Strutting their stuff
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Forward Mike Cammalleri, who was named the tournament's best forward, almost made the Los Angeles Kings out of training camp. Chosen in the second round of the 2001 Entry Draft while playing with the University of Michigan, Cammalleri played nine games in the minors before joining the Kings.
Russia's Stanislav Chistov, meanwhile, has been among the best NHL rookies this year, scoring five goals and seven assists for Anaheim in his first 20 NHL games.
The other three members of the All-Star team were Canadian goalie Pascal Leclaire, Russian defenseman Igor Knyasev and Slovakian forward Marek Svatos. Leclaire, Columbus' first choice in the 2001 Entry Draft, is with the Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y. Knyazev is Carolina's first-round selection from the 2001 Entry Draft. Svatos, who played in Canada's Western Hockey League, was selected by Colorado late in the 2001 Entry Draft. He is presently playing with the AHL's Hershey Bears.
The impact the World Juniors have on the NHL's talent pool becomes even clearer when the last five All-Star teams are taken into account. Twenty of those 30 selections already have played at least one NHL game. Several, including goalies Roberto Luongo and David Aebischer, defensemen Rostislav Klesla and Andrei Markov and forward Olli Jokinen are already mainstays with their various NHL clubs.
"It does happen quickly for some players," admitted Allain, who serves as a goaltending coach for the St. Louis Blues. "They can go right from the tournament to contributing in the NHL. Then, there are other guys that go back and toil in college or juniors for a few years. But, what we have to remember is the race to be an NHL player is not over at 22. Most of these kids will eventually find their way to the NHL."
And, as often as not, the World Juniors serve as the first test as to whether a player is cut out for that elite level of play.
Such was the case for Andy Hilbert. A product of the United States Developmental Program, Hilbert dominated during two years of college play at the University of Michigan, racking up 96 points in 77 games. But, he was not sure he was good enough to represent his country on the biggest stage available to him as a teen-ager.
Hilbert, a second-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2000, has seen that prediction come true already. Last season, Hilbert enjoyed a six-game call-up with the Bruins, encountering former World Junior Championship teammates and opponents in virtually every game. With Providence, the Bruins' AHL affiliate, Hilbert scored 53 points and was named to the 2002 AHL All-Rookie Team. This year, he is again among the Baby Bruins' scoring leaders.
"It is a totally engrossing hockey atmosphere. The tempo is unbelievable," says Allain. "When you get out there and find out that you can play at that level, you have to have a tremendous boost of confidence because that's a pretty rarefied level to play at."
That process will begin anew in December as a new legion of under-20 players try to make their mark in the tournament that has become a launching pad for some of the game's biggest stars.