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Quebec league should be well represented on Canadian world junior team

Defenceman Justin Barron is one of five members of the Halifax Mooseheads who is a candidate for the Canadian world junior team. (TIM KROCHAK/Chronicle Herald)
Defenceman Justin Barron is one of five members of the Halifax Mooseheads who is a candidate for the Canadian world junior team. (TIM KROCHAK/Chronicle Herald)

Most years, the Quebec league has the lowest representation on the Canadian world junior team.

That's not to say the Q hasn't supplied some of the most important players in the country's tournament history but the numbers don't lie. The statistical truth is that the OHL and WHL almost always put more guys on the team.

But based on the roster released by the CHL yesterday for the upcoming Subway Series with Russia, this year has the potential to be an exception to the rule. For starters, Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads) and Alexis Lafreniere (Rimouski Oceanic) played on Team Canada last year so they will be back.

There's also an above average chance McIsaac will have more than one of his Mooseheads teammates with him. Centre BO Groulx and winger Raphael Lavoie have both already been to Hockey Canada's summer showcase camp, as have defenceman Justin Barron and goalie Alexis Gravel. Those invitations always suggest that you are a candidate to be taken seriously.

Age and recent performances should also work in those players' favour. Groulx and Lavoie are tearing up the league at the moment and, like Gravel, are the ideal age for the tournament at 19 years old. Barron is only 18 but so was McIsaac last year when he made Team Canada. Barron has been on Hockey Canada's radar for a while already

This is also a strong year for Q goalies. It wouldn't come as a surprise to see Gravel and Olivier Rodrigue lock down both jobs in the crease, kind of like the league's heyday in the 1990's and early 2000's when the best junior goalies were often from Quebec. 

Rodrigue's Moncton Wildcats teammate Jakob Pelletier will also get a long look after being a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft. He finished seventh in QMJHL scoring last year and is a terrific special teams player.

The same can be said of Baie-Comeau Drakkar forward Gabriel Fortier. He too can play in every situation, has outstanding speed and is an excellent team player. Those are all qualities Team Canada covets.

Samuel Poulin was the other Quebec leaguer taken in the first round this year (21st overall, Pittsburgh Penguins) and is already in his second year as captain of the Sherbrooke Phoenix so that should earn him a long look.

Otherwise, defencemen Justin Bergeron (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies), Maxence Guenette and Xavier Bouchard (Drakkar) are less heralded because they play in smaller markets but junior hockey insiders know their worth, similar to wingers Alex Beaucage (Rouyn-Noranda) and Nathan Legare (Baie-Comeau). They are all quality players whose worth will be known to the Hockey Canada staff.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens centre Hendrix Lapierre tore it up for Canada at the most recent international under-18 tournament and is the kind of precocious talent who could force his way into the conversation. He's only 17 so he will have to overachieve just to get to the tryout camp but it's been known to happen before with other blue-chippers.

Lastly, Joe Veleno played on the team last year but is now in the American Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings farm team. The former Drummondville Voltigeurs and Saint John Sea Dogs captain would be a leader for Canada this year if the Wings elect to release him for the tournament. I'd go so far as to argue there is no good reason for the Wings not to release him.

When you add it all together, you could conservatively estimate five Q players are strong bets to be on the team and perhaps as many as eight or nine make the final cut if everything breaks the right way. That would be a huge win for the league.

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