The Top Prospects from the Canada Winter Games

With the Canada Winter Games taking place every four years, the event serves as a great showcase for the next crop of young talent ready to play Canadian major junior hockey. It just so happened that this group featured two of the best prospects to come from the country since Connor McDavid, which is no small feat.

The tournament featured 13 teams made up of all the provinces and territories in Canada, with the top 15 and 16 year olds going to battle in Red Deer, Alberta. The two teams that were expected to go all the way, Ontario and Quebec, found themselves battling for gold in the end, with Quebec taking the 4-3 victory for the top prize on February 22nd.

Given that I live in the Greater Toronto Area, I used this tournament as a way of judging the top Ontario-based players against other strong teams, and was impressed with what I saw. It was also the first time I got to watch certain top players from places like Manitoba, Quebec and Alberta, all who had some very talented players among their ranks.

So, I decided to take a look at 20 players that really impressed me over the week-long event in no particular order. Check out my Twitter account at @StevenEllisNHL for insight and videos of other prospects that caught my eye, too.

Zachary L’Heureux, C/LW (Quebec): I can’t say I knew much about the QMJHL prospects in this tournament, but I can say with certainty that L’Heureux was among the best players in the tournament, period. The stats don’t lie: he had two hat-tricks in the opening two games and a goal a minute into the third game against Ontario. Even though he didn’t light up the scoresheet against Ontario, I still believe it was his most well-rounded performance, with the projected top-10 pick at the QMJHL draft throwing a few big hits, backchecking extremely well and, of course, opening the scoring early in the game.

His willingness to pursue loose pucks and try and create offensive through the middle of the ice was noticeable, allowing him to spring others or put himself in a position for a breakaway. I believe he played both centre and left wing in the tournament and was given opportunities on the power play. His speed was very impressive, using the space around him effectively with a quick stride that some of the bigger players couldn’t contend with. In short bursts, he’s almost impossible to catch.

Justin Robidas, C (Quebec): You’ve likely heard of his dad, former NHL all-star and QMJHL defenceman of the year Stéphane, but Justin already looks like one of the more promising players from Quebec for the 2021 NHL draft. Robidas had two goals against Ontario in a game that saw him buzzing all over the ice, perhaps having the best performance out of anyone on the team. Robidas also had three assists against Team Nova Scotia and scored the first goal of the tournament for Quebec against New Brunswick, only to get outshined by L’Heureux early on.

Robidas is a strong three-zone forward that does a fantastic job of backchecking and is often the best player for his team, even when they struggle. When you least expect it, Robidas positions himself in a way to intercept a pass due to his ability to stop and start quickly and his tenacious attitude towards getting the puck on his stick. His acceleration is tremendous and can produce wicked wrist shots at a high rate.

Matt Savoie, C (Alberta): It’s no surprise that Savoie was among the best players in Pool B, and with the Albertan expected to go first overall in the WHL draft (assuming he gets approved for exceptional status), fans and scouts alike got to see what makes him so good. Savoie, Dylan Guenther and Kai Uchacz all had two goals and seven points heading into the semifinals, but it seemed like every time Savoie touched the puck, magic was about to happen.

I don’t like using the word “elite” to describe a prospect, especially someone who is so far from their NHL draft season, but it’s hard to ignore the phrase when describing Savoie. His speed and vision when dealing with the puck is second to none and he scores highlight reel goals on a nightly basis. The release on his shot is deadly and you can throw him on the power play, either on the point or on the wing, and he can find a way to blow a shot past a goalie. Savoie entered the tournament as a hot gun after posting 63 points in 27 games with the Northern Alberta Xtreme Midget Prep squad and he only helped add to the lore that his 14-year-old season. Mark my words, he’ll be a superstar in the NHL in his 2022 draft season.

Shane Wright, C (Ontario): The Savoie vs Wright battle for the 2022 NHL draft is going to go down as one of the best match-ups in the history of the sport. Wright, the star player from the star-studded Don Mills Flyers lineup, outpaced Savoie in the offensive department, scoring six goals and eight points heading into the big match with his Alberta rival.

It is worth noting that, despite Wright applying for exceptional status earlier in the season, he still not officially a 2019 OHL draft prospect on the basis that he hasn’t been approved yet.

In that big match, Wright led the way with a three-point performance, while Savoie only mustered two, even if it’s easily argued that Savoie looked more impressive with the puck. Still, Wright is the type of player that would go No. 1 in most drafts and there are many reasons why.

