Going into Hockey Canada’s selection camp for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, we knew one Colorado Avalanche prospect was a lock, another was very likely to crack the lineup and a third had an outside chance of making the team. As it turns out, all three will be wearing the red maple leaf when the tournament gets underway on Christmas Day.
Bowen Byram, Alex Newhook and Justin Barron—all first round picks for the Avalanche—have made Team Canada for the upcoming World Juniors in Edmonton.
The last time Team Canada took more than one Avalanche prospect it won a gold medal. Three years ago both Cale Makar and Conor Timmins not only put on the red and white but were Canada’s best two defensemen in the tournament. This year—like in 2018—we should see both Byram and Barron playing in the top four.
Through camp, Byram has been paired with Anaheim Ducks’ prospect Jamie Drysdale to form what will be Canada’s top pair. Given Drysdale’s “Makar-like” style, we should expect Byram to be the workhorse shutdown defender for the team. He’ll kill penalties but likely won’t get a ton of powerplay time. We should expect Byram’s usage to closely resemble what we saw from Drew Doughty all the way back at the 2008 tournament.
As for Barron, he has been one of the highlights of Canada’s selection camp. After a year of healthy issues, Barron is finally fit to play and is showing the talent that made some scouts rank him as a top-10 draft prospect going into last season. He has been contributing to his team’s offense in almost every intrasquad scrimmage, capping things off with a goal and an assists during Thursdays finale.
Given how camp has played out, it’s expected that Barron is going to start on Canada’s second pair next to Montreal Canadien’s first rounder Kaiden Guhle. If he continues to play the way he has at camp, this tournament will likely spark the “I can’t believe he fell to the Avalanche at No. 25” narrative.
Up front, Newhook has had a bit of a different camp. After getting to Red Deer late, he was skating in a “quarantine group” with fellow NCAA players that had been forced to train separately from the rest of the team. Since joining the main squad, Newhook has been playing center on what is believed to be Canada’s “checking/energy” line. Skating between Dylan Holloway and Jakob Pelletier. With the size of Holloway and the motor of Newhook and Pelletier, this is the line that will play behind the top offensive guys but that could end up being the toughest to play against.
Playing down in the lineup doesn’t mean the same thing at this tournament as it does on normal occasions. Going into games, Newhook will likely be listed as the center of the fourth line, but he will get a lot more ice time than that role usually entails. This is an all-star team—the fourth line isn’t really a fourth line.
Newhook will kill penalties and will often likely be asked to play against the top opposition. The fact that the coaching staff has left him down the middle, while moving over other talented centers, shows the faith it has in Newhook to play a key role on this team. He likely won’t get the opportunity to use his elite offensive talent, but that’s not what Canada needs and fans shouldn’t be discouraged if he ends the tournament with a less-than-impressive point total.
This is one of the most talented Canadian teams we’ve seen at the World Juniors in a long time. To have three Avalanche prospects in the lineup points to a frightening depth in the organization. Not only is Colorado a betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup, it also has some of the best prospects outside of the NHL. It’s rare to see one league franchise with three prospects on the same team at this tournament, especially on a squad that has the potential to be as good as this one does.
In a year that has seen professional sports disrupted on numerous occasions, the World Juniors—and team Canada in particular—should help ring in 2021 in a very fun way for Avalanche fans.