Young stars Fantilli and Bedard headline Button's projected WJC roster
Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli aren’t just the youngest players on TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s 2023 World Juniors pre-selection camp roster, they’re also carrying the biggest expectations.
Although the World Juniors is often regarded as a 19-year-old’s tournament, Button believes that Bedard, 17, and Fantilli, 18, will lead the offence as Canada looks to defend its gold medal in Halifax and Moncton next month.
“They will be two of their best players,” said Button of the duo.
Bedard, a centre for the Regina Pats, and Fantilli, a centre at the University of Michigan, are both eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft and are expected to be two of the first names off the board in June.
2023 WJC Team Canada projection
Bedard was ranked No. 1 while Fantilli No. 3 in Bob McKenzie’s pre-season 2023 draft rankings. Bedard has been pegged as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft for years and has lived up to the hype since being granted exceptional status to enter the Western Hockey League as a 15-year-old in 2020. He has 13 goals and 31 points in 16 games in 2022-23.
Fantilli is off to a roaring start as a freshman at Michigan, registering nine goals and 20 points in 11 games. The Nobleton, Ont., product told TSN’s Mark Masters before the start of the season he has no plans to concede the No. 1 spot to Bedard.
“Adam is a goal scorer, a driver. He’s competitive, skates well and plays hard,” said Button. “All the things you’re looking for in a top-line player, a difference maker, Adam Fantilli has.”
Bedard has already made his mark at the World Juniors, winning gold in August with four goals and eight points in seven games. This would be Fantilli’s first foray at the tournament as he looks to bolster his case to go No. 1 in the draft.
Button projects for Bedard and Fantilli to play together on Canada’s top line after they successfully teamed up at the 2022 U18 worlds. Bedard had six goals and seven points in four games as the captain, while Fantilli had one goal and six points in four games skating at left wing.
“They become lethal together because they're both really good playmakers and excellent finishers,” said Button. “If you want to play off of one, the other is going to be open for a lot of opportunities.”
While Button has Bedard firmly as No. 1 for the 2023 draft, the early draft year success of Bedard and Fantilli draws comparisons to the 2015 class that saw Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel dominate in the OHL and NCAA respectively and represent their countries at the World Juniors before being drafted in the top two spots.
Lining up behind Bedard at centre on Button’s roster is 2022 No. 4 pick Shane Wright. The Burlington, Ont., product is playing sparingly in the NHL with the Seattle Kraken, and it is unknown if he’ll remain in the NHL or return to the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs.
Button believes Wright will be released for the tournament and needs to be there for his development.
Wright made Team Canada last December as a 17-year-old and had one assist in two games before the cancellation. In 2021, he captained Canada to gold at the U18s, finishing second in tournament scoring with nine goals and 14 points in five games.
Returning from the gold-medal winning squad in August up front on Button’s roster are Kamloops’ Logan Stankoven, Flint’s Brennan Othmann, Sherbrooke’s Joshua Roy, Acadie-Bathurst’s Riley Kidney, Quebec’s Nathan Gaucher and Vancouver’s Zack Ostapchuk.
Arizona Coyotes forward Dylan Guenther and Dallas Stars forward Wyatt Johnston are also players Button sees as locks for the roster if their teams decide to release them for the tournament.
Canada will see an overhaul in net, with last year’s trio of Dylan Garand, Sebastian Cossa and Brett Brochu all aging out. Button projects Sarnia’s Benjamin Gaudreau, Prince George’s Tyler Brennan, and Seattle’s Thomas Milic to be the three goaltenders who will be on the roster in December.
Button gives Gaudreau the edge as the starter. A third-round pick (81st overall) by the San Jose Sharks at the 2021 draft, the North Bay, Ont., product backstopped Canada to U18 gold last year.
"He led them at the U18 tournament in Dallas in 2021," said Button. "That team dominated; they were never touched. He was the guy. He’s the best goalie at this point in time."
On the blueline, Olen Zellweger, an Anaheim Ducks prospect playing with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips, will be leaned upon heavily in all situations for Canada. He had two goals and 11 points in seven games at the August World Juniors.
“Zellweger is going to be their No. 1 guy," said Button. "He's going to be their go-to guy in so many different areas. He's going to the run the game the way he runs it, power play, penalty kill. He’s just really good.”
Joining Zellweger as returning defencemen are Mississauga’s Ethan Del Mastro and Winnipeg’s Carson Lambos. Button has four first-round picks to round out the defence corps in Seattle’s Kevin Korchinski, the seventh overall by Chicago in 2022, a pair of Columbus Blue Jackets picks in Moose Jaw’s Denton Mateychuk and Wisconsin’s Corson Ceulemans and Prince Albert’s Nolan Allan, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect.
Button's roster includes 19 NHL draft picks in total, including 10 first rounders. Milic went undrafted in 2022 and is eligible again in 2023 along with Bedard and Fantilli.