Wright has so much downright skill that most players a year older can’t keep up. Wright is a strong skater that can’t be pushed around much and is very dominant when in control of the disk in the offensive zone. He seems to have no issue starting a breakout play and doesn’t look for the easy pass that the opponents are expecting, but rather the one that will generate a scoring chance. The puck seems to always find its way to Wright and often touches it more than anyone else when on the power play. He could add a bit more strength to his shot, and he’s not overly aggressive, but his quick hands make up for a lot of that.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about Wright in the future, so it’s best to get started now. While his OHL fate is still unknown, it’s clear that Wright has the pure talent to make the jump full time next season. Given that he was in the top 10 for nearly the entire Canada Games, Wright proved he can compete with older competition and not only be good enough to warrant a spot, but is better than the rest of the competition.

Brandt Clarke, D (Ontario): I kind of feel bad for Clarke, who would be the top prospect for the OHL draft if it wasn’t for a superstar taking the top spot. Clarke is going to be one heck of a two-way defenceman in the NHL some day and he took his ability to dominate with him to Alberta and didn’t disappoint.

Clarke was hard to ignore at any point in the tournament. By far the best offensive defenceman in the tournament, Clarke showed patience with the puck and wasn’t willing to pass the puck just to make a pass. He would often do most of the work to get past opponents while drawing wingers to him, only to set up someone like Brennan Othmann near the side of the net. Clarke is willing to jump into rushes and rarely stays out of position long due to how fast he gets back to his own zone. Simply put, when you watch him, you get the idea that he’s just a really smart passer.

While it was obviously a different tournament, Clarke was the best all-around defenceman at the Whitby Silverstick Tournament in November, showcasing his mobility and power play quarterbacking abilities. Clarke will play top-four minutes in the OHL next year, which is saying something about the skill this kid has.

Brennan Othmann, LW (Ontario): Othmann had 10 points after two games. You would think that would essentially be all you need to know, but I think the tournament acted as somewhat of a tell-tale sign of what his season has shown to be. Nobody will argue that Othmann isn’t a gifted offensive talent, as seen by how strong of a regular season he had with the Flyers.

It can be argued that Clarke was a big catalyst in many of Othmann’s goals, but the fact of the matter was that Othmann was a man on a mission early on in the tournament. But in the game against Quebec, Othmann was almost non-existent. He took a penalty and had a few giveaways while not engaging enough in the play.

But that wasn’t the case throughout the rest of the tournament. With 15 points heading into the finals, Othmann’s ability to put pucks in the net was a clear sign of his talent. And while the likes of Wright and Clarke may have had more consistent tournaments, Othmann was perhaps the most dangerous player around the crease. Othmann had numerous breakaways in the tournament, tallying a few goals along the way, and he seemed like one of the fastest first-stride forwards on any given shift.Othmann is a clear top-15 pick for the draft this year and is perhaps the best left winger available at the moment.

Jacob Holmes, D (Ontario): I haven’t had a chance to see the York-Simcoe Express this year, so I can’t say I knew much about Holmes heading into the tournament. But my-oh-my, I liked what I saw. Holmes seemed to be engaged in every shift he took part in and was a very good passer that battled for every puck he could get. Ontario seemed to rely on him heavily as a two-way defenceman that brought a hard point shot with him and strong decision making when he decided to let go of the disk. Holmes was very hard to take the puck off of and while he wasn’t the fastest skater, he wasn’t caught out of position much throughout the tournament to have to worry about it.

Holmes will enter the draft as quite the underrated prospect. A lot of people seem to think he’ll fall to either the late-second or early-third round, but I believe Holmes has enough potential to be a real steal. On paper, there appeared to be better options than Holmes for Ontario, but given the lack of ETA players on the roster, it’s clear that they made the right choice bringing him.

Joshua Roy, C/LW (Quebec): Considered by many to be the top prospect for the 2019 QMJHL draft, Roy and L’Heureux couldn’t be stopped at any point for Quebec. Roy’s passes are very crisp and his wrist shot was among the quickest of any goal scorer in the tournament. His decision making with the puck (deciding whether to pass or shoot) was outstanding and he did a great job of protecting the puck from bigger opponents. Roy is good at fighting along the boards to win puck battles and is a strong skater, both going forwards and backwards.

In terms of 2021 NHL draft prospects, Roy is among the most dangerous offensive threats, entering the tournament in Alberta with 88 points in 42 games with the Lévis Chevaliers. Roy’s game is well-rounded enough and his offensive output is at a superb enough level that it’s easy to expect that he’ll be a top-five pick at the 2021 NHL draft.

Benjamin Gaudreau, G (Ontario): I can’t wait to watch Gaudreau at the OHL Cup in March, especially with how good he has played all season long. The top goalie prospect for the OHL draft, Gaudreau was stellar throughout the tournament, outside of a bad start to Quebec in the first meeting between the two teams. For the most part, Gaudreau did a good job of using his big frame to square up to chances and never really gave up on plays.

Instead of playing minor midget for a second year, Gaudreau has spent the year playing major midget with the North Bay Trappers, which has exposed him to older competition. He hasn’t had an issue with that this year and his maturity was evident in Alberta after allowing a few tough goals. Gaudreau has good athleticism to allow him to make up for mistakes when he over-commits to a play and his rebound control, for the most part, is strong. He has a great base to build around in the coming years and should be an OHL starter before you know it.

Jack Campbell, C (PEI): Teams participating in Pool C of the tournament didn’t get much attention as the quality of the teams were much lower than the likes of Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Alberta, etc. But after the round-robin portion of the tournament, Campbell emerged as the tournament’s top scorer, posting three goals and eight assists for 11 points in his first six games before finishing as the tournament leader with 17 points. And while it is worth noting that he played double the games and weaker competition than the rest of the top five in scoring, Campbell was consistently one of the most noticeable players on the ice on every shift. The PEI bantam AAA MVP from 2018 has a good release on his wrist shot but he really shined when setting up Cameron MacLean and Connor Keough.

Zach Dean, C (Newfoundland): While Dean plays with the Toronto Nationals of the GTHL, he is from Newfoundland, meaning that he will be a product of a QMJHL team come spring time. Dean has a lot of potential to excel in major junior over the next few years and showed that he can be very creative when dishing out the puck, making him perhaps the most noticeable playmaker in Pool C. In fact, he looked out of place, with Dean showcasing the skill level you would expect from someone on Ontario or Quebec. Dean had eight assists and nine points in the preliminary round, tying Campbell for the lead in the passing category.

BURLINGTON, ONT. — Toronto Nationals forward Zachary Dean (#14) slides into Mississauga Senators goaltender James Norton (#32) during GTHL minor midget action between the Mississauga Senators and the Toronto Nationals at Iceland Mississauga on December 6, 2018. (Photo from Steven Ellis/World Hockey Magazine)

Dean is an excellent skater who won a lot of battles due to his quick stride and could deke himself out of a matchup in the middle of the ice. Dean is versatile in the fact that he isn’t just a superb passer, but he can get physical to win battles when his stick work isn’t enough. Dean looks like a potential top-five pick for the QMJHL draft and his strong 200-foot game will allow him to excel in major junior.

Trevor Wong, F (British Columbia): Wong wasn’t as successful as Logan Stankoven in the scoring department for B.C., but he was surely one of the most noticeable players for a team that went from potentially playing for a medal to battling for seventh place due to a third-period collapse to Alberta on the final day of the round robin.

Wong, who was selected in the first round of the WHL draft by Kelowna last season, is the reigning CSS bantam MVP after leading St. George’s School to the title last year with 64 goals, 77 assists and 141 points in 30 games. Wong’s biggest strength is the accuracy of his passes, which seem to never miss their target, but his wrist shot has just enough velocity to be deadly often. His motor seems to keep going all game and has a tendency to sneak up on his opponents to intercept the puck. Wong will be a solid major junior player next year and while his time with B.C. may not have gone fully to plan, he was definetly a solid contributor to a team that needed as much offensive help as they could get.

Samuel Schofield, C (Northwest Territories): Schofield, a 2002-born centre from the Northwest Territories, seems good enough to join the Swift Current Broncos next season, but could his size be his downfall? With six goals and 12 points, Schofield was among the top scorers at the end of the tournament after generating a lot of the team’s offence. Despite standing at just 5’6, Schofield proved to be a dominant player that can fly around the competition like Lewis Hamilton does in F1 and he has some really good hands that allowed him to tally some goals. Schofield has a lot of pure talent, but he can be pushed around a bit. Still, a very impressive performance out of Schofield.

Nolan Allan, D (Saskatchewan): Allan, a Prince Albert Raiders prospect, was the most impressive player for me on Saskatchewan who I, admittedly, didn’t follow a whole lot after their first few games. Allan was one of the better defencemen for the Western Canada Selects at the World Selects Invitational last spring and was the right choice for the Raiders at #3, with the current Saskatoon Blazers midget player expected to make the jump to a full-time WHL role next year after seven games with the team this season.

Allan had four goals for Saskatchewan and was always playing against the top match-ups each game without slowing down. With very little time off for teams in the tournament, Allan had no issue playing big minutes and throwing his body in front of pucks, and he obviously had a knack for finding the net. Allan wasn’t the most physical player, but there aren’t many downsides to his play.

Carson Lambos, D (Manitoba): Manitoba doesn’t really produce many Grade A prospects, but Lambos is far from a typical young defenceman. Lambos seems to be among the best defencemen at every tournament he plays at and has quite the motor to buzz around all game long. The Manitoba team captain has already played in five games with the Kootenay Ice after the team selected him second overall and was the clear choice for the CSSBHL top defenceman award last spring, and while his attitude can get in the way at points, he’s got too much talent to be overlooked.

Lambos didn’t produce much offence with just four points to his credit, but he had many chances from the point and often outpaced his own teammates when rushing the puck due to his outstanding top-end speed. Lambos has an edge to his game that can throw off opponents, yet is rather strong positionally and recovers nicely to make a pass after a big hit. WHL teams will have a tough time adjusting to his play next year.

Max Joy, D (Nunavut): Face it: there may not be a better name in hockey than Max Joy. But on the ice, there’s a lot to like from him. Obviously, Nunavut was heavily outmatched throughout the entire tournament, but Joy was a key member of the blue line and didn’t look out of place against faster competition. The Iqaluit native has had a good year with the Notre Dame Argos Midget AAA team this year. Joy was counted on to play important moments for his province, who fielded a team in the tournament for the first time ever. Joy’s best bet may be to aim for a U SPORTS deal in the future, but for now, the small, speedy defenceman will continue his strong play in Saskatchewan.

Josie Cote, RW (Nunavut): Nobody stood out for Nunavut like Cote did, a 16-year-old with the Ontario Hockey Academy in Ottawa. Cote had four goals and five points for Nunavut, including two in the team’s first ever victory at the tournament against Yukon and the first two of the game in a 7-2 loss to Newfoundland later that same day. Cote played some significant time on the power play and was often placed near the blue line to fire one-timers when given the opportunitiy. His speed was impressive for Nunvaut and despite being a smaller forward, Cote wasn’t afraid to get physical.

Peter Reynolds, C (New Brunswick): When Ontario played New Brunswick at the start of the tournament, Reynolds seemed to be one of the only players who could do anything with the puck for his team. That was a rather consistent trend throughout the tournament, but given that he’s one of the top Atlantic prospects for the QMJHL draft, that’s understandable. The Boston College commit has spent the past few years playing in the United States and is the top scorer on Shattuck St. Mary’s U16 team with 6 points in 44 games this year, so it will be interesting to see if he’s willing to break off the commitment if chosen early in the coming months.

Reynolds has impressive offensive upside and doesn’t have issues with skating himself out of trouble with the puck. While his defensive play leaves a bit to be desired, Reynolds did a good job of displaying his speed against stronger teams, especially against Ontario after recording four points in a 10-4 loss. The team lacked overall depth, but Reynolds led the way for New Brunswick with seven points,

Cameron MacLean, F (PEI): While MacLean obviously didn’t get as much fanfare as the other two big 2004-born forwards, MacLean held up his own quite well with PEI and has entered the discussion as a prospect to watch out for heading into the 2020 QMJHL draft. With seven goals and 10 points, MacLean hovered around the top 10 in scoring all tournament long and was dangerous for PEI every time he was given the chance to take the puck up the ice. MacLean spent a lot of time roaming around the crease and even threw a couple of solid hits along the way, too. MacLean still has a lot to learn and develop, and given his age, that’s not a concern. Some of the areas that he didn’t really excel in were his backwards skating and his consistency from shift to shift, but the raw tools are there.

Jacob Squires, D (PEI): For a defenceman with good size, Squires is an impressive skater that isn’t afraid to draw a check if it helps out his team. Smart with and without the puck, Squires held his own for PEI, even when his team was busy dealing with shots in their own zone, which happened often. Squires finished with three goals and six points for his province, who would go on to finish ninth when the final seedings were determined. I liked how willing Squires was to take the puck from his own zone down the ice to attempt to generate offence and he was the right choice to man the back end on the power play. Squires will likely go somewhere between 70th and 85th in the QMJHL draft, and while he is far from a sure thing at this point, he’s a project player worth taking a chance on.

Side note: I have some cool career news to share later this week.

Follow me on Twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.