John Tavares and Steven Stamkos celebrate with flagTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Canada’s World Junior stars: Where are they now?

With Canada set to kick off their World Junior Championships on Boxing Day in the Czech Republic, we’ll see plenty of up and coming stars take the ice.

Top-ranked prospects Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield will lead the way as Canada aims to bounce back from a disappointing sixth-place finish at last year’s tournament.

Alexis Lafreniere celebrates

Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere (11) hoists the Hlinka Gretzky Cup following the Hlinka Gretzky Cup gold medal game against Sweden, in Edmonton on August 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan

Speaking of past tournaments, the last time the World Juniors were held in the Czech Republic was in 2008, where Canada won their fourth of five consecutive gold medals. Like Lafreniere and Byfield, plenty of players on that 2008 team were top prospects at the time and now several years later, have made terrific careers for themselves.

Let’s take a look at some of those players and what they’ve accomplished over the past decade.

John Tavares

Everyone knew that John Tavares would be great early on.

As a 14-year-old, he was granted exceptional status to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), making him eligible to play major junior hockey a year early. Three years later, he made his first appearance for Canada at the World Juniors with that gold medal-winning 2008 squad. In 2009 he represented Canada again, winning gold and being named the most valuable player of the tournament.

Team Canada's John Tavares fires the puck

Team Canada’s John Tavares fires the puck past Team United States’ Matt Rust and goalie Thomas McCollum during first period action at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Ottawa Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

The first-overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Tavares spent the first nine years of his career with the New York Islanders, amassing an astounding 621 points in 669 games. He made headlines in July 2018 when he left the struggling Islanders to join his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent. Tavares quickly found success in Toronto, setting career highs in both goals (47) and points (88), and in October 2019 he was named the 25th captain in franchise history.

On the Olympic stage, Tavares won gold with Canada at Sochi 2014. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn MCL and meniscus in the quarterfinals against Latvia, forcing him to miss the last two games of the Olympic tournament and the rest of the 2013-14 NHL season.

Drew Doughty

No player from the 2008 World Juniors team has had a more decorated career so far than Drew Doughty.

Along with his World Junior gold medal, Doughty has also won two Olympic gold medals with Canada. At Vancouver 2010, he shocked the hockey world by making the team as a 21-year-old, and then emerging as one of Canada’s top defencemen in their gold medal run. He was also an integral part of the gold medal winning team at Sochi 2014, leading a defence that allowed just three goals in six games.

Drew Doughty celebrating

Canada defenceman Drew Doughty celebrates his goal against Finland during overtime preliminary hockey action at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Sunday, February 16, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

His professional career has been no less impressive. Doughty won Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012 and 2014, and was also awarded the Norris Trophy in 2015 as the NHL’s best defenceman.

P.K. Subban

Always electrifying on and off the ice, P.K. Subban was named to the tournament all-star team at the 2009 World Juniors after winning his second straight gold medal with Canada. He was also part of Canada’s gold medal winning team in Sochi.

Team Canada players celebrate gold medal

Canada teammate P.K. Subban, left, Jeff Cater, centre, and Sidney Crosby, right, celebrate after defeating Sweden for the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Sunday, February 23, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The highlight of Subban’s professional career came in 2013 when he was awarded the Norris Trophy while playing for the Montreal Canadiens. In that lockout-shortened season, he scored 11 goals and 38 points in 42 games, tied for most points among defencemen.

In June 2016, Subban was controversially traded to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenceman Shea Weber. He and his Predators came within reaching distance of the Stanley Cup in 2017, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.

Subban was traded again in June 2019 to the New Jersey Devils, where he currently plays.

Steven Stamkos

Considered one of the best pure goal scorers of his generation, Steven Stamkos scored 51 goals in the NHL as a 19-year-old to win the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the league’s top scorer. Two years later, he followed that up with a remarkable 60-goal season to win his second Rocket.

Despite his undeniable talents, Stamkos hasn’t had the same level of international success as some of his World Junior teammates – though that’s no fault of his own. In 2013, he suffered a broken leg while playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning, keeping him out of the 2014 Winter Games.

Team Canada players celebrate with flag

Team Canada Stefan Legein, of Oakville, Ont., raises the championship trophy while his right hand is under his shirt in a sling as he and teammates Steven Stamkos (flag), of Unionville, Ont., and Kyle Turris, of New Westminster, B.C., celebrate their gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship Saturday, Jan. 5, 2008 in Pardubice, Czech Republic. Canada won the gold medal game 3-2 over Sweden. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

Stamkos is still in search of his first Stanley Cup after his Lightning lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 final. He and the Lightning made waves again in 2018-19, tying the NHL record for wins in a season with 62, though they were later inexplicably swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Karl Alzner

A rugged and steady defender, Karl Alzner was named captain of the 2008 Canadian World Juniors team, winning his second straight gold medal.

Karl Alzner celebrating with trophy

Team Canada captain Karl Alzner of Vancouver, raises the championship trophy after his team won the gold medal in overtime against Sweden at the World Junior Hockey Championship Saturday Jan. 5, 2008 in Pardubice, Czech Republic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

He found success early on his career with the Washington Capitals, playing on two Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams in 2016 and 2017. During the 2015-16 season, he set the franchise record for consecutive games played by a defenceman with 423. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Alzner.

He signed a five-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens in July 2017 after claiming that he was frustrated by Washington’s lack of postseason success. Alzner had an underwhelming season with just 12 points in 82 games for a struggling Canadiens team, while his former Capitals ended up winning the Stanley Cup. A year later, Alzner found himself as a healthy scratch for the Canadiens and has been playing for their minor league team, the Laval Rocket, ever since.