OAKVILLE, Ont. — Canada’s bid to bring gold home from the 2020 world junior hockey championship got a big boost Monday.
Hockey Canada announced the Detroit Red Wings have released centre Joe Veleno for the under-20 tournament that runs Dec. 6 to Jan. 5 in the Czech Republic.
The 19-year-old has three goals and nine points in 25 games this season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.
Selected 30th overall at the 2018 NHL draft, Veleno had two assists in five games in a limited role for Canada at last year’s event when the hosts finished a disappointing sixth in Vancouver and Victoria.
The native of Kirkland, Que., joins a trio of fellow returning players — star winger Alexis Lafreniere, as well as defencemen Jared McIsaac and Ty Smith.
Canada was scheduled to open its selection camp Monday evening in Oakville with two days of practices before playing exhibition games Wednesday and Thursday against a team of university all-stars.
The Canadians, who last won the world juniors two years ago in Buffalo, N.Y., have earned a combined 31 medals since 1977, including 17 gold.
Veleno has had an up-and-down career since becoming the first player from Quebec granted exceptional status to play in the Canadian Hockey League as a 15 year old back in 2015.
He registered 43 points in 62 games as a QMJHL rookie and 40 in 45 contests during his second campaign. Veleno helped the Saint John Sea Dogs make the Memorial Cup in 2017, but was traded to the Drummondville Voltiguers the following December for five draft picks.
Still waiting to make his NHL debut, Veleno put up a combined 79 points in 64 games with the Voltiguers in 2017-18, and finally started to dominate in 2018-19 with 42 goals and 104 points in 59 outings as Drummondville made the league semifinals.
Canada is also waiting for word on two other players from last year’s team currently in the NHL — Arizona Coyotes centre Barrett Hayton and New York Islanders defenceman Noah Dobson.
Kirby Dach, 18, was expected to be available, but the No. 3 pick at the 2019 draft has five goals and 10 points in 24 games for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.