. Byfield, a member of the Sudbury Wolves, sits fourth in OHL scoring with 50 points, including 20 goals, in 28 games played. Perfetti has posted 13 goals and 42 points in 26 games for the Saginaw Spirit, putting him in ninth spot in the league. And Drysdale, who may have the toughest test of all trying to make Team Canada as a young defenceman, is third among d-men in the OHL with 30 points in 27 games with the Erie Otters.

The three players are also products, as McEwen mentioned, of Canada’s famed POE program, having played big parts with teams at the under-17 and under-18 levels. McEwen can’t wait to see the youngsters on the ice in Oakville.

“Quinton is a big body who possesses the puck and he works, gets to the areas he needs to be successful,” says McEwen. “He brings some real qualities with the overall package and skill that we believe gives us an opportunity and some options. Cole Perfetti is really highly skilled and has tremendous hockey sense. He’s a guy you can move around the lineup and he produces offence. Again, you go back to the POE experiences and he’s been very productive for us. You look at the shootout in the Hlinka Gretzky this past summer. He showed great poise and calm to do good things there. And then Jamie Drysdale, his game keeps evolving. He continues to be an impactful player at the OHL level with Erie. When we look at our defence and the grouping and how the coaches see it, he brings a lot of qualities that we believe we need to be successful.”

Hockey Canada has invited 31 players to its selection camp, made up of 17 forwards, 10 defencemen and four goalies. Canada will cut down its roster to 23 players for the start of the World Juniors, which takes place 26 December 2019 through 5 January 2020 in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic.

Canada’s Program of Excellence got its start in the early 1980s but it wasn’t until the 1990s when the program really shone. Canada won seven gold medals at the World Juniors in the 1990s and five in the 2000s. Between 2010 and 2019, though, Canada struck gold just twice.

The hockey-mad country will rely on three returnees to this year’s team in the hopes it can start a new decade with gold. Forward Lafreniere and defencemen Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith all played at the 2019 World Juniors in British Columbia where Canada dropped its quarter-final 2-1 in overtime to eventual champion Finland.

Lafreniere will be one of the players to watch as he’s a candidate to be taken first overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. McEwen expects Lafreniere, who plays for the Rimouski Oceanic (the same junior team Sidney Crosby played for), to be among Canada’s leaders.

“That experience from last year is really valuable,” says McEwen. “Until you live it, it’s sometimes hard to put it in words or explain what it’s all about. His experience with our team last year and the role he played will only make him stronger going forward. Knowing his character and how high it is, he’s going to be a really good, positive guy for our team and we expect leadership in the way he conducts himself and the way he plays on both sides of the ice.”

Team Canada selection camp roster

Nico Daws, Guelph (OHL)
Joel Hofer, Portland (WHL)
Hunter Jones, Peterborough (OHL)
Olivier Rodrigue, Moncton (QMJHL)

Calen Addison, Lethbridge (WHL)
Kevin Bahl, Ottawa (OHL)
Jacob Bernard-Docker, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
Bowen Byram, Vancouver (WHL)
Peter Diliberatore, Qunnipiac University (ECAC)
Jamie Drysdale, Erie (OHL)
Thomas Harley, Mississauga (OHL)
Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)
Braden Schneider, Brandon (WHL)
Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

Quinton Byfield, Sudbury (OHL)
Dylan Cozens, Lethbridge (WHL)
Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL)
Aidan Dudas, Owen Sound (OHL)
Nolan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
Liam Foudy, London (OHL)
Benoît-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)
Dylan Holloway, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Peyton Krebs, Winnipeg (WHL)
Alexis Lafrenière, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Raphaël Lavoie, Halifax (QMJHL)
Connor McMichael, London (OHL)
Dawson Mercer, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Alex Newhook, Boston College (HE)
Jakob Pelletier, Moncton (QMJHL)
Cole Perfetti, Saginaw (OHL)
Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

Want to know the other teams' camp rosters? Stay tuned in the upcoming days on!