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Penticton tournament a star-studded event

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Hockey’s young stars are set to descend on Penticton, BC.

With prospects from the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames set to invade the Okanagan Valley, there is plenty of potential at the 2015 Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C. from September 11-14.

“Bottom line is this is probably the most exciting year for the event, and needless to say the guy up the road in Edmonton named Connor McDavid is a big, big part of that,” Flames radio colour analyst Peter Loubardias said. “Closer to home, Sam Bennett is a huge part of that. Another look at Nikolaj Ehlers. Those are the guys you think of when you can’t get a ticket, you can’t get a hotel room. It’s exciting. It’s a tournament I love to begin with.”

McDavid, the top pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, will headline the event for the Oilers. The Richmond Hill, ON native repeated as the OHL’s Subway Scholastic Player of the Year and was also named Jack Link’s Top Prospect of the Year. He was also named Canadian Hockey League Sportsnet Player of the Year prior to being drafted first overall last June.

“It’s no question who the true focal point of the event is,” Loubardias said. “There will be unbelievable expectation for him to completely dominate this event. That’s where I think it starts with him. I think anybody would be a little bit disappointed if he clearly wasn’t one of, if not the best player there. McDavid gets all the pomp and circumstance. I can’t wait to see him.

“For Connor, I would suggest if people don’t leave Penticton feeling like he’s the best player they’ve seen all weekend that there would be some disappointment."

Joining McDavid on the Oilers includes Leon Draisaitl, selected third overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, and Darnell Nurse, selected seventh overall in 2013. Nurse was named one of the top three players on Canada’s gold medal entry at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Winnipeg’s roster is fronted by Nikolaj Ehlers, the ninth overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Ehlers is coming off back-to-back 100-point seasons for the Halifax Mooseheads.

“I was hugely impressed last year,” Loubardias said. “He’s just so explosive, so fast. He has great ability to get himself … the way he moves laterally almost dangerous-looking at times. He’s had two unbelievable years in the QMJHL. Again, if he’s not noticeable, maybe not every single time he’s on the ice but pretty much in that neighbourhood, you’d be disappointed.

“He was very, very impressive a year ago. This is, again, another high, high-end talent that’s fun to watch.”

Ehlers will be joined by 2013 draft picks Joshua Morrissey (No. 13), Nic Petan (No. 43) and Eric Comrie (No. 59). Other notable prospects include Andrew Copp, who made his NHL debut against the Flames in the final game of the regular season, earning an assist. Among the others joining the Jets include Brendan Lemieux, the 31st player taken in the 2014 draft and the son of former NHLer Claude Lemieux, and Connor Hellebuyck, a 2015 AHL All-Star and 2015 World Championship All-Star.

Jake Virtanen, the sixth pick in 2014, will lead Vancouver’s entry in Penticton. Virtanen, like Nurse, helped Canada to gold at the World Juniors. The 19-year-old has 66 goals and 123 points in 121 games over his past two seasons with the Hitmen.

“This is a very big year for Jake,” Loubardias said. “People are wondering if this guy is ready to make that step in his 19-year-old year after three full seasons in Major Junior. I have to put him in that class, too, in terms of the intrigue factor, and yet in Jake’s case there’s just so much to like about his game and yet what do you expect there? Is he ready to make the Vancouver Canucks or not? It’s not the be-all, end-all, but the thing for me is if you’re going to play this year in the NHL, you better set yourself apart at this event.”

Jared McCann, plucked 18 picks after Virtanen in 2014, will also represent the Canucks, as will Calgary, AB native Hunter Shinkaruk. Shinkaruk, a first round pick (No. 24) in 2013, played his first professional season with the Utica Comets, scoring 16 goals. Brendan Gaunce, selected in the first round (No. 26) in the 2012 NHL Draft, will also be in attendance.

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