Assessing Canada’s goaltending options for the 2021 World Junior Championship

If we’ve learned anything about the Canadian national junior team, it’s that picking the three goalies for the World Junior Championship half a year in advance is an exercise in triggers migrane-inducing comas.

But I don’t care. I get a few migraines each week, so what’s another one?

Once again, there’s no clear favorite to go No. 1. Let’s not forget the wide-open race heading to camp last year, with no true favorite emerging until the second half of the main event. Nico Daws emerged from out of nowhere to go from a mid-level undrafted prospect to the top North American option for 2020, and he even got a shot as Canada’s starter in the Czech Republic. It didn’t last long and Joel Hofer stole the spotlight afterwards, but even Hofer wasn’t necessarily a favorite heading into camp, either. Colten Ellis and Alexis Gravel looked like favorites heading into the summer, but neither made it to December’s selection camp roster.

Remember when I mentioned projecting how the goaltenders would do was migraine-inducing? Can you see why now?

Unfortunately for Canadians, the easy decisions that made the Carter Hart and Michael DiPietro years so easy to predict just aren’t possible this time around… again. Canada has a few intriguing options, but if the Canadians are going to win gold for the third time in four years, someone is going to need to step up. We’re far past the days where Canada just needed adequate netminding to seal the deal, and with the tournament on home soil again, the pressure is on.

Canada’s (virtual) summer goalie camp began this weekend, with five goaltenders named to the U-20 edition. Ideally, Canada can pinpoint their top options from this camp and ride them out into the fall, but with no actual hockey being played during the camp, and with no true start day for the 2020-21 season, it’s still largely a guessing game.

I’ve broken the options into three groups: the players that actually were invited to camp, the other longshot options that could sneak their way into the conversation and the actual NHL prospects. The third group, however, might be the weakest, as weird as it sounds. The top drafted goalie prospects – Hunter Jones and Colten Ellis – missed eligibility by being late 2000-born goalies selected in a draft dominated by 2001-born kids. Both were favorites to make the team a year ago, to no avail.

So now, let’s get digging:

The camp invites

Taylor Gauthier (Prince George Cougars, WHL)
Older goalies typically have a better shot at the starting role and despite playing on a below-average Cougars club, Gauthier has proven time and time again that he can give his team a fighting chance. Undrafted in 2019, Gauthier put up an impressive .917 save percentage and improved some of the inconsistencies in his game, such as his rebound control and blocker positioning. With 105 starts over the past two years, Gauthier has only been surpassed by Dustin Wolf’s 107 in terms of game action so Hockey Canada should have a clear book on Gauthier’s play – his 11 starts for Canada internationally should help, too, and we know the big dogs at HC love experience. If Gauthier is equal to any of the other top options, expect him to get the starting gig, but we know so much can change.

Dylan Garand (Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

Dylan Garand (Kamloops Blazers, WHL)
One of the biggest issues with drafting goaltenders is that by the time they hit eligibility, they likely haven’t been a starter for that long. But since Garand was selected by Kamloops in 2017, there’s been hints of greatness along the way for one of the better Canadian goaltenders for the 2020 draft. Recently named the WHL’s scholastic player of the year, Garand had a handful of pure brilliant performances in net this season and his .921 save percentage was good for third among netminders with at least 20 starts. Garand proved this season that he could handle a heavy 46-game workload and scouts have lauded his improved mental game for allowing him to take his game to a higher level. If Hockey Canada looks for the goalie with more experience, then Garand will have to wait an extra year to earn the starting gig, but a strong start to the 2020-21 season will make it tough for Canada to sit Garand too long.

Tristan Lennox (Saginaw Spirit, OHL)
If I had to make a long-term projection, Lennox is going to have the best NHL career out of the five options. But Hockey Canada isn’t in the business of giving players a spot solely based on potential, and that’s why I don’t think Lennox is going to be the starting goaltender. With a 27-10-5 record over two seasons in OHL, in the OHL and a 5-0-0 run in two international tournaments for Canada, Lennox hasn’t had an issue putting wins on the board, but his sophomore OHL campaign didn’t meet expectations – perhaps his leg injury from the Hlinka-Gretzky had a long-term effect? His .876 save percentage in domestic action was far from impressive but there’s high hopes for the athletic netminder in 2020-21. Don’t expect him to get any starts at the tournament, but he’ll use it as a stepping stone for the 2022 tournament.

Brett Brochu (London Knights, OHL)
Brouchu had a stellar OHL rookie campaign, going 32-6-0 with a .919 save percentage and a league-leading 2.40 GAA with the always spectacular London Knights. For reference, he made the jump up for the draft year after spending a year in Junior C of all places, so it’s safe to say Brochu wasn’t on the draft – or Hockey Canada’s radar – heading into 2019-20. For a goalie to jump up three leagues to become an OHL star is nearly unheard of, but Brochu’s numbers rivaled that of the league’s most experienced veterans and forced Hockey Canada to take notice. Kind of like Daws, Brochu’s rise shows that there could be some more untapped potential in the pipeline for the 2020 draft prospect and a strong candidate for selection camp – but let’s see if he can maintain what made him so good this past season.

Sebastian Cossa (Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL)
Speaking of fantastic rookie performances, Cossa once again proved why he was one of the best goaltenders of his age group growing up. After two years of carrying his weight and continuously giving Fort Saskatchewan a chance to win at the U-18 level, Cossa put up a 21-6-3 record with a .921 save percentage with the Edmonton Oil Kings. Named the WHL’s player of the month for December, the big, 6-foot-5 goaltender had some incredible streaks throughout the season, highlighted by a 6-1-1-0 record during that month before helping the Oil Kings become one of the top contenders out west. He’s got the starter role locked up again for 2020-21 – his NHL draft season – but will his younger age scare off Hockey Canada?

The rising guns

Will Cranley (Ottawa 67s, OHL)
The No. 4-ranked North American goaltender by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, Cranley has a good mix of size, athleticism and mental toughness that teams are searching for in a modern-day netminder. Cedrick Andree was the main man in Ottawa this season but can you really ignore Cranley and his 18-2-0 record and his tremendous raw skillset? Cranley didn’t get the bulk of the starts but he is capable of being an OHL starter, so it’ll be interesting to see if the 67s end up moving him or Andree this summer.

Antoine Coulombe (Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL)
It often feels like QMJHL goaltenders don’t get a fair shake at the World Junior Championship for Canada, but Coulombe is one looking to change that. His play improved big time in 2019-20, helping Shawinigan graduate from being the laughing stock of the league (his 4-24-2 record and 5.19 GAA in 2018-19 was brutal, to say the least) to a better-but-still-not-great organization this past season. Growing up, Coulombe was considered the top Quebec-born goaltender from the 2002 age group and he proved that by starting off hot with just one goal allowed in his first three games of the season in Shawinigan. Coulombe hasn’t had a chance to prove himself with a competent team in front of him in major junior, so his stats will always look revolting, but if the technically sound and athletically gifted netminder was given a shot at camp, I have full confidence that he’d rise to the occasion.

The NHL prospects

Carter Gylander (Colgate University, NCAA)
He’s a longshot, especially since he’s only played in Jr. A, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Detroit’s seventh-round pick in 2019 is given a shot. He played for a strong Sherwood Park Crusaders club in the AJHL, but with a 51-9-0 record in the AJHL, he has a ton of wins on his resume – not to mention an appearance with Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge back in December, so Hockey Canada knows what he’s capable of. There’s hope Gylander can lead Colgate after Andrew Farrier and Mitch Benson split duties this past season, and if he does, Gylander will be an attractive option for the world junior team – but that’s assuming the anti-NCAA bias doesn’t kick in.

Trent Miner (Vancouver Giants, WHL)
With David Tendeck set to join the Arizona Coyotes organization, it’s time for Trent Miner to show what he’s worth. A seventh-round pick by Colorado in 2019, Miner had a bit of a down year with the Giants (the team as a whole did, too), but he showed he can handle the starting gig when needed. Again, this boils down to how well he starts the season in Vancouver, but I wouldn’t count him out, even if he’s a longshot from the get-go.

Which three goalies do you think Team Canada is going to bring? Tweet me at @StevenEllisNHL.