The Future Stars of Team Canada

Previewing the players who could be Team Canada's stars of tomorrow.

The Future Stars of Team Canada
Credit: Chris Tanouye/IIHF

In honour of Canada Day, let’s do an article focused on some names that will be in contention for spots on Team Canada and be the next Danielle Serdachny/Julia Gosling/Sarah Fillier/Nicole Gosling/etc. It’ll be fun to look back on this article and see if any players actually reach their potential but also so you can say in a few years from now, “Hey I know that player, I read about them on The Ice Garden!” If you already know these players, that’s awesome! For the rest of the readers, I hope this turns into something informative and to give these players the hype they deserve.

Author's note: This isn’t a ranking of these players, just a list.

Chloe Primerano

There’s going to be a free space for all articles of this nature and that free space is blueliner Chloe Primerano. Out of everyone on this list, not only does she have the best chance of becoming a future star for Canada, but also she’s the closest to a senior team roster spot, which could be considered crazy by some as she’s the youngest on this list. She just finished her U17 season and is headed into her U18 year where it feels like expectations are nearly impossible. In Primerano’s past two seasons, she’s crushed it any at everything. As a U16 player, she was named the CSSHL U18 MVP after putting up 48 points in 30 games then went on to score 11 points in five games to win the championship. Add in a Canada Winter Games Gold Medal while leading the tournament in points and what a season! Primerano’s U17 season felt like it’d determine just how good she was. If she kept her momentum going from her U16 season, then we were truly in for something special. If not, then we’d still have a great prospect on our hands but maybe with a lower ceiling than Marie-Philip Poulin.

Happy to say that Primerano has proven herself to be truly someone special. At the U18 Nationals, she finished second in primary points while her team captured Bronze. Then came the U18 World Championships, where she broke records, lead the tournament in points by a wide margin (16pts in six games), received multiple individual awards (best defender, tournament MVP, All-Star team), and somehow only walked away with a Bronze Medal. It appears she took out that anger on the CSSHL U18 league, as she’d put up 89 points in 29 games, including 35 goals…as a blueliner! Once again winning regular season MVP and the CSSHL U18 championship. Now headed into her U18 season, expectations feel like they’re at a high level again. She’s going to be joining the University of Minnesota as a U18 player, which is extremely rare and is going to have to follow up her historic performance at the U18 World Championships. What will be interesting to see is how seriously the Canadian senior team takes her. Primerano is an incredible talent who honestly could have helped Canada score more than two power play goals at the recent World Championships. Playing in the NCAA this year is going to help Primerano show how ready she is for the senior level.

Jade Iginla

This player has gone under the radar the last three seasons though it definitely hasn’t been her fault and despite her last name, Jade Iginla belongs on this list because of her own play. Thanks to COVID, Iginla was never really given a chance to build up her profile pre-NCAA career. The 2021 U18 World Championships were cancelled, so we don’t know if she would have even made that team and the 2022 U18 World Championships happened in a bubble with limited fanfare. To make matters worse, Iginla was injured pre-tournament and missed out on the first few games only to make a comeback in the quarterfinal. It’s a good thing she did come back, as Canada found themselves in trouble having lost 2-0 to Finland in the very first game and then losing 7-0 to the USA. In the semi-final, in a rematch against Finland, Iginla scored the first goal in what later became a 2-1 win to give them a spot in the Gold Medal Game and a rematch vs the USA. In the Gold Medal Game, Iginla had the primary assist on Ava Murphy’s goal to make it 2-0 Canada, which was important as Canada would hold on to win 3-2.

For those watching the games, it was clear that, even while probably still not at 100%, Iginla brought some needed help. She took the 3C spot and there was a bit more offence to the Canadian game, as well as someone who would play a good two-way game that helped shut down an American offence that was rolling. Iginla isn’t close to being done playing the hero though. Her NCAA team of choice was Brown University, who were last relevant in the early 2000s and hadn’t had a double-digit win season since '06/'07. As a true freshman 18-year-old, Iginla’s first season on Brown saw six wins. To say she was thrust into a leader role on the ice might be an understatement. She had 23 points (17G, 6A) in 29 games which is respectable. Next closest on her team in points had 13 and the next closest in goals had five! Talk about doing it yourself. This past season, things got a bit better in that while Iginla again lead the team in points, this time with 27, her next closest teammate had 24 points. As for goals, that’s still Iginla’s job on Brown, as she had 16 goals with the next closest at nine. She’s dragging Brown University into relevance as a U20 player and it’s impressive to watch. She’s been to Team Canada Development Camps so her efforts have not gone unnoticed to some at least.