2023 Team Canada
|GOALTENDERS||S/C||HT||WT||2022-23 Team||NHL Draft|
|Tyler Brennan||L||6'4||181||Prince George (WHL)||New Jersey 2022|
|Benjamin Gaudreau||L||6'2||174||Sarnia (OHL)||San Jose 2021|
|Thomas Milic||L||6'0||174||Seattle (WHL)||2023|
|Nolan Allan||L||6'2||194||Prince Albert (WHL)||Chicago 2021|
|Corson Ceulemans||R||6'2||188||Wisconsin (NCAA)||Columbus 2021|
|Ethan Del Mastro*||L||6'4||209||Mississauga (OHL)||Chicago 2021|
|Carson Lambos*||L||6'1||196||Winnipeg (WHL)||Minnesota 2021|
|Kevin Korchinski||L||6'1||185||Seattle (WHL)||Chicago 2022|
|Denton Mateychuk||L||5'11||187||Moose Jaw (WHL)||Columbus 2022|
|Olen Zellweger*||L||5'10||174||Everett (WHL)||Anaheim 2021|
|Connor Bedard*||R||5'10||185||Regina (WHL)||2023|
|Zachary Bolduc||L||6'0||187||Quebec (QMJHL)||St. Louis 2021|
|Zach Dean||L||6'0||179||Gatineau (QMJHL)||Vegas 2021|
|Adam Fantilli||L||6'2||187||Michigan (NCAA)||2023|
|Nathan Gaucher*||R||6'3||207||Quebec (QMJHL)||Anaheim 2022|
|Dylan Guenther||R||6'2||175||Arizona (NHL)||Arizona 2021|
|Wyatt Johnston||R||6'0||185||Dallas (NHL)||Dallas 2021|
|Riley Kidney*||L||6'0||176||A-Bathurst (QMJHL)||Montreal 2021|
|Zachary L'Heureux||L||5'11||196||Halifax (QMJHL)||Nashville 2021|
|Zach Ostapchuk*||L||6'3||205||Vancouver (WHL)||Ottawa 2021|
|Brennan Othmann*||L||6'0||174||Flint (OHL)||NY Rangers 2021|
|Joshua Roy*||L||6'0||187||Sherbrooke (QMJHL)||Montreal 2021|
|Logan Stankoven*||R||5'8||170||Kamloops (WHL)||Dallas 2021|
|Chase Stillman||R||6'1||187||Peterborough (OHL)||New Jersey 2021|
|Shane Wright||R||6'0||198||Seattle (NHL)||Seattle 2022|
* - Returning Player
2023 Team Canada
|DEFENCE||S/C||HT||WT||2022-23 Team||NHL Draft|
|Brandt Clarke||R||6'2||185||Los Angeles (NHL)||Los Angeles 2021|
|Tyson Hinds||L||6'3||181||Sherbrooke (QMJHL)||Anaheim 2021|
|Christian Kyrou||R||5'11||182||Erie (OHL)||Dallas 2022|
|Tristan Luneau||R||6'2||191||Gatineau (QMJHL)||Anaheim 2022|
|Jack Matier||R||6'4||202||Ottawa (OHL)||Nashville 2021|
|Owen Pickering||L||6'4||185||Swift Current (WHL)||Pittsburgh 2022|
|Owen Beck||R||6'0||185||Mississauga (OHL)||Montreal 2022|
|Jake Chiasson||R||6'1||180||Brandon (WHL)||Edmonton 2021|
|Nate Danielson||R||6'1||185||Brandon (WHL)||2023|
|Luca Del Bel Belluz||L||6'1||175||Mississauga (OHL)||Columbus 2022|
|Jordan Dumais||R||5'9||174||Halifax (QMJHL)||Columbus 2022|
|Jagger Firkus||R||5'10||153||Moose Jaw (WHL)||Seattle 2022|
|Conor Geekie||L||6'3||196||Winnipeg (WHL)||Arizona 2022|
|Brett Harrison||L||6'3||175||Oshawa (OHL)||Boston 2021|
|Dylan James||L||6'0||181||North Dakota (NCAA)||Detroit 2022|
|Fraser Minten||L||6'1||185||Kamloops (WHL)||Toronto 2022|
|Francesco Pinelli||L||6'1||185||Kitchener (OHL)||Los Angeles 2021|
|Tucker Robertson||R||5'10||184||Peterborough (OHL)||Seattle 2022|
|Reid Schaefer||L||6'3||213||Seattle (WHL)||Edmonton 2022|
|Matt Savoie||R||5'9||179||Winnipeg (WHL)||Buffalo 2022|
|Matthew Wood||R||6'3||185||Connecticut (NCAA)||2023|
|Koehn Ziemmer||R||6'0||195||Prince George (WHL)||2023|