The defending champions will be aiming for gold again this year, although given the makeup of the team, there's no guarantee they'll be able to accomplish the feat.
Team Canada will have four returning members on the roster this season; Jake Virtanen, Brayden Point, Lawson Crouse, and Joe Hicketts, which means they'll be icing a relatively young team. Unfortunately, they'll be without eligible players such as Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett and Jared McCann, however that's an annual issue that can't be seen as an excuse.
Despite missing a few key players, Canada can count on a strong roster, which features a mixture of speed, talent, and leadership.
|Player||Position||League||Current Team/ Draft Team|
|Mackenzie Blackwood||G||OHL||Barrie (NJ 2015)|
|Mason McDonald||G||QMJHL||Charlottetown (CGY 2014)|
|Samuel Montembeault||G||QMJHL||Boisbriand (FLA 2015)|
|Thomas Chabot||D||QMJHL||Saint John (OTT 2015)|
|Travis Dermott||D||OHL||Erie (TOR 2015)|
|Haydn Fleury||D||WHL||Red Deer (CAR 2014)|
|Joe Hicketts||D||WHL||Victoria (DET 2014)|
|Brandon Hickey||D||NCAA||Boston University (CGY 2015)|
|Roland McKeown||D||OHL||Kingston (CAR 2014)|
|Travis Sanheim||D||WHL||Calgary (PHI 2014)|
|Matthew Barzal||C||WHL||Seattle (NYI 2015)|
|Anthony Beauvillier||LW||QMJHL||Shawinigan (NYI 2015)|
|Rourke Chartier||C||WHL||Kelowna (SJ 2014)|
|Lawson Crouse||LW||OHL||Kingston (FLA 2015)|
|Julien Gauthier||RW||QMJHL||Val d'Or (Draft Eligible)|
|Travis Konecny||RW||OHL||Ottawa (PHI 2015)|
|Mitch Marner||RW||OHL||London (TOR 2015)|
|Brendan Perlini||LW||OHL||Niagara (ARI 2014)|
|Brayden Point||C||WHL||Moose Jaw (TB 2015)|
|John Quenneville||C||WHL||Brandon (NJ 2014)|
|Mitchell Stephens||C||OHL||Sagina (TB 2015)|
|Dylan Strome||C||OHL||Erie (ARI 2015)|
|Jake Virtanen||RW||NHL||Vancouver Canucks|
Canada's greatest strength should be its forward depth. From the first to the fourth line, the Canadians are icing an incredibly talent lineup. As we saw in the pre-tournament games versus Belarus and Sweden, where Canada scored a combined 12 goals, when the forwards hit their stride they're really hard to contain.
One of the most promising lines, composed of Barzal, Perlini, and Virtanen has the ability to wreak havoc on defenders with their speed and skill. Point could end up on that line, although it's worth noting that he hasn't played a full game since November 17th, as he deals with a shoulder injury.
Strome, who has been playing with Marner, has shown instant chemistry, and will provide a constant offensive threat for head coach Dave Lowry.
The "bottom six" for a lack of a better term, is littered with talent, with players such Beauvillier, Gauthier, Konecny, and Crouse. Essentially, Canada should have absolutely no problems scoring throughout the tournament.
It's hard to nitpick with such a strong roster, however the defending champs will have to settle a few issues.
As we saw in the game versus Sweden, Canada has some question marks on defense. Choosing to leave Noah Juulsen at home, they mostly selected offensively inclined defenders, which leaves a lack of a stable defensive presence on the blue line. The Canadian defenders will have to maintain a more responsible level of play going forward, and allow the forwards to carry the offensive play.
They also need to regulate their discipline. Throughout the first three pre-tournament games, Canada has taken a litany of penalties, most of which would not have been called in the CHL. They'll have to get used to the international rules and level of strictness in a hurry if they hope to repeat as champions.
The coach is well aware of the issue, as he explained following the 7-6 win over Sweden:
"I really liked the first 40 minutes. For us, the third period was a really good learning opportunity. We’re going to have to understand that we’re going to have to continue to play a certain way to be able to close out games. Disciplined. We have to understand that what we play every day that are not penalties they are penalties over here and they’re going to be called. What you have to do is you can’t put yourself in those positions."
Last year, despite the endless criticism sent his way, Canada was able to count on stellar goaltending from Zachary Fucale, who allowed only six goals in five games, and produced a sparkling .939% save percentage.
This time, they'll hope to receive the same type of performance from Blackwood, a standout goaltender from the OHL. Unfortunately, they'll be without his services for the first two games, including the Boxing Day match up versus the United States, due to a vicious slash that earned him an eight game suspension. If Mackenzie can put up similar numbers to Fucale last year, Team Canada should be in great shape. With Blackwood serving his suspension, it will be up to Montembault or McDonald to hold the fort.
Despite some weaknesses, Canada is once again icing an incredibly skilled roster, and as per usual, they should be considered one of the favourites to win a gold medal at the tournament. Although as we've seen in the past, this type of tournament can produce interesting results, and they'd be wise not to rest on their laurels.