Ève Gascon

Until Chloe Primerano came on the scene, there’s been no more interesting Canadian prospect than Ève Gascon. She took the starting job at the 2020 U18 World Championships as a U17 goalie, which is extremely rare for a Canadian goalie. Typically, the starting role goes to a goalie in their U18 year. She beat out Kayle Osborne for the job and had a great tournament only to lose in 3v3 OT in the Gold Medal Game 2-1 to the USA. The 2021 U18 World Championships looked like it was going to be a historically great rematch between Ève Gascon and Skylar Vetter, but COVID put an end to that idea. Following in a similar path to Golden Era goalie Shannon Szabados, Gascon stayed playing in men’s hockey, where she found herself at training camp with the Gatineau Olympiques and did so well that she earned two regular season starts along with a win. Her regular team pre-NCAA was the Saint-Laurent Patriotes of the men’s QCHL (a league filled with future QMJHL goalies for reference). Her U20 year with the team saw her take the starting role and finish with the second highest SV% in the league (0.922).

The success didn’t stop there as Les Patriotes went on to win the QCHL championship with Gascon posting a playoff record of 9-2 with a 0.922 SV% (best among goalies with over five playoff games). This season was Gascon’s first in the NCAA, joining the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and with expectations high, she didn’t disappoint as she finished with a 0.946 SV%. To put that into perspective, it was top 10 in the NCAA while being on a fine team in the best division in the NCAA, the WCHA, which features heavyweights Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin. To put her SV% into further context, while some might point to Minnesota-Duluth as running a tandem of Ève Gason/Hailey MacLeod ,with MacLeod ending up with a 0.948 SV%, it’s clear Gascon had the harder starts. MacLeod started seven games against teams higher than UMD in the pairwise rankings. Gascon started nine games against teams higher in the pairwise rankings. If we take out the non-WCHA teams Gascon faced the three WCHA teams (UW, OSU, UM) higher than UMD eight times, while MacLeod saw action against those same teams only four times. To Gascon, the transition period was nearly non-existent and, with three years still ahead of her in the NCAA, she can continue to refine her game, which already resembles another Québécois goalie in Ann-Renée Desbiens.

Caitlin Kraemer

If you watched any PWHL hockey this year or the past few NCAA National Championships, you understand that goals are really hard to come by. Goal scoring as a whole is one of those talents that you either have or don’t have. You can refine it to squeeze out a few more goals either by working on your release or find your way into better scoring areas, but ultimately the consistent goal scorers are just talented. And in the case of Caitlin Kraemer, her goal scoring talent is going to carry her far. Her size, her knowledge on using her size, soft hands, and her shot give her one of the more deadly skillsets in the game. When she gets to the University of Minnesota-Duluth this coming season, I would assume there’s going to be a lot of Natalie Spooner and Hilary Knight video put in front of her.

In Canada, Caitlin Kraemer has shown off her talents in the OWHL U22, Canada Winter Games, and U18 Canada Nationals as always ending up as one of the top point getters and being among the top in goals. The stage that seems to highlight Kraemer’s skill the most, though, has been at the international level — the U18 World Championships, to be exact. In her U17 year, she broke the record for most goals (10) by a Canadian in a tournament, which was previously held by Marie-Philip Poulin (eight). In the most recent U18, WHC’s Kraemer followed up her performance by beating Poulin’s all-time goal record by a Canadian with 20 goals compared to Poulin’s 13. That 20 goals in two tournaments is the second most all-time behind Kendall Coyne Schofield who had 22 goals in three tournaments. If you’re noticing a few names that will end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame, you aren’t imagining things. There’s obviously work ahead for Kraemer to show her goal scoring can translate to senior play but it’s hard not to feel excited about her future.

Avery Pickering

For every Chloe Primerano or Erin Ambrose on your team, you need someone a bit more defensively inclined so blueliners like that can flourish. Right now, one of those go-to options for Team Canada is Renata Fast. In the future, that role might belong to Avery Pickering. We’ll get this out of the way right now in that Pickering isn’t going to be someone flashy either on the ice or on the scoreboard. She had four points in two U18 World Championship tournaments and this year with Colgate University, she had 10 points in 33 games, making her the fourth highest scoring blueliner on the team. Coincidentally enough, Renata Fast also had 10 points in her NCAA rookie season behind the high scoring, offence-driving Erin Ambrose. Fast would only have a career high of 18 points in a season in the NCAA and if Pickering does the same, it shouldn’t be surprising with Sydney Morrow on the team, who will get a lot of deserved offensive time just as Fast had Ambrose in front of her.

Now the big difference is that Fast joined the NCAA when she was 18 in her U19 season. Pickering joined the NCAA in her U18 season which, as mentioned above in the Chloe Primerano section, is a pretty big deal. To make it a bigger deal, it’s not as if Pickering joined a team desperate for blueliners. She joined Colgate University, who was a legitimate contender for the NCAA National Championship, having made it to the Frozen Four. If there’s anything we can all agree on as hockey fans, it’s that coaches really don’t like putting young players (relative to the league’s age group) in big positions. Yet here was a U18 player on the second pairing of a team in the Frozen Four who was brought on board burning a year of her prime because they wanted her on the team that much and early in her career too. This is a rare occurrence because of Pickering’s talent and defensive consistency at such a young age. Colgate will be a team to watch next season.

Brooke Disher

This one is definitely more of a long shot than the rest of this list. If Avery Pickering’s number’s looked a bit suspect for this list, then Brooke Disher definitely isn’t impressing anyone with her counting stats, either. She shares some similarities with Jade Iginla, only instead of being a forward, Disher is a blueliner. Her one and only appearance on the world stage came at the 2022 U18 World Championships, where Disher went pointless in all six games. Despite that, she still gets to put on her resume that she captained a Gold Medal winning team and I think she deserves that credit. That Canadian team very much struggled to score and as a blueliner, your numbers are going to depend more than you want on the forwards in front of you, unless you’re Chloe Primerano. Now she certainly didn’t lack for offence in the CSSHL U18 level, where Disher would be second on her team in points on a team that contained Jade Iginla, Sara Swiderski, and Maya Serdachny. The offence has always been apart of her game just needs some help from the forwards.

While Disher didn’t follow Jade Iginla’s path of finding a team desperately looking for a way out of being irrelevant in Brown University, Disher definitely came close by joining Boston University. Post-COVID cancelled season, BU lost a lot of talent and has yet to recover. As an 18-year-old freshman, Disher finished fourth on her team in points (17), while the highest point getter only had 24 points in 34 games. Won a whooping 11 games as a team, too. Disher’s point totals this past season took a drop to 11 points in 35 games. It’s not for lack of trying, though, as she was the most consistent threat on the BU blueline. The reason Disher is on this list is because her talent looks primed for a breakout and Nadine Muzerall looks like she agrees. Disher has transferred over to Ohio State University and with all the departures on the blueline, Disher has an opportunity to show her skill on a truly talented team.

Ava Murphy

If Avery Pickering is on track to be Canada’s next Renata Fast, Ava Murphy is on track to become either Canada’s next Ella Shelton or Micah Zandee-Hart. Should Murphy reach the potential of either Shelton or MZH, Canadian fans should be thrilled, as those are two high end players. Shelton, of course, being the higher end of Murphy’s potential, should her offence get developed into a real weapon, and if the offence doesn’t come, then you just get a very good two-way defender who leans towards the defensive side of the game. Based on her pre-NCAA numbers, Murphy looks like she has a shot of developing a real weapon of an offensive game. During the 2022 U18 World Championships, she lead the Gold Medal winning Canadian team in points as a blueliner. At the 2023 U18 World Championships, Murphy lead all Canadian blueliners in points, which was impressive considering the team contained offensive stalwarts on the blueline such as Piper Grober.

What’s impressed and gotten the attention of coaches/scouts is how dominant Murphy can be defensively. She’s a big defender with a very good two-way game and skating. She’s also at one of the best hockey programs to develop her two-way game at the University of Wisconsin. Murphy got to practice and learn from Anna Wilgren, Chayla Edwards, and Caroline Harvey. Now with Wilgren/Edwards gone, Murphy will be able to step into a permanent top four role and really work on rounding out her game into being a complete monster. If there’s a player on this list sans Primerano who I give the best chance to making Team Canada in the future, it’s Ava Murphy. She’s going to be a player that coaches trust and her play at the U18 WHC’s is going to carry weight. Add that she’s on a team that is a perennial NCAA National Championship contender and some current Team Canada members should be looking over their shoulder a bit.

Emmalee Pais

When you’re looking at the NCAA scoring leaders for this previous season, you’ll find Emmalee Pais at 44th with 34 points in 40 games. That’s obviously good, though, hard to call that a great season on the surface. That is, until you wonder how normal of a season did Pais have, and I don’t think you’d call it a normal one. Firstly, Pais finished second among all NCAA freshmen in points, which is a big accomplishment. Secondly, when trying to find a comparable on the current Team Canada roster, you’re really left with Emma Maltais, Natalie Spooner, and Marie-Philip Poulin, who had similar freshman seasons. Not a bad group of players to be compared to. The argument you could use again Pais is that she was in the Colgate top six with noted PWHL second overall pick and Golden Goal scorer Danielle Serdachny. That’s fair as when you play beside that kind of talent, you’re bound to pick up points. Typically, though, you don’t get to keep that spot riding shotgun to one of the best players in the NCAA if you can’t keep up.

Pais clearly was able to keep up with Serdachny and became an important part of a team that went all the way to the Frozen Four. This shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise as Pais had shown a tremendous level of talent in her U18 season. She was apart of a London Devilettes roster that sent four players for Team Canada to the 2023 U18 World Championships. Pais was given an “A” and was named a Top Three Player for Team Canada at the 2023 U18 WHC’s after scoring seven points in five games. With all that in mind, one of the most promising aspects of Pais’ game is that she scored 18 goals as a freshman, good enough for 33rd in the NCAA, and is 5’ 9”. Size doesn’t play as big of a role in the women’s game as it does the men’s game, but it’s impossible to ignore that size does play a factor. The extra reach and potential for physical strength make the bigger players potentially more effective. If her goal scoring talent is for real and she learns to use her size to be effective, Canada might have found itself a Natalie Spooner-lite replacement or another version of Jessie Eldridge, which you’d be happy with, too. As mentioned previously, goals are hard to come by, so teams love themselves someone who can finish. Pais showed this year she can do it next to a great playmaker. With Serdachny gone, Pais will need to drive the offence some more herself and show herself to be a future contender for Team Canada